Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Iron Harvest

Iron Harvest by Guy Haley. An Imperial Guard short story featuring characters from the novel Baneblade. Originally published by The Black Library, July 2013. Approx. 42 pages.

HachiSnax Note: This review will open with some recapping of the events which transpired at the end of Baneblade, so if you haven't read that book yet, just take it from me that this is an excellent short story featuring intense Imperial Guard vs. Dark Eldar action. If you want a Baneblade spoiler-free tanker story from Haley, might I also suggest his excellent Stormlord. For all others, read on to see what Bannick & Co. have been up to. Cheers, Hach.

The events of Baneblade culminated with an all-out battle on the brutal desert world of Kalidar with the mighty ork infestation that saturated it. This battle saw the demise of the venerated Baneblade Mars Triumphant and most of her crew. Our protagonist, Lieutenant Bannick, being groomed for a leadership role, was one of the few survivors of the skirmish. A promising epilogue informs us that he has been promoted to the rank of Honored Lieutenant, in command of his own Baneblade, the newly-christened Cortein's Honour (named for the late Honoured Lt. of Mars Triumphant).

So on paper, things are definitely looking up for Bannick, however, his first dispatch finds him decidedly outside of his comfort zone. First of all is his new crew; he is joined by remaining Mars Triumphant survivors Lt. Epperaliant and Meggen. The rest of his new crew, though, is not comprised solely of fellow Paragonians. Now he is working with Atrxians (a group he bonded with on Kalidar), plus a driver from a prison world and a loader from a feral world. Therefore, one of his highest hurdles on this new tank is bringing this diverse mish-mash into a cohesive team. 

Secondly, this mission will not be as part of the Paragonian super-heavy group. Instead, Bannick and crew find themselves attached to an Inquisition mission on the mining world of Agritha. Attacks by the dreaded Dark Eldar have completely decimated the working population of that world, and Sashella (the Inquisitor) has requisitioned infantry components to complement her retinue of stormtroopers and an Astartes Deathwatch team. 

Worst of all, Sashella has laid it out in no uncertain terms that the guard is there as bait, pure and simple.

What we have in Iron Harvest is a little bit of bonding time for the new unit followed up by a true night of living hell.So how does the short fare overall? Simply put, it is kind of astounding, and without a doubt one of my new favorite 40K shorts. How did Haley do it?

I've already reviewed a few of Haley's works before, so forgive me if I repeat a few things. First of all, he always employs a rich, intelligent vocabulary. Second, there is his world-building expertise. While many authors would be satisfied to term the designated battlefield by a few simple terms (basic climate/importance to Imperium), Haley goes the extra yard in adding legitimacy to those choices. We end up with a real feel for Agritha and its rotational crews of slaughtered miners. Third, there is the overall optimization of an economic word count. We get a real feel for this new crew; in fact, I felt more acquainted with them in 40 pages than I did with the Mars Triumphant crew of Baneblade.

Finally, the real treat in Iron Harvest is Haley's depiction of the Dark Eldar. His descriptions of their arcane technologies make them palpable, and you can sense the sinister malice of these cruel sadists. Scenes of Dark Eldar handiwork are presenting in vivid, horrifying detail, making it literally painful to read at times. Haley also makes sure to include a cornucopia of Dark Eldar units, and gives proper attention to their raiding patterns. 

Other than that, I will say it is good to see Bannick's continued growth as well. I never had any problem with his character in Baneblade; I had just thought that some of his personal particulars weren't completely established. But now, with all that backstory behind him, he makes for a good lead. Again, I really like the angle of Paragonians that makes them revere the Omnissiah as well as the God-Emperor and the Omnissiah. There is a scene where it shows how Bannick is awestruck by Titans, and yet unnerved by the Adeptus Astartes. It's little touches like that the distinguish these characters. It seems like with this crew that Haley is building a team to revisit in future works. I really hope that that is the case.

Here's what it is:
Bannick and the Baneblade Crew return for 40 pages of hard-fought Imperial Guard vs. Dark Eldar action. It seems somewhat incongruous, super-heavy tank vs. lithe eldritch sadists, but Haley has crafted a real winner here.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

It's a silhouette of a Baneblade with an orange flare-type backdrop effect. What can I say?

Cover Final Score:


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