Review – Mark of Calth, Part 2

Say what you want; I may leave a review for a while, but by God, I will come back to it! Plus, Black Library hasn’t come out with any recent Horus Heresy goodies to keep me occupied (though I am nursing a raging semi in anticipation for Unremembered Empire), so I may as well keep raving about Mark of Calth.

calth

In Part 1, I looked at the first four stories in the anthology; Shards of Erebus, Calth That Was, Dark Heart, and The Traveller. Now I’ll look at the last four stories, starting with…

A Deeper Darkness (Rob Sanders)

A Deeper Darkness follows the Ultramarine Pelion and his squad, who are on the hunt for the hated Word Bearer Dark Apostle Ungol Shax. While sweeping the gloomy caves of subterranean Calth, they encounter a Word Bearer from Shax’s Chapter, who, before he’s executed, tells the Ultramarines that Shax is dead. Pelion refuses to believe him, and leads his squad into an unmapped labyrinth where they believe Shax and his cronies are hiding out. They find that the Word Bearers are indeed dead, but bizarrely so; they’ve been turned to stone! And then some of the Ultramarines start going missing… yeah, so the Word Bearers summoned some kind of daemonic gorgon that didn’t want to be ordered around. A good story; I always like it when traditional Classical mythology gets incorporated into 40k.

The Underworld War  (Aaron Dembski-Bowden)

Man, I loves me some ADB.  I love the Night Lords trilogy, Emperor’s Gift, Betrayer… ADB is the nucking futs. But of all his stuff, First Heretic is probably my favourite. So another Word Bearers story from ADB, set during the Underworld War of Calth. Hells yeah. Underworld War is set over six years after the Battle of Calth, and Kaurtal is one of the Word Bearers’ Gal Vorbak (aka possessed) who spends his days wandering the tunnels of Calth, collecting relics of destroyed Word Bearers Chapters, and losing his faith in Lorgar, who definitely isn’t coming back to rescue him and the other Word Bearers on Calth. Eventually, Kaurtal leaves the tunnels and starts to wander the irradiated wasteland of Calth; being possessed, he’s almost immune to the effects of radiation. While on the surface, he starts tripping out and hearing the voices of his dead brothers, eventually culminating when he’s attacked by zombie Word Bearers. While he’s tripping out, he has flashbacks to when he submitted his Gal Vorbak application to head honcho Argel Tal. It’s a great character piece, with a decent twist at the end.

Argel_tal_portadores_palabra_wikihammer
This picture serves no purpose. I just think Possessed look cool.

Athame  (John French)

This is an odd one. It essentially follows the history of the athame dagger that eventually ends up in the hands of Ollanius Pius Oll Persson at the end of Know No Fear, from its start on ancient Earth, and how different people come to acquire it all the way up to when the Word Bearers end up taking it from a cultist during the Great Crusade and give it to Criol Fowst, the cultist leader from Know No Fear. It’s very well written, and it’s refreshing to read something written in a second-person perspective, because it’s hard to make it work, but it works well here, and you definitely get the impression that the athame is A Very Bad Thing from day one (and implied to be as old as the concept of Chaos itself).

Unmarked (Dan “The Man” Abnett)

Here we go; the big finisher, the money shot. It’s by Abnett, how could this story be anything but great? Sure, I’m very biased, but I’ve yet to be disappointed with anything Dan The Man’s written, and Unmarked doesn’t change that opinion. So, at the end of Know No Fear, Ollanius Pius retired Army soldier Oll Persson and his motley crew of survivors sliced a hole in reality and bugged out of the shitstorm that Calth had turned into. If you’ve read Ravenor Rogue (and if you haven’t, sort that shit out), this story is similar to the trippy “Doctor Who” section of that book, as Oll and the other survivors keep slicing holes in the universe and run across space and time to try and outrun whatever’s chasing them. All the way throughout the story, we keep getting fed more and more information about Oll, and the very, very long life he’s led, and hinting at this it now the first time he’s tangled with the forces of Chaos, though kudos to Abnett for not turning Oll into an immortal, super-powered Mary-Sue; he’s just  a badass old guy who’s got his faith and a few tricks picked up over the years.

The one quibble that I have with this story is that there’s no closure; Oll’s journey simply continues, though they do at least manage to survive their encounter with the thing chasing them. Still, it leaves me wanting to see more of Oll and his crew; maybe in another short story, or as a subplot to a longer novel. Of course, Oll is going to live; 40k veterans who know the old fluff know where Oll’s journey will eventually lead…

Overall, Mark of Calth is a great anthology, and definitely the strongest of the Horus Heresy anthologies available so far. I highly recommend it.

Gareth

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