Friday, June 27, 2014

The Emperor's Grace

The Emperor's Grace by Nicholas Alexander. An Astra Militarum short story, originally published by The Black Library, May 2014. Approx. 25 pages.

About a month and a half ago, I offered a pretty tough critique on a new Imperial Guard short called The Trophy by new Black Library author Nicholas Alexander. In all honesty, the story was lackluster, and did little to nothing to optimize a can't-miss, simply structured storyline. But although rather dull, it was not a bad story. And Alexander did do some things well, including stressing the atmosphere that there is no safety in the Imperium, neither with friend nor foe. Still, I was a tad wary about reading further works by him. However, The Emperor's Grace was centered around subject matter that I find very interesting: aircraft campaigns. One of the great things about the Warhammer 40K universe is that it so deftly combines elements of futuristic as well as conventional warfare. This gives us not only bold tales of engineered super-soldiers versus aliens and unholy abominations, but also classic combat tales featuring tank battles and aerial dogfights. So, interest sufficiently piqued, I gave The Emperor's Grace a whirl. And I am very happy that I did.

In Emperor's Grace, we have another nice and simple story synopsis: the world of Balle-Prime is suffering under the infestation of the ork hordes. The greenskins have made the starport at Balle-Delta into a forward air base, making it critical for the Imperium that orkish operations there cease and desist immediately. It falls upon the Vordrost 1167th Bomber Wing to do just that.

The Emperor's Grace focuses on the crew of an Imperial Marauder Bomber bearing said name, and their virgin run in the mission to cleanse Balle-Delta. The crew is led by a tough-as-nails captain named Mikal, a scarred former gang-banger. Mikal is a man of few words; he grunts and he glowers. Alexander does a good job establishing how his past formed him into the man he is today, yielding a satisfactory protagonist. The rest of the crew are clearly sketched out in appearance and general behavior; you can tell who's who while never losing site of the real characters, Mikal and the Grace. 

As one can assume when flying into a buzzing hive of greenskins, things can and do go wrong. Massive body counts on both sides quickly rack up. Alexander does a good job describing the aerial battles; and while he doesn't capture Abnett's skill in Double Eagle of letting you feel the g-forces along with the pilot and crew, the claustrophobia of cruising in a flying deathtrap is definitely palpable. Alexander has also done his homework regarding aircraft anatomy, making the technical descriptions authentic.

Another aspect in which Grace shines is with the descriptions of the orks. An author should have fun writing about these merry miscreants. An ork fighter pilot is the epitome of absurdity, cruising along in chunky, ungainly fighters with old-time leather caps, goggles, and streaming white scarves. The planes, the pilots, and the way-beyond-unstable mentality of these greenskinned aviators are all well rendered in this story.

What really won this story over for me, however, was the ending. Following the Pyrrhic victory of the 1167th, The Emperor's Grace ends with a scene that is both emotional and touching. It's a perfect way to cap a story like this; by showing that the fear does not end simply because you made it home. Very well done.

Here's what it is:
An excellent story that tells of a bombing run goes badly for the crew of a Marauder bomber, and then goes the extra distance by showing us the emotional fallout.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

One of the more simple short story covers here. The main focus is on the a technical outline of a Marauder bomber. The background color of the cover is nice and fitting, but the shade of green used for the bomber outline and font is very off-putting.

Cover Final Score:


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