The Siege of Fellguard (Fellguard Pt.1) by Mark Clapham. An Imperial Guard short story, originally published by The Black Library, December 2013. Approx. 31 pages.
Today we will focus on another Black Library short showcasing the Imperial Guard; this being the first of two installments in the Fellguard story arc by an author relatively new to the Black Library, Mark Clapham (Iron Guard). As said numerous times, stories like this are great primers for getting to know the authors. So, did Clapham's treatment of the Imperial Guard make the case for giving his full-length novel a look? I'd say so. The Siege of Fellguard is not a character-driven story, but an action-driven one, and the author writes with a descriptive touch that brings the situations to life.
The story in Siege could not be any simpler; we have a force of Cadians (the 39th) working to take back the Fellguard stronghold on the planet of Kelthorn, which has fallen to cultists of Nurgle (it's turning out to be a Nurgle-heavy month here). If, by reading the title, you were expecting a siege involving a protacted waiting/mindgame, with studies of defensive positions, cutting off resources, harrying attacks, etc., you might be disappointed. A more appropriate title for this story might have been The Storming of Fellguard, since that is what it is. We open with the Cadians taking the out wall, and from there, fighting for the best way in. It might be worth noting here that said outer wall is one of the most outlandish things that I have read about in the 40K universe, a wall comprised of the bones of millions of martyrs of the God-Emperor. When I had first read that, I thought it was a pretty ridiculous notion, even for this franchise, but Clapham is a skilled enough author to believe his story, and therefore sell it to the reader.
Now, although this is an Imperial Guard story, Siege is split fairly evenly between the forces on both sides of Fellguard's walls. On the Cadian side, most of the focus centers around regimental priest Vurtch, while on the Chaos side, we follow the blessed cultist sorceror Mazalai, who, for all the favor shown to him by Nurgle, has not attained the ultimate power he seeks: the ability to raise unliving forces (zombie hordes like in Cadian Blood? yes please!).
Characterization is not particularly strong in Siege. The Nurglite cultists are far more compelling here; it is pretty thrilling to watch Mazalai ascending towards what his kind might call greatness. The most sympathetic character in the story is his assistant, a gibbering mess named Grent, who seemingly has a few crumbs of humanity strewn around his many "blessings".
The Cadians, on the other hand, remain rather one-dimensional throughout. There is a fine duel between their commanding, Castellan Blakov and a cultist commander protected by a scabrous armor. Other than that, there are no characters of note. There is an interesting female lieutenant mentioned, but she drops off the map pretty early on (hopefully to return). Not much time is spent on the troopers. I remember that there was an obligatory griper in the crowd. As for Vurtch, he remained pretty low-key throughout. I am assuming that the Cadians' time to shine will be in Pt.2, as this first installment focuses more on building up to a grand cliffhanger. So here's hoping we'll see some grit and resolve against insurmountable odds in The Hour of Hell.
Clapham's best strength in Siege comes in physical descriptions. Authors must feel like kids in candy stores when they get to write for the servants of Nurgle. There are so many opportunities for grossness, for pus and ooze, decay and insect swarms. And Clapham revels in this. The yellowish funk that surrounds Fellguard is nearly tangible, and in battle, wounds weep horribly discolored ichor. It is all gloriously repulsive.
For what it is, Siege is put together nicely. The pacing and alternating between armies is all done well. It opens and closes with portions of an Inquisitorial report on the encounter, replete with all the redactions and trimmings. While it lets you know outright how things will turn out, it is still fun to watch. Like all things in the Imperium, when things go bad it is terrible, but when things go right, well, they still end up pretty bad too. It's all part and parcel of serving in the Guard:
"Be all that you can be."
Here's what it is:
Part one of Mark Clapham's Cadians vs. cultists duology starts off with a bang (actually a lot of bangs), but not a lot character development. Very enjoyable for what it is, straight up Guard action with commendable attention to detail on the disciples of Nurgle. Look for the review of Pt.2: The Hour of Hell later this month.
Was just looking up some stuff on the Warhammer 40K wiki and found an entry on the Cadian 39th. Interesting reading here. Did not realize that they were such a notable unit in previous canon.
Nothing of note here. You have the text and an Imperial Guard logo in front of a metal plate that could either be part of a fortress wall or a high school locker. Greenish saturation is, I suppose, a nod to the corruption of Nurgle. It's a decent enough nauseous green to do the job.
Cover Final Score: