The Greater Evil by Peter Fehervari. A Tau short story, originally published by The Black Library, November 207. Approx. 52 pages.
As you all know, I've been keeping my Warhammer 40K reviews going up at my new blog; however, a new Peter Fehervari short is such a momentous occasion that I had to take a few minutes and post it here as well! Thanks as always for stopping by!
There are few greater causes for celebration than the release of new material from personal favorite author Peter Fehervari; so this week began on a blissful note. On Monday; The Black Library released Fehervari's newest short story, The Greater Evil, which is a Tau-centric tale that weighs in at a whopping 52 pages (nearly twice the length of the average short story; so you're definitely getting more bang for your five bucks).
Now, I will tell you right up front; this story is spectacular. I am seeing a lot of comments within the Facebook groups I frequent that cite The Greater Evil as Fehervari's best short story to date. In all honesty; I am somewhat inclined to agree. I'm pretty sure, as well, that if you read my past reviews of his works, you will see similar sentiments being expressed. This speaks to his overall evolution as an author; certain tales of his have been more dark than others; some more complex with his endless puzzles and riddles. Others are more character driven; while others come up as more accessible to the general palate. The Greater Evil, on the other hand, combines the best of all of these qualities. This is a wonderful, dark, vivid tale that serves as a testimonial that Fehervari has established himself as the best author for writing certain factions.
Now; a note before I continue: there were be a lot of commenting on the merits of the writing here; rather than on the story as a whole. The reason for this is that the blurb for The Greater Evil deliberately leaves the 'bad guys' (well, the faction the Tau is fighting here; 'bad guys' has a lot to do with geography and what side of the fence you are standing on) in the shadows. So, before I go on, here are the details from BL's website, so you have an idea of the basic premise:
A T'au Empire story
An expedition to discover the fate of a long lost Water Caste ambassador and bring an Imperial world into the T'au Empire faces grave peril…
READ IT BECAUSE
Peter Fehervari continues to build his little corner of the Warhammer 40,000 universe in a tale of mystery and danger that will leave you guessing right to the very end.
In the far reaches of the Damocles Gulf, an expedition of the T'au Empire heads for the system known to the Imperium as Yuxa, there to bring the influence of the Greater Good to humanity – and investigate the reappearance of a Water Caste ambassador thought lost years before. Joined by a mysterious Ethereal and defended by gue'vesa auxiliaries – soldiers once of mankind's Imperium, now devoted to the Greater Good – the expedition's leader expects a trap/ But what he finds may just change his perceptions of the galaxy.
That being said; let's dissect this fantastic story.
PF is a meticulous, thoughtful, and insightful author; and his characters directly benefit from this, all of them becoming imbued with true gravitas and authenticity. In any Fehervari work; almost any one of the characters could arguably carry a solid novel on their own, and this is certainly the case in The Greater Evil.
In The Greater Evil, we have a trinity of characters at the fore. First off is Voyle, a former Guardsman currently serving as a Gue'vesa auxiliary. He is a formidable warrior; and has subscribed fully to the philosophy of the Tau. However, like most of the leads in Fehervari's stories; Voyle is a man with a burden hanging around his neck like an albatross. In this case; it is the events that led up to his becoming stranded upon a derelict ship. He carries the guilt of allowing his comrades to die; as well as a festering rage against the Imperium for abandoning him. But, Voyle is also plagued by voices. Voices that keep dragging him into the past....into those pivotal moment. Are these murmurings voices from the past; or the future?
In this short, Fehervari also gives us a new type of Ethereal, known as a "Seeker", here represented by the intriguing character of Kyuhai. Personally, I like the concept of Seekers; who are more Shao Lin monks in comparison to the traditional wizened Confucian sage types that Ethereals are normally portrayed as. Granted; this might prompt some discontent among Tau purists; but I believe the logic underpinning the concept is sound enough to not only justify, but also validate its inclusion. And, Kyuhai is an interesting character. He has the wisdom; as well as the bottom-line pragmatism necessary for his position; but his martial skill allows him more front-line, hands-on involvement.
Also, another nice touch to the concept of the Seeker is that Kyuhai eschews a traditional Honour Guard; opting instead for the assistance of two exceptional kroot warriors. Anyone who has read any of Fehervari's works knows how he excels at writing for these avian conscripts of the Tau Empire - from the skrab infected horrors of Fire Caste, to the determined shaper of Fire & Ice.
Finally, we have a Water Caste ambassador named Adibh. She is yet another example of a well-realized, balanced female Tau character crafted by PF. Always seeking a proper balance in her approach to problem resolution; especially considering their position in being part of seeking a non-violent concordance with the gue'la.
Adibh has all of her personal feelings and values challenged when she is tasked with getting to the bottom of the issue regarding a face from the past - the 'lost' ambassador mentioned in the blurb - who also happens to be a longtime friend of hers; as well as a once-potential pairing mate.
And honorable mention goes to Akuryo; the thoughtful Fire Caste commander whom his loyal gue'vesa troops dub "Stormlight". He manages to steal every scene in which he appears; and acts, even in an inadvertent manner, as a major catalyst in the realization of Voyle's personal arc.
As with other Fehervari stories; there is always the chance of an 'old friend' coming for a visit. I was able to place one major character from a previous work; and there is another one whom I am guessing at, but am currently stuck.
Fehervari never disappoints in the action department. There is a nice setpiece that dominates the middle of the story (as well as a solid training sequence at the opener). It's always noteworthy how much thought he puts into the mechanics of weaponry; as well as the tactics, of all factions involved.
For me, however, there is one scene that really stole the show. In The Greater Evil, as well as in Fire Caste, there is a scene in which a Crisis Battlesuit is unleashed. And this, this is done masterfully. Also, this scene involves a more traditional, conservative Fire Caste warrior; one who is able to make the on the spot battlefield decision to prioritize saving battle drones over wounded gue'vesa troops; because the former have a greater net value than the latter. It is a perfect reminder that even though the Tau present a more 'humane' option than the cruel brutality of the Imperium; the efficiency upon which their house is built often takes emotion out of the equation.
As always; Fehervari brings his setpieces to life. He delivers vivid, unique imagery, time and again. His take on the gue'vesa troops is truly original, and somewhat bizarre - humans who, in their acceptance of Tau doctrine, have their skin stained blue and faces tattooed with concentric rings.
As mentioned, the setup and detailing of the deserted ship that serves as the theater for Voyle's backstory is a spacebound horror house for the records; more terrifying than the Nostromo or the colony on LV-426.
The hulk hovering above the planet Scitalyss - also known as the Unfolding Nexus - where the latter part of the story transpires; is another bastion of inherent 'wrongness' that keeps the reader looking over their shoulder at each turn.
Of course, the most to have with a new Fehervari release is to try and connect the dots between stories; and also find hidden meanings in names and word choices. As always; there is a lot to be found here.
I've been poring over The Greater Evil for close to a week now; and I'm sure I'm only scratching the surface on the hidden gems that PF has tucked away in here. As we all know, the Dark Coil of his tales snake along of their own accord.
Speaking of snakes, there is something of a serpentine theme going on here. This is evidenced in some of the names. The planet that the Unfolding Nexus hovers above is called Scitalyss. The system that Scitalyss is located in is known as the Yuxa system. This system is of particular interest to a celebrity Tau high ambassador named O'Seishin. If that name rings a bell; it is because he figured heavily in Fire Caste.
It also bears mentioning that aside from Scitalyss, there is only one other life-sustaining planet in the Yuxa System. A lovely little world known as Phaedra....
The name of our troubled gue'vesa soldier, Voyle, has a dead giveaway for one of the big story twists in it if you check it out on Wikipedia.
Also, the direct translation of the name of the aforementioned Fire Warrior commander, Akuryo, holds a significance in regards to Voyle as well.
If I am reading correctly, there is also a connection between Voyle's backstory and the ending of a recent Fehervari story.
Well, I'm sure I am missing plenty more. If you do spot any; feel free to mention them in the comments.
So, to reiterate, The Greater Evil is yet another fantastically written notch in Peter Fehervari's belt. The quality of his writing has evolved so profoundly; and he has shown without a doubt that he is the best author in the Black Library stable for writing Tau. Tau are so much more than angular; anime-inspired fighting suits. There is a pervading philosophy throughout their race which perhaps positions them as a more benevolent 'master' in the war-torn universe of the 41st millennium....but as with all philosophies, there are always dark corners.
And when you need to explore the dark corners of the universe, you can do no better than Peter Fehervari.
Now, I could possibly see some having issue with the ending of this story. While I feel that The Greater Evil offers a conclusive ending; it is obvious that it is the beginning of a larger story begging to be told. Just to reiterate; it is not an open-ended, ambiguous ending (although I never mind those if they are done right), nor is it a cliff-hanger that denies closure to the reader. Here's hoping that Black Library gives him the chance to add more to this excellent story.
Oh, I must also mention; The Greater Evil both opens and closes with two of the greatest lines that I have read in any 40K fiction. The opening line; an exordium of sorts (is it any coincidence that Voyle's guard unit was the "Exordio" Void Breachers?), prepares the audience for the kind of twisting narrative which Fehervari is famous for. And then, the final line bludgeons the reader mercilessly over the head with a cold truth; a cold truth that reveals itself at a point far past any hope of a remedy.
As always, I simply cannot recommend this story highly enough. Get it now, get it here.