Last Step Backwards by Justin D. Hill. A Warhammer 40,000 short story, originally published by The Black Library, December 2014. Approx. 37 pages.
Is it just me or did this year fly by pretty fast? I read this short not long after it came out, and contemplated doing a review on it, and then opted not too since, well, it didn't blow me away at the time. I am not big on simply writing "a good Imperial Guard short with solid action" and leaving it at that. And now, almost an entire year has shot by.
Now, however, the new Astra Militarum book is out, and there are a few new shorts in it. I might read and review them in the near future, so I figured I'd breeze through the pages of Last Step Backwards again. Honestly, I'm glad I did. I think this story works a lot better on its second reading.
Last Step Backwards is an Imperial Guard short that debuted in 2014's Advent Calendar collection, and focuses on legendary Cadian Lord Castellan Ursarkar Creed as he helps to eliminate the Anckorite cultists from the planet Besana. Besana is a fairly non-distinct world, more notable for being covered in poisonous blue dust than for anything else.
While the headliner here is Creed, the better portion of the story revolves around a group of Cadian Whiteshields (cadets), most notably a youngster named Fesk. Fesk is a likable enough lead; he reminds us of nearly every green private in nearly every war movie.
Speaking of war movies, if you grew up on the great, jingoistic WWII movies of days gone by, then you have a good idea of the tone here. This story is not a passport to see the inside of the mythical figure that is Creed; it is a chance to sweat it out in the trenches against insurmountable odds.
Some of the dialogue is pretty bad here. I was wondering if Hill was intentionally going for a "classic pulp novel" feel here; if that's the case, he succeeded. And by bad, I mean kind of cheesy. So fun bad. There are moments that go something like "One does not simply say 'Oh, that is Creed. That is like saying Oh, that is only Yarrick'!" That's the kind of dialogue you run into in Star Wars EU novels.
But again, it fits the feel. Last Step Backwards falls squarely on the actioner end of the spectrum. It is a fun enough read just as an Imperial Guard piece. The action is nicely done, and the descriptions of the Anckorites are done well also. Just bear in mind; this isn't a case of the myth coming alive. It is more the case of your Castellan Creed and Colour Sergeant Kell figures coming alive.
Don't get me wrong. There are some strong aspects to the story. It's fun to watch Creed stomping around, saying the right rousing thing at the right time, while chomping on his cigar, err, lho-stick. And there is one scene at the end which is honestly emotional and tugs at the heartstrings fairly well.
One more comical note: when I first read this story, I had to put it down for a while after the opening scene. The Cadians are hopelessly pinned down, death is staring them in the eyes.
"Do you hear it?"
...over the din of men shouting and dying and the rattle of gunfire and las-rounds, came the strains of music.
Major Luka jumped up. "Sing, man! Sing!"
‘Creed,’ shouted Luka. ‘It’s Creed!’
Here's what it is:
A serviceable, enjoyable Imperial Guard actioner, with plenty of las-bolts and gobbets of blood. But what else do you expect from a tale featuring a legendary leader who is such a bear of a man that he has "Ursa" in his first name?
I'm guessing this is in the Astra Militarum Codex? Nice battle scene with Creed front and center. Perfect fit for the material.
Cover Final Score:
Cover Final Score: