A Sanctuary of Wyrms by Peter Fehervari. Originally published by The Black Library, April 2013. Approx. 24 pages.
I've had Sanctuary of Wyrms sitting on the back burner for a good while now. I've truly enjoyed the stories by Fehervari that I've read so far, but he has only so many stories in the 40K universe that I get wary of running out. But given that it is already the 10th of March, and I have no posts up (plus I am only two-thirds done with the book I am currently reading), I was pooling through the archives for a short work to read and review. So here we are. How does Wyrms stack up with other Fehervari works (here, here, and here)? Very well in fact; and it is bolstered by the return of a familiar character and a great setting.
A Sanctuary of Wyrms tells the tale of Asharil, an ambassador of the Tau's water caste. Hailing from a long line of water caste servants, she holds in interest in the gue'la, the colonial xenos race known as the "humans". She finds herself commissioned to a world known among the Tau as Fi'draah, a harsh jungle environment referred to by the humans as "the Coil".
The Coil...Fi'draah.....Phaedra. Oh yes, back to the Dolorosa Coil!
Fire Caste had so many great things going for it; great characters, a twisty plot, and plenty of Easter Eggs and puzzles to play mind games with you. But one of the things which I enjoyed the most was the whole "living, breathing (hating), jungle" motif, inspired by iconic works like Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. Well, it pleases me to say that Phaedra is here in all of its magnificent, teeming malice.
Asharil is attached to some earth caste cartographers, and, for security, they are provided with a fire caste shas'ui in charge of a contingent of Imperial defectors. This shas'ui is a jaded female warrior named Jhi'kaara. Yes, the "broken mirror" herself.
The group upon an ominous, bunker-like structure known by the frog-face locals as the "Sanctuary of Wyrms". It is determined that it is both an Imperial structure, as well as a means to "keep something inside". A saunter inside reveals signs of great struggle, of terrible loss, and of great evil. It turns out that the designation on the Sanctuary, the stylized gue'la character "I", identifying the bunker as the business of the dread Inquisition. And as we all know, where the Inquisition is involved, dread things await.
After sifting through the remains of the inner struggles, the tau team makes some great discoveries. First, they find the warped and distended remains of the former inhabitants of the structure. Second, amongst the scattered remains lay fallen gods. Members of the revered (reviled) Astartes. But the space marines are different; their pauldrons bear different markings. All have a version of the "I" seen above, but they also bear separate Chapter markings as well. A true mystery to the Tau; members of the covert Deathwatch.
Lastly, the Tau comes upon the horror that started the whole massacre; a bastardization of an ancient evil compounded by the hateful humor of Phaedra herself. And foolishly, the allow it a chance to stretch its tendrils. There is no spoiler in saying that; from the onset of the story, we already know that things did not go well, and that this will indeed be Asharil's final account.
As always, Fehervari employs a descriptive style the perfectly matches the brutal, dark nature of this universe. He also shows some chops for horror here, creating some tension in scenes where the group explores the Sanctuary.
Asharil makes for an interesting protagonist. She strikes a sort of rapport with Jhi'kaara over time, as they share some common traits. They both rely upon and trust their intuition, where logic might be more in tune with the ways of the Tau. Also, they are both sensitive to the ways of the gue'la; Asharil chooses to study them, while Jhi'kaara always had the talent to 'understand' her enemies, especially the humans.
And yet, as interesting as she might be, she is not nearly as compelling as, well, Jhi'kaara. Or Commissar Iverson. And that's too bad. I would've loved another chance to see inside of Jhi'kaara's head again, but that could not be, as this is a first person POV. Maybe one day we'll get a Jhi'kaara solo novel....
Another point to mention, we only get to glimpse the panorama of Phaedra at the beginning of the story. The rest of the tale shifts to the "haunted house" feel of the Sanctuary. Like mentioned before, these scenes are tense and well-done. I just like the hateful living planet better.
Here's what it is:
Peter Fehervari delivers another sound Tau outing, with an emphasis on the old "enemy of my enemy" flair to it. Great to see Jhi'kaara and Phaedra again as well.
Here we have a few fire caste warriors in formation, blasting away, with a monochromatic saturation. All fine and dandy, but there are not that many Tau warriors in the story. The picture looks like a grab from a codex, or supplement. But it's fine for the price. Best bet? Get the Deathwatch: Xenos Hunters edition so you can enjoy this gem of a cover:
Cover Final Score: