The Battle of Tyrok Fields by Justin D. Hill. A Warhammer 40,000 Ursarkar Creed short story, originally appearing in the Legends of the Dark Millennium: Astra Militarum anthology, published November 2015. Approx. 54 pages.
Rounding out the trilogy of Ursarkar Creed tales penned by Justin D. Hill in the Astra Militarum anthology is this hefty story, which chronicles the famous titular battle (fought on Cadia's holy soil), and finally shows us Creed's ascendancy to the rank of Lord Castellan.
Quick note: The Battle of Tyrok Fields is fairly commonly known canon, so I'll take it as a given that most frequent WH40K readers are basically familiar with it. Therefore, I assume that a synopsis won't necessarily be spoiler-y. For the new or casual reader, however, you might want to either brush up on it here, or skip to the closing comments. You can enjoy this pic while deciding:
The story opens with Creed and Colour Sergeant Kell back home on Cadia. Creed has been named Castellan of his own Kasr, and spends his days butting heads with and eviscerating the poor plans and decisions of the rest of the Cadian High Command (a running motif through Hill's stories is the ever-popular "most of the rest of the brass are incompetent nincompoops").
Creed is losing himself in drink as well; trying to cope with the haunting memories of a shadowy figure known as "The Voice" (if any readers want to clear up that story arc for me, I'd be greatly appreciative). He seeks solace in the advice of his old mentor, Archivist Orsani Rudvald. After this, he prepares for the next mornings festivities: a welcoming celebration for another Guard detachment; the Volscani Cataphrachts.
Unbeknownst to the Cadians, the Volscanis have joined up with none other than Abaddon the Despoiler. The traitorous Cataphrachts unleash their might on the unaware Cadians, and the 13th Black Crusade is now in motion.
Needless to say, the Battle of Tyrok Fields is a momentous event. It is also obvious that Hill has tried to put together a grand spectacle of a story to capture the impact of this weighty milestone. I won't go so far as to say he succeeded in capturing the essence of betrayal, rage, and desperation, but the story is a nice chronicle of a massive battle.
In a way, characterization has been an Achilles Heel for this trilogy all along. Although Hill has added some very interesting fluff for Creed (backstory, personal demons, etc.), we have still spent the time watching him, but never feeling his magnitude. Jarran Kell, who bolstered past installments with some well-needed wit, is relegated mostly to his fighting mode (at which he excels). This is understandable; the whole tone here demands that seriousness. Plus, Hill looks to show us how the Colour Sergeant acts as a pillar of support for the Castellan. We also meet a new character in this story, the young, dedicated Commissar Aldrad. He makes himself noteworthy, but there is nothing groundbreaking about him.
One thing that worked very well was Hill's bringing back two of the Cadian soldiers from Last Step Backwards, Troopers Fesk and Lina. As the battle progresses, it alternates between the scenarios involving different units. These two were always fun to read about, especially Fesk. He is about as honest a character you see in these stories; he has an inner strength and nobility, but he also has definite fears and shortcomings.
As for world-building, there is not much to be said about how the landscape is rendered. Strong attention was paid to two set pieces that demanded it; the description of one of the Kasrs, and the Eye of Terror looming up in the sky.
What really matters most in this story, of course, is the action. As for volume, Tyrok Fields more than delivers. After the opening, which in all honesty plods and stumbles a bit, the remaining 80-85% is pure action. The story excels in this regard.
I can't imagine that it is in any way easy to portray a battle of this size, and still capture the reader's imagination. Hill paces this engagement in a way that you are caught up in the initial confusion, the rally, and the charge of the Cadians.
As I've mentioned before, I am a definite fan of Hill's fight scenes. He has a knack for bringing the bloody infantry battles to life; and here, you can almost hear the blood-soaked ground sucking at your boots. Another treat is the tank battles. I am a sucker for tank combat, and the scenes with Lina's crew are nicely done.
One other writing technique that Hill is pretty savvy with is maintaining the Guard's perspective; and showing how daunting or terrifying some of the unit types must appear to "mere" humans. The scenes with Titans are nearly terrifying, given the size and apparent invincibility of those metal demigods. And when Chaos Space Marines show up, Hill describes them as the huge, imposing boogeymen they would appear to be, to a human who has heard rumors of their existence but never seen them in the flesh.
In fact, if there is any place where the battle scenes falter a bit, it is with the Leviathan duels. Here, I give it a pass. I'd venture that there is no way to make that kind of situation entertaining; there will be no deft maneuvering, or dramatic banking turns. No, a Leviathan duel is just two monstrous mobile fortresses pounding each other until the void shields on one give out. So, in this case, Hill is wise to keep the focus of the battle on the human level.
As the story closes, we find Creed, in his elevated position of Lord Castellan of all Cadia, making some of the tough (and brutal) decisions to try and get some fingers in the dyke of the oncoming Black Crusade. We see how resolute he is in the time of crisis, but also just how shaken all of this has left him.
The Battle of Tyrok Fields is a good close to Hill's Creed trilogy. Hopefully, he has some more works in the pipeline. For whatever issues with characterization I've mentioned, or the jerky pacing that opened this story, these tales are all accessible, readable, and highly enjoyable.
Here's what it is:
A nice, fat short story giving the account of one of the greatest battles fought on Cadian soil. Hill once again makes Creed a thrill to watch, even if he hasn't immortalized him yet.
See Lost Hope.
Cover Final Score: