Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pedro Kantor: The Vengeful Fist

Pedro Kantor: The Vengeful Fist by Steve Parker. A Lords of the Space Marines short story, originally published by The Black Library in December 2013 as part of there Advent Calender series. Approx. 4 pages.

Just wanted to make a quick mention of this short, being as though July has seen a lot of Crimson Fist-based stories reviewed. The Vengeful Fist is one of those micro-shorts that you either love or hate (I usually fall into the love category, especially with the whole "Advent Calender" theme). Last year's calender theme was the "Lords of the Space Marines", which I pretty much avoided since I am not invested enough into 40K canon to know all the particulars of all the heroes. But I did want to read everything that Parker pens that involves the Fists.

The Vengeful Fist centers on the angry reflections of the Crimson Fists Chapter Master, one year after the cataclysmic events of Rynn's World. From inside of the Chapter Master's mind, we get a view of the panorama of this devastated world. And we see the full gamut of emotions that constantly swirl through his head: grief, anger, loss, rage, duty.

That's all that there is, and that's all there is room for. In just 4 pages, Parker gives Kantor more gravitas and depth than he had in the entirety of Rynn's World. There is also a mention of a conflict, though all of the action occurs off-screen.

Pedro Kantor: The Vengeful Fist gives you an emotional view of a devastated leader surveying the wastelands where so many millions under his charge lost their lives. It is 4 of the better pages you'll read from The Black Library, whether or not you like the micro-short story format.

Now, one final question that I hope someone out there can help me with. I really enjoy the Fists stories by Parker and Lee (although Parker's are a bit better), but does anyone know what exactly Alessio Cortez is up to? In Parker's stories, Cortez has left on a personal vendetta to track down and kill Snagrod, however, Lee puts him at just returning from Terra on a mission to petition for the continuation of the Chapter. Which is it?

Final Score:


Cover Score:

The Crimson Fists logo over a blue background. Proudly displaying the colors. Effective for a short like this.

Cover Final Score:


Traitor's Gorge

Traitor's Gorge by Mike Lee. A Warhammer 40K Crimson Fists novella, originally published by The Black Library, 2013. Approx. 105 pages.

Put into general release last year and recently relegated to the Black Library Vault (although now SOLD OUT), Traitor's Gorge is a ~30,000 word novella by Mike Lee, once again writing about the post-Rynn's World Crimson Fists. Traitor's Gorge focuses on Chapter Master Pedro Kantor, who, along with Sternguard and Terminator squads, continue the arduous purge of the orks from their devastated home world.

This will be a relatively short review, since the execution is nearly identical to what we saw in The Few. Ergo, what worked there, works here; and what was lacking there is on full display.

The events of Traitor's Gorge take place roughly two years after the attack on the Crimson Fists home planet, Rynn's World. Snagrod has left, and the remaining humans (the roughly 1% that survived), and the last hundred Fists are still expunging the greenskin taint. After finishing up a sweep of xenos filth, they receive word that an exploratory group (dispatched by the nobles at New Rynn City to obtain some agricultural equipment) have gone missing. Given the amount of time since they disappeared, Kantor knows chances for a rescue are dim. There is, however the chance to honor them with retribution. Exhausted and frighteningly low on ammunition, the Fists head off for a snaking riverbed known as Traitor's Gorge.

Unbeknownst to both the Fists and the orks, a third party has a vested interest in the events developing on Rynn's World. Eldar farseer Sethyr Tuannan, of the Alaitoc, has seen some grim portents. She sees the rise of a new ork warboss, one filled with enough malicious intelligence to supplant the mighty Snagrod. And so, embracing the age-old mantra that "the enemy of my enemy is my ally", she takes a contingent of rangers and warp spiders to the Gorge.

As mentioned, as it was in The Few, there is little to no characterization going on in Traitor's Gorge. Kantor spits out some cinematic rally calls, and Sethyr contributes some arbitrarily obscure riddles. There is an interesting "Yogi Bear" greenskin (he's smarter than the average ork). The rest of the cast list is names and unit types. It's all fine though, for the physical descriptions and action scenes are done very well.

Lee understands the very different physical traits of these three races, and integrates this into the tactics employed and battle scenes written. There is a lot of crushing hand to hand combat between orks and Astartes, due to depleted ammo stores. The eldar fight with their trademark grace and obfuscation. Intense detail is paid to weapons and uniforms; the scene where Kantor is introduced contains such a vivid description of his custom armor that I felt he was standing before me.

If there is any one thing I can pin down as a flaw it is the "ork chapters". At the beginning of each chapter is a small icon which lets you know which race it will focus primarily on. While these are not first-person POV's, for some reason, the ork chapters utilize a smattering of "orky" terms, like "hard shells" (for the Space Marines. Parker had used that term as well in Rynn's World). It just seems odd to have random ork words thrown in. It's not like the narrative was following some orkish stream of consciousness. It's like those old 80's movies which, when they showed Soviets, they would be speaking in English (under the assumption that the audience understood it was supposed to represent native tongue), and yet, for no real reason, instead of saying "no", someone would say "nyet". It just doesn't feel right.

So that's it. If you love a lot of action in your WH40K books, then you should love Traitor's Gorge. You are getting 100 pages of well-written battle scenes with some obligatory moments of exposition tucked in. The back and forth gets mind-numbing after a while, but never dull.

Here's what it is:
The depleted Crimson Fists and the crafty eldar "team up" to unleash holy hell on the some not-exactly dumb orks in a pure action novella. If you want a ton of graphic carnage, this is for you.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

This is a nice cover at first glance. The posing is solid, the colors are vibrant. But sorry, the more I look at Kantor's power fist, the more cartoony it seems. I know the technology is canon, I know armoured Space Marines take, ah, liberties with anatomical correctness, but it looks like those Tex Avery/Tom & Jerry type shorts where a character blows into his thumb to inflate his fist before socking someone in the mouth. Maybe some electric crackling would distract from how balloon-like it looks?

Cover Final Score:


Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Dungeon Master

Today's entry will be less of a traditional review, and more of a personal recommendation. During this summer, The New Yorker is keeping their Archives section open, granting access to a true treasure trove of great content. I am a longtime fan of The New Yorker, especially their fiction section. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you head over there and check some of these tales out, but this one especially hit home for me.

The Dungeon Master, by Sam Lipsyte, first appeared in the October 4th, 2010 issue. It is, at its heart, the coming-of-age story of an unnamed teenage protagonist, and it centers around the Dungeons & Dragons campaign he and his friends participate in.

Word association time. Quick! What comes to mind when you think of a group of teens in the 80's playing D&D? Weirdos? Nerds? Virginal types? Got to love stereotypes. And yet, stereotypes cannot endure without some track record of accuracy. The DM fully acknowledges the fact that the game attracts a good deal of the fringe types, but instead of writing them off as losers, it dares you to look at what makes them tick.

Lipsyte has crafted quite an intriguing group here. Our nameless protagonist is not so much weird as unmotivated and directionless. There is one glum kid, and another with a seething undercurrent of bitterness under his skin. There is the DM's younger brother Marco, trapped in that fruitless quest for acceptance that all younger siblings must walk.

And then there is the titular Dungeon Master. Like the narrator, he remains unnamed, and is only referred to by title. The Dungeon Master is a true mess; he is nasty, vindictive, and unabashedly cruel. He does "really weird" things; some in truth, some simply the fruit of rumor. But when you study him closely, you see his strong qualities; he is intelligent, and imaginative.

The problem that plagues the Dungeon Master is that he is must assuredly emotionally disturbed. And he's playing the best he can with a losing deck.

There is sadness abound in this story, and it plucks every emotional heartstring. But at its core, it is also a celebration of the outlet the D&D provided for kids like these. A happy escape. A sense of control, of actual influence in world and life events for people that had the capacity for neither. It was the greatest refuge of all.

Lipsyte paints a vibrant picture with short strokes, fully optimizing an economical word allotment. Visual cues tap into the wells of childhood memory; a troubled boy's gait, the pungent aromas of orange or raspberry soda. In six words, he describe's one of the boys' sisters: "all phone calls and baggy sweaters". And from those few words you can draw a vivid image. The parent in the other room portrayed as weird, and rightfully so; for nothing could break the continuity of a good campaign like a parent poking their head in.

Where The Dungeon Master veers a little into ham-handedness is when it tries for commentary. In last year's Hobgoblin review I touched a bit on the fears of parent's in the 80's based off of urban legends, James Dallas Egbert, and that decade's fear of Satan in everything. Don't get me wrong; Lipsyte perfectly captures the concerned dialogue of the parents of the time. It's just that the tale would have worked better as a "who is really more messed up, me or my parents?" parable.

There's the crux of the matter regarding D&D hysteria. It was more than convenient to pin the frustrations surrounding emotionally disturbed children on a game. Perhaps the scariest thing for a parent to do is to assess themselves before pointing fingers at their children.

Within this circle we have broken families as well as broken children. We have the Dungeon Master's father; whose romantic inclinations could not hold on to his wife, and whose pedigree as a child psychiatrist cannot save his older son. We have Cherninsky's parents, who stopped raising him when their younger daughter died. And we have the narrator's family; a mother who is failing as a small business owner and a father stuck in a middle-management job. Two parents stuck in a middling life that demand excellence from their children. For the teens, this is the ultimate hypocrisy. For the parents, it is an attempt to provide an egress from a lifelong consignment to mediocrity. I've visited both sides of the fence now, and understand how each side feels.

When I first started reading this story, I almost wanted to stop myself. I didn't want to get sucked into what was promising to be a trip back in time. I didn't want the story to end, just like I never wanted to leave the fantasy safety net D&D offered. Maybe this story hits a little hard for me because I knew a lot of these guys, and maybe it's a little harder because to certain degrees I was some of those guys.

And in the end, it's all the same. The fantasy ends, and the world tries to rend you to pieces. Some make it, and some don't. That's what happens to the boys here; some try to "fit in", with predictable results. They find that they can't keep evading whatever is on their heels forever. Then, like the curtain being moved in "Oz", life knocks down the laminated Dungeon Master's screen, and all refuge from broken families, broken social structures, and broken souls is gone forever.

It takes a lot of skill to write a story so emotionally devastating. I highly recommend this story to all readers, and especially to those who grew up with the game. Check it out while The New Yorker's Archives are still open.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Faith & Fire

Faith & Fire by James Swallow. A Sisters of Battle novel by James Swallow, originally published March, 2006. Approx. 395 pages.

Ah yes, the Adepta Sororitas, also known as the Sisters of Battle. Those stoic daughters of the Emperor that so seamlessly combine lethal, power-armored soldiery with the "sexy nun" fetish most men harbor. The Sisters have long been fan-favorites in the WH40K universe, and yet, there are a painfully minuscule number of books devoted to them. Sure, they pop up here and there in other works. But so far, the only real chances they've had to shine on their own are in the two novels and one audio book penned by James Swallow. Oh, and the Sisters of Silence audio book penned by Edward Knight. Can't forget that one.

If you peruse online reviews of Faith & Fire, they are pretty mixed. The reviews on the lower end site problems with it such as pacing, characterization, and just being pretty boring overall. I wonder if those folks actually read the novel all the way through. F&F is by no means perfect, and it does get off to a slow start, but it ends up being a pretty decent read all in all. Let's take a look.

Faith & Fire revolves around a Celestian Squad of the Order of the Martyred Lady. This squad is led by a Sister Superior named Miriya.

No, not this Miriya. Although I confess to picturing the protagonist looking like this....

Miriya and her squad are tasked with delivering a particularly dangerous psyker named Torris Vaun from a Black Ship to the planet Neva (which the Sisters orbit in their cruiser Mercutio) and into the hands of the Ecclesiarchy leader there, one Deacon Viktor LaHayn. Things take an inevitable turn for the worse, and the psyker uses his considerable powers to engineer his escape. Turns out the Vaun was quite the successful villain and corsair down on Neva, and he is more than ready to re-engage in his nefarious former activities.

Miriya takes it as her solemn duty to track Vaun down and bring the Emperor's justice to him. Not only for her unjured pride though. Vaun's escape act led to one of her squad dying, and another feeling shamed enough to commit to the Sisters Repentia squad. And so, the chase is on.

Of course, things are not only what they seem. It turns out the Vaun's actions are geared more towards revenge, not base criminality. His actions also bring the attention of the Sororitas to bear on LaHayn himself. Could such a seemingly righteous, pious beacon of the Emperor's light be involved in the heretical happenings on Neva? And, if so, how high are the stakes that Vaun and LaHayn are playing for?

Let's take a look at where Faith & Fire hits the mark, and where it misses...

Kind of a miss here, and that's what ultimately consigns this book to the mid-level of 40K novels.

Yeah, I've been champing at the bit to pepper this review with kawaii Sororitas "Heresy" pics. And you can bet your sweet ass that there are more to come.

The main problem with our main protagonists, the Battle Sisters, is that they are, by engineering, quite possibly even more narrow-minded than the mighty Space Marines. They are groomed for piety, and zealotry, not independent thought or creative interpretation of dogmatic doctrine. Ergo, Miriya becomes quite a rigid lead. Her dogged straight-forwardness is admirable, and her unwavering attitude gives her a strength, but there is little personality. She is given a moral tether of sorts in Verity, a Sister Hospitaller who was blood sister to Miriya's squad Sister that died in Vaun's escape. Verity is a bit more of a sympathetic figure; she possesses a broader spectrum of emotions by far. The problem with her is that everything about her, from her actions to her reactions and line delivery is fairly predictable and rote. Unfortunately, she is relegated to the role of pretty cardboard cutout.

Even as a cardboard cutout, Verity makes out better than the rest of Miriya's squadmates. They are simply extras with names. The other Celestians do little more than show up when the bolts fly, and after a certain point I gave up trying to match the brief physical descriptions with the names (at one point, I was just trying to remember which was the "wounded one"). Canoness Galatea, being the top ranking Battle Sister, is handled decently, striking a fair balance between sternness and care for those under her.

The villains fare slightly better than the heroes. Torris Vaun is fleshed out as a bad guy with every right to be bad (he's been used as a tool and a creature by those in charge since he was little), and that kind of bad guy always gets some sympathy right off the bat. I just pictured him as Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty character from Blade Runner, and it worked well. A little more pathos would have made him a great character, but he gets by on copious amounts of sarcasm and acidic one-liners just fine.

As for Deacon LaHayn, he should have had a handlebar moustache to twirl diabolically from the get-go. Not to raise the spoiler alarm, but most of the duplicitous characters in this book come festooned with red flags, so there are few surprises. LaHayn shapes up to be a decent villain in that there is a valid logic, an actual method to his madness. Although he spends most of the time chewing the scenery with glee, he does present the argument the the end might justify the means, no matter the cost of the means.

Guilty as charged.....

Faith & Fire starts off as a fugitive mystery and evolves into a conspiracy story with a grand finale. No surprises, very standard story template with fairly predictable obligatory obstacles. Nothing bad, but nothing new.

World Building (and adherence to canon terminology):
Here is where Swallow hits it out of the park. I'm guessing he decided to devote the bulk of his creativity into building a truly vibrant slice of Imperium life (too bad it ends up stocked with static characters). Swallow richly blends elements of parochial grandeur and steampunk technology. We also get excellent depictions of the specific technology of the 40K universe (the rankings, etc. of the Sororitas, various weaponry, how they work, what havoc they wreak, etc.). He knows the lore well, and does not make the telling encyclopedic or dry. You get a good idea of the physiology and capabilities of the Sisters, an accurate idea of their appearance and tactics.
Pictured: Miriya in her battle dress. Oh wait, nevermind.....(needs more fleur-de-lis).

Going back to existing reviews, some will lament how boring this book is, and some say it is non-stop action. Faith & Fire is neither, further proving how little trust you should put in online reviews. There is a significant lapse in action towards the beginning, after Vaun's escape. This is where Swallow goes into the many details of life on Neva. There is plenty of action throughout, and well-done too. There are a few nicely staged major set pieces.

Swallow writes some brutal sequences as well. he enjoys describing the effect that 40th Millenium technology has on squishy human parts. He likes to use the word "paste" often in describing remains. Anyone is susceptible to a gruesome death; it was pretty jarring when one high-ranking sister died in a mess of burning, exposed ribs. Also, he does a good job writing for the destructive powers of the psykers. There are scenes where you have witchfire against cleansing fire, and it is pretty glorious. We also get the big ending sequence featuring a literal (not literary) Deus Ex Machina.

And so, there you have it. Faith & Fire ends up being a good title, when it could have been a great title. Yet, I am sufficiently intrigued to slog through the second Sisters of Battle book, Hammer & Anvil, just to see some more Sororitas kicking rear end.


Here's what it is:
James Swallow's first Battle Sisters offering delivers a glorious panorama of an Imperial world, populated with enjoyable, cinematic villains, and tougher than dollar steak protagonists. It's enough to make you root for the nuns and love the psyker.

Yup, sweetcheeks. Delicious, moist, heresy.

Please leave comments if you agree the Black Library needs more Sororitas novels now! Or if you have anymore Kawaii-Sisters memes, leave them too.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Honestly, I am really not too crazy about this cover.

No. Now you are just being a pain in the ass.

The black and white color scheme is nice, but the figure of (Miriya, I guess) is too rigid. The posing should have been done a little differently to allow more visibility of the arms. Personally, I am not a fan of that style of rendering faces. But to each their own. Good detail on the uniform though.

If you ask me, they should reissue these books in omnibus form and slap a pic of master cosplayer Jna (whose Sororitas getup gives me some mightily heretical thoughts) on the cover.

Cover Final Score:


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Happy Birthday Glen Cook!

Today I would like to wish a very happy 70th birthday to one of sci-fi & fantasy's most influential authors, Glen Cook!

Of course everyone is familiar with his signature series, The Black Company. But Cook is also the person behind a slew of great series in these genres, including the Dread Empire, Garrett, P.I., Starfishers, Darkwar, and Instrumentalities of the Night series. Add to this mix a handful of beloved standalone novels, and you have around fifty quality tomes produced.

It's been an honor and a joy to finally finish reading and reviewing The Black Company series. The review for the finale, Soldiers Live, went up at the end of June, which left just one more short story to track down, named Smelling Danger, and appearing in the Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2 anthology. Luckily, there was a copy in the local library system. So how did it fare?

Smelling Danger by Glen Cook (30 pages):
Smelling Danger is the second short story featuring the Black Company the Cook has published in recent years. The first was Tides Elba, which appeared in the Swords & Dark Magic anthology (reviewed here). That story followed the Company for a period during which they were stationed in a land called Aloe, taking place chronologically between the first book and Shadows Linger. In Tides Elba, the Company used their trademark trickery and subterfuge to outscrew the Limper, who was trying, as always, to screw them over. As it turns out, Smelling Danger is a continuation of sorts to Tides Elba, and it references the events that occurred in it (so basically give it a read first). Other than that, the story is nearly identical. The Limper, greatly ticked off by having been one-upped in the last story, looks to get over on the Company again. He employs dirty tricks, the Company reciprocates. There are a few nagging things going on; a purple fungus plaguing the troops, terrible weather, festering sores on our favorite wizards, nasty nests of hornets, weird little whirlpools, and a lurking Rebel rabble-rouser looking to start some trouble.

The good thing is that Cook in on top of his game here. You get the good old authentic military lifestyle vibe from Danger that you have come to expect from him. He also doesn't slip in writing again for the "Croaker of then", which makes you fully understand how talented an author he is that he can age his characters appropriately. People change, they evolve, and Cook has always made sure that that reflects in his Annalists as well.

There is no tension in Smelling Danger, since their is no real danger, or risk. We know already what happens to everyone involved through the book series. So, the best thing to do is to enjoy this tale in the nostalgic sense. I'll admit I got choked up when I first saw Elmo again.

Smelling Danger is a must if you are a completist. On it's own, it is still a strong story, just make sure to read Tides Elba first.

Score: 9 out of 10

Again, happy birthday Mr. Cook! Thank you for all the great stories!

If you haven't read The Black Company series yet, you owe it to yourself to give it a look-see. At least read the first book; I can honestly say that the first chapter is one of the best pieces of fantasy fiction I have ever read.

Heck, if you have some time to spare, you can listen to the first book in audiobook format for free at Youtube!

Give it a listen, and send out a "Happy 70th" to Glen!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Culling The Horde

Culling the Horde by Steve Parker. A Warhammer 40K Crimson Fists short story, originally published by The Black Library, February, 2014. Approx. 12 pages.

Steve Parker's Rynn's World (the first book reviewed here!) told the story of one of the most infamous battles in the Warhammer 40K universe, the decimation of the doughty Crimson Fists. And where that tragic tale ends, it leaves the door open to more stories featuring them. Stories focusing on the arduous task of rebuilding, stories that convey the mindset of a Chapter so devastated. Culling the Horde is one such follow-up tale. And such a well-written short story as this featuring a popular Chapter is a much-welcomed treat.

It has been approximately one year since the events on Rynn's World. A full year, and yet the purge still continues. The purge to cleanse the world of its orkish taint. No easy task to be sure. Not only are all the civilian reaches thoroughly infested with the creatures, but the wind carries their spores, which will breed more greenskinned filth. And so, the cleansing continues, with the remaining Fists motivated by the knowledge that rebuilding cannot happen until the slate is clean.

Culling the Horde focuses on a small team of Fists engaged in purge activities. Four Marines (headed by Sgt. Huron Grimm, one of the best characters from Rynn's World), and one scout make up this kill team. In Horde, the group finds themselves cleaning out a farm that shows signs of recent ork activity. The events that take place here; what they see, what they do, how they feel, all perfectly encapsulate what the Chapter endures day in and day out on the slow road to recovery.

Point blank: this is an excellent story. Parker constructs a tale that brings his skills to full bear. The first thing is that he writes best when he focuses on small specialist groups. This is demonstrated in his Deathwatch novel (which has gotten unanimously positive reviews. I haven't read it but I loved the first short story, Headhunted), as well as with the tank crew in Gunheads. One thing I had harped on in the final act of Rynn's World was how it devoted too much time to Kantor's group; even though that portion was well written, it took away from the Gargant assault at the city. Here, in Horde, the team is the backbone of the story. Parker writes well for these supersoldiers; he captures their sense of fraternity, and the Chapter's feelings of loss, anger, and exasperation. He crafts excellent action scenes and puts them to paper very well. 

What else works well in Horde? The orks. One thing that I have always loved about Parker's writing: he doesn't do funny orks. I love funny orks as well, and no one does talky greenskins better than Guy Haley, but Parker does orks with a primal ferocity. He realizes their attributes; savagery, cunning, and malice. And he knows that they are not dumb. These are huge, feral beasts that pose a firm match even for battle-hardened brothers.

Culling the Horde is one of the slimmest short stories I have seen from The Black Library, coming in at 12 pages. But do not lament the length of the tale; Parker has trimmed all the fat and nonsense and presents a lean cut of action and emotion. And, as an added bonus, we get an update on the status and whereabouts of firebrand Captain Alessio Cortez.

Here's what it is:
Culling the Horde is as good a short story as you will find from the Black Library. Steve Parker is in top form here, and shows that he is one of the few writers who can capture the mentality of a Space Marine well. Excellent action scenes and well-rendered orks make this an all-around great experience, even if it is a short one.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Another excellent Crimson Fists cover by Kevin Chin. I'm guessing that between this cover, and the one for The Few, these are pictures recycled from Codices or other publications. But they are nice touches for these stories. Again, the biggest mistake is in centering the text. Put it at the bottom so it doesn't take away from all the detail in the middle!

Cover Final Score:


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Few

The Few by Mike Lee. A Warhammer 40K Crimson Fists short story, originally published by The Black Library, June 2014. Approx. 16 pages.

The Crimson Fists. That fan-favorite Second Founding Chapter of tough-as-nails Space Marines which was decimated into almost non-existence during the events of Rynn's World. Recently, The Black Library has released some shorts featuring the Fists, including this title, as well as a follow-up to the Space Marines Battles freshman novel Rynn's World called Culling the Herd (like World, penned by Steve Parker). Mike Lee, who authors The Few, also had a Crimson Fist novella released last year called Traitor's Gorge, which has mysteriously disappeared from the Black Library website. Odd. EDIT: Traitor's Gorge has reappeared in the Black Library Vault. Well, we'll have a review on that in the (hopefully) near future. As for now, let's take a look at The Few.

Two things to consider regarding The Few: tone and length. I recently wrote that with Black Library books, the tone will usually be either character-driven or action-focused. Either way works well with a skilled scribe, and The Few falls into the action slot. As for length; these shorts usually run in the 20-odd page range. The Few is exceptionally lean; coming in at around 16 pages. The good news is that Mike Lee budgets his word count very well. This is no great story; but it is most certainly a good one with plenty of Astartes vs. Eldar action.

As far as characters go, we are presented with three cardboard cutouts; Sternguard Sergeant Galleas, the level-headed resourceful leader, Olivar, the grizzled, one-eyed perennial griper, and Titus Juno, another veteran sergeant. He doesn't have much personality, he's just an all-around good trooper. The three of them are more recognizable by their armor than anything else; Galleas and Juno are Deathwatch veterans, bearing their mark on their pauldrons. Olivar festoons his armor with purity seals and excerpts of the Imperial Creed, and Juno carries a trio of human skulls as a grim memorial.

Let's talk about the plot. Ok, there isn't much of one. You have the Fists on one side, the Eldar on the other, and a handy-dandy Macguffin in the middle. In The Few, the three protagonists are working with a contingent of Chapter serfs to purge the xenos infestation on the world of Parthus IV. The story takes place a mere month after the devastating events of Rynn's World, thus so many wounds remain painful and raw.

That's basically it. Since the storyline couldn't be any more basic, it falls on Lee to make the intangibles relevant. He had to let us feel the need of the Fists to adjust and adapt; since every aspect of their lives have reshuffled, including the execution of the duties that they have been engineered to perform. Lee does a fair job at this; and where he shines is in showing how the small force has to utilize methods and munitions in manners that are both effective and frugal.

The action scenes are well done for the most part. There is exceptional attention to detail regarding the types of bolter rounds used at given times. The descriptions of the physical motions of the Fists, as well as the details of the Eldar armor, are fairly robust. Where Lee loses it is when action scenes degrade to generic moments of bolter-bursts and flying corpses. These are moments where we needed to feel that the Fists were counting every last bullet expended, and the Eldar, as a race, needed to be treated as more than mere bolter fodder. But, as stated, when the action is detailed, it is very good, including one thrilling duel.

As for characterization, that's a tough one. Character development is not the driving aspect here, but as a reader you also need something to let yourself feel invested in the story. From the onset, the team is immersed in a mission, and so, apart from Olivar's complaining, we know precious little about them. Objectively speaking, an Astartes on a mission is like a well-oiled machine, it gets the job done with no emotion involved. And, we do see a little more of what makes these three tick at the end of the story. My recommendation would have been to have some flashbacks on our protagonists, even as little as a page each. Show us what they were doing during the battle of Rynn's World, let us understand the extent of their grave resolve. This would have established our team, and gotten the page count up a little higher. Alas, that is not what you get here.

Don't get me wrong. You will probably like these Fists. Between the action and the interplay at the end, more stories featuring this trio would be very welcome.

Here's what it is:
A painfully small team of Crimson Fists do battle with the Eldar. A lot of fighting ensues. That is literally it.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Very nice cover by Kevin Chin. A lone Crimson Fist stands at stoic attention. Chin incorporates aspects of all the characters' decorations; notice the skull, as well as the affixed scrollwork. The only thing that detracts from the cover is the decision to center the font, obscuring the best details. The title should have gone at the bottom for sure.

Cover Final Score: