Out Caste by Peter Fehervari. Originally published by The Black Library (as part of their 2012 Advent Calendar Compilation), December 2012. Approx. 6 pages.
Without a doubt, the Black Library book that I enjoyed the most this year was Peter Fehervari's Fire Caste. His detailed, atmospheric writing truly brought that imaginative tale of Imperial Guardsmen vs. the Tau Collective in the bowels of warp-twisted space to life. Yet, as mentioned in my review of Fire Caste, the only issue I had with the book was that it did not feature enough of the Tau warrior Jhi'kaara, Commissar Holt Iverson's shattered mirror image. Luckily, Fehervari had penned a backstory for her that appeared in 2012's Advent Calendar series. Ah yes, love or hate those Black Library micro-shorts, checking the site each morning in December is like opening one of those German chocolate-filled Advent Calendars.
A childhood filled with these was a childhood filled with awesome.
Out Caste is told in a bifurcated narrative; we get a first person POV of the newly minted shas'la J'kaara ('the mirror'), as well as musings on the history of the scarred Jhi'kaara ('the broken mirror').
What I think works best about Out Caste is that it ties so nicely into the themes presented in Fire Caste. Between the Tau and the Imperium, there seem to be more similarities than differences; in fact, to very loosely paraphrase Fire Caste, it comes down to "one evil empire against the other". The Tau have the collective notions of the Greater Good, and the Imperium stresses the harsh dogmatic regime of the God-Emperor, but in the end, it all comes down to control, top to bottom.
The reason I mention this is because it all plays into Jhi'kaara, and the meaning of her name. She is originally named J'kaara because she can "read the hearts of her comrades". Therefore, should anyone be so surprised that she can find respect and nobility in a race that shares more parallels than divergences with her own? This might be the real reason behind the broken mirror moniker; more of a tribute to her ability to read her enemy as well as her own kind than a badge of shame, resulting from the kiss of a chainsword when she stopped questioning the natural deadliness of the gue'la (humans) for a moment.
But of course she bears it as a mark of shame. A reminder that she is no longer the shining phenom that went out, full of confidence, on her first mission. A reminder that life is fractured, hard to look at face on, and never yields a clear answer.
One other thing to mention, beyond the thematic elements, is the prose. The writing in Out Caste is full of juicy, bloody descriptions, especially the savage, avian motions of the Kroot warriors. The philosophies and tactics of the Tau are properly laid out, and the scene with the commissar is a wonderfully gory scene.
And lastly, very clever wordplay with the title. Outcast, indeed.
This is a great micro-short, and further proof the Jhi'kaara is a character that can carry a full novel. Why not? people bitched that there wasn't enough Tau in Fire Caste (although I disagree, but that's me), so why not let Fehervari do a full-on Tau novel?
Here's what it is:
Appreciated backstory on a very good character from an excellent novel. Well worth picking up, even if you don't particularly like these micro-shorts.
9.5 out of 10
Tough call here. I feel cheap for slamming the cover, it is what it is. These Advent Calender shorts basically take some iconic symbol or logo from the species featured and dot the cover with it. Here, it is a take on a Tau helmet. Looks cute enough, but the color reminds me of cheap dijon mustard. But for $1.25, you aren't getting much more.
Cover Final Score:
1 out of 10. I'm not rating this on a scale of 1 to 100.