A Song for the Lost by Robbie MacNiven. A Warhammer 40,000 short story, Day 13 of the Advent Calendar 2015, originally published by The Black Library, December 2015. Approx. 13 pages.
To be perfectly honest, my interest was none too piqued by the theme of Chaos that drove last month's Advent Calendar offerings over at The Black Library. One story, however, did stand out, and that is A Song for the Lost by Black Library newcomer Robbie MacNiven. MacNiven recently contributed the story Redblade to the Deathwatch series (his first tale with BL), and I just want to congratulate him on having his first 40K story published.
Now, if you read the description on the BL site, the description of this story is painfully brief and secretive, observing that telling too much will "give it away completely". I'm not a big spoiler guy, but I will say that has to do more with unit types than with a big, shocking twist. Also, MacNiven himself mentioned "the secret" on Twitter, so there's that. But! I will preface this review with a handy-dandy SPOILER ALERT! I won't be divulging plot twists, but I will talk about that other stuff. So, if you want to be pleasantly surprised, scroll down to the end of the post, and see the final score.
It's Noise Marines!!!
Well, to be honest, you should have been able to deduce that from the title, at least.
I was really psyched to see a story focusing on Noise Marines. Sometimes, depending on who you ask, they are considered either among the coolest or most ridiculous unit types in the WH40K universe. I place them squarely in the former. But, you have to admit, one does wonder how to properly render these sound assassins properly on paper. How do you convey the auditory assaults of these twisted servants of Slaanesh in pen and paper format?
Succinctly put, MacNiven does it masterfully. A Song for the Lost is a phenomenally good story. It is the tale of Ulix, who we first meet as a young novitiate receiving a brutal beating from the zealos Bishop Eziah for not being able to properly recite an Imperial catechism. Ulix's sole solace from Eziah's cruelties comes from the seductive song of young Sister D'Fey; who visits the boys who leave a candle lit for her. Her song salves his wounds; teaching him to channel the pain into something else...
Fast forward three hundred years, and we meet Ulix again; now a Chaos Lord fully in the thrall of Slaanesh, leading an insane band of Noise Marines. This cavorting gang of murderous minstrels finds themselves tearing through a jungle world on a personal geas for Ulix; a hunt for a special material needed to consummate a now necessary desire.
There are a few factors which make A Song for the Lost such a fantastic read. The first is the "allure" of Choas. For me, the strongest Chaos tales are the ones where you are shown what the Imperium has to offer versus what the voices from the Warp dangle before your eyes. Compared to the cruel, dogmatic dictatorship of the servants of the Corpse Emperor, the siren song of Slaanesh sounds more melodious by the moment.
Second, the character descriptions are wonderful. The physical description of Ulix as a noise marine is one of the best and most horrifying that I have read. Careful attention is also lavished upon the special weaponry of the noise marines. These help set the stage for the imagination for fill in the blanks where the written word cannot describe the audio terror.
The action here is quite excellent as well. In addition to the havoc caused by Ulix and his band, MacNiven gives us a thrilling view of the Eldar in action. He is obviously quite savvy with the workings and mechanics of the weaponry in the established lore; combining colorful prose with a love for the aesthetics of the canon.
This all culminates with an ending which is not only terrifying, but also beautiful, in a decidedly twisted manner.
In short, get this story. Read it. Enjoy it thoroughly. Here's hoping that we'll hear more from Ulix in the future.
All of these "Call of Chaos" stories have the same, minimalist cover scheme. I just don't understand why BL opted to use the standard Chaos symbol instead of Slaanesh's.
Cover Final Score: