Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Hour Of Hell (Fellguard Pt. 2)

The Hour of Hell (Fellguard Pt. 2) by Mark Clapham. An Imperial Guard short story, originally published by The Black Library, December 2013. Approx. 28 pages. 

Even though it boasted characters that were barely more substantial than rough outlines, The Siege of Fellguard was an enjoyable, action-packed tale with vivid descriptions of violence, decay, and ichor. The fact that the positives outnumbered the negatives warranted Part 2 of the story, The Hour of Hell, getting a read.

We left off at the end of Siege with the Cadian 39th taking the Fellguard entry point of Bastion Beta-3, suffering terrible losses all the way. With things seemingly tipping in their favor, the cultist sorcerer Mazalai, through the sacrifice of the highest ranking cultists, achieved the pinnacle of potential as a servant of Nurgle. In a mighty expolosion, his corporeal existence serves as the conduit to being something terrible in from the Warp. Something that it will take a miracle for the Cadians to overcome....

I had no idea which way Clapham was going to go in the conclusion of this storyline. One of the things that worked best in Siege was how the action alternated between the Imperial and Chaos forces. Now, with all the Chaos players dead or transformed, there would need to be a new format. With the Chaos side boasting more compelling players the first go round, I was hoping the Cadians would be more dynamic this time around, especially since it was now their time to shine in the face of great adversity. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In Siege, the Cadian focus was centered on regimental priest Vurtch and Castellan Blakov. In Hour of Hell, veteran Lieutenant Rawl and Commissar Chavaria are at the fore. Blakov remains a person of great importance, but here the stress is on how his mettle is judged by those other officers. While Rawl and Chavaria are interesting characters, they suffer from the same lack of characterization the made Siege a good story rather than a great one. They remain painfully static and repetitive. We understood from the first mention that Chavaria relies more on threats of violence than application; and yet the point is hammered home relentlessly. Same with how Rawl and Chavaria realize that Blakov would need to be removed should his leadership falter. We got it the first time, any page space used reiterating it could have been spent more wisely developing some background characters.

Another thing that seemed odd to me was that instead of continuing the action of Siege directly, Clapham opted to retell the events of it, albeit from a different point of view. There were doubtlessly more concise ways we could have been notified what Rawl and Chavaria were doing during that time.

One other thing that faltered where Siege shined was in the description of the main antagonist. The abomination that Mazalai morphed into was none other than a Great Unclean One. Since Clapham reveled in descriptions of all things rotten, viscous, and oozing in Siege, fleshing this fleshy daemon out should have been a field day for him. And yet it seems uninspired. We get requisite commentary on open wounds, dangling entrails, etc., but there was so much more joie de grossness the first go round. Don't get me wrong, there are still excellent, gory death scenes throughout. And when Clapham describes the rot and decay that afflict dying soldiers, he is in top notch form. But just think how excellent it would have been to focus less on flashbacks and repetition and focus more on integrating the taint of Nurgle into the atmosphere, and showing us the true horror of the Great Unclean One.

What saves The Hour of Hell is the post-scripts. Like in Siege, this installment is framed by Imperial excerpts, this time from one of the survivors of the horrors of Fellguard. The closing sentiments of this memoir are honest, sentimental, and fairly profound. It is also followed immediately by a curt reminder of the Orwellian soul of this eternally dystopian universe.

All in all, The Hour of Hell is a slight step down from The Siege of Fellguard, but it still remains a solid Imperial Guard duology very worth a read.

Here's what it is:
The stalwart fighters of the Cadian 39th come face to face with a true horror from the bowels of the Warp in this somewhat anti-climactic climax to the Fellguard story.

Final Score:


Cover Score:
As in Siege, rather plain cover here. I actually prefer the cracked plaster effect of this cover to the sickly green high school locker cover of Siege. It would have been much better to try and replicate the wall of bones idea of the outer defensive wall of Fellguard, though.

Cover Final Score:


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