Today’s blog kinda follows on from my reading the Genestealer Cults novel by Peter Fehevari back in September. I was of course aware of his other stories, but hadn’t realised the extent to which they are interrelated, and so was keen to explore this further. The fact that the bulk of Fehevari’s work is in short story form does help, of course! There is an excellent blog here on the wordpresses that covers, to some extent, the way to approach his work, and I can highly recommend that you check this out beforehand. Fehevari himself has said that there isn’t a reading order, per se, but certain things will become apparent to you if you read one tale before another, and it’s through looking at these things that I’ve got myself a rough map of how I want to read these stories.
For the uninitiated, the Dark Coil stories are set in a corner of the Damocles rift that allows for the Imperium to interact with the Tau, and also Chaos; we get space marines and guardsmen, battle sisters and Inquisitors, and of course, Genestealer Cults! It doesn’t have a beginning or end, and the stories don’t really interconnect, although characters cross over and so on. One of the main hallmarks of Fehevari’s style is certainly making real the horror and gritty aspects of the 40k universe – there is a very visceral sense that almost transcends the normal “bolter porn” style stories that we get, and instead it’s treated in a very adult manner, somehow. Does that even make sense? It’s much more serious in the way that it deals with those aspects of the 40k universe that have previously been used as parody, to the point where it’s almost just easy to dismiss.
At any rate, let’s get started!
I’ve got three stories to begin with, two fairly short ones and a novella.
The Crown of Thorns is a short story about the Angels Penitent space marine chapter, a successor chapter to the Blood Angels, and their dark history as they moved away from their history as the Angels Resplendent. The chapter originally was the only one to not succumb to the Black Rage, but now, it seems, their chapter is almost entirely Death Company. The coming of a stranger to the chapter’s fortress monastery seems to have triggered the Flaw emerging into the marines, and the introduction of much more barbaric customs. Have they fallen from the Emperor’s light? The Emperor Condemns, they say…
Next on the list is Fire and Ice, a curious novella about the Interrogator Haniel Mordaine on the run from the Inquisition, after his perceived part in the assassination of his mentor, Inquisitor Escher. Mordaine is trying to meet with the mysterious Calavera, who can apparently help him root out the influence of the Tau in the sector, and thereby giving Mordaine a victory that will help to redeem his name with his superiors. His journey takes him to the ice world of Oblazt, where the Tau are making a serious push for winning the hearts and minds of the hivers there through the Unity revolution. The Calavera has taken a high-ranking Tau prisoner, and Mordaine questions him in an effort to recover some standing. It’s a fascinating story, one that peels back its layers while still keeping enough up to obfuscate what is really going on. It’s the sort of story that no synopsis will ever do justice to, the sort of story that you just have to read and absorb. As I found to my chagrin, it doesn’t really help reading it over a protracted period, either – it’s a novella, so longer than the average Black Library short, but it really would benefit from being read in one sitting. Fehevari has a reputation for being a very intricate author, and this story has got so much under the surface, it isn’t always abundantly clear what is going on, where the story might be going, etc.
Lastly, The Thirteenth Psalm is another Angels Penitent story that I found a bit funny at first – you know how I said Fehevari is normally much more serious than a parody? The story brings us to Oblazt and the Angels Penitent’s crusades to track down and destroy the works of art they had created in the days before the coming of the Undying Martyr. Chaplain Castigant Bjargo Rathana leads a task force to recover a mirror from the estate of a noblewoman, along the way berating his fellow battle brothers for possible lapses into creating artworks once again. The estate is Chaos-tainted, as it transpires, and the discovery of the mirror prompts Rathana to question his own purity at the end.
All three tales seem to end with a lot of questions for us as the reader, though by far and a way my favourite here is the novella, Fire and Ice. According to my Goodreads, I had read this back when I was building a Tau army, but I have no recollection of doing so; I can certainly see myself re-reading it in an attempt for greater understanding (and in one long read-through!) Though I guess that’s the beauty of these stories, in that they do leave you hanging…