Mark Of Calth – Book review

Mark-of-Calth-A5-HBThe Mark Of Calth is the latest Horus Heresy offering from the increasingly prolific audio wing of The Black Library. It’s also been just been released in paperback format which in all honesty works better as TMOC is a collection of short stories. The anthology is set in and around the events that comprised the infamous Siege Of Calth, whereupon the zealous Word Bearers (now revealed as traitors), prosecute a campaign of extermination against their old rivals the righteous Ultramarines. Their fiendish plan? To catch the Ultramarines slipping and scour the 500 Worlds Of Ultramar with fire, sword and a shit ton of warp spawned black magic.

TMOC follows on from events established in the previously published Know No Fear as well as picking open the festering wound of Lorgar’s humilation at the hands of his brother Roboute Guilliman (history that was explored in Aaron Dembski Bowden’s excellent ‘The First Heretic’). For those needing a refresher, this all pertains to Lorgar Aurellian and The Word Bearers punishment in proper old testament fashion for exalting the Emperor Of Mankind as a God and it’s Roboute Guilliman and the boys in blue that Dad sends in to slap the collective wrists of the 17th Legion. The punishment in this instance being the wholesale destruction of their perfect city of Monarchia. Needless to say, Lorgar and the lads didn’t take it very well.

Like the previous anthology collections in this epic series, the stories are somewhat hit and miss in terms of content and quality and are for the most part, not essential to the overall narrative arc for those trying to progress through the already massive series in a linear fashion. However, if you are a HH nerd (and friends, I count myself amongst your number) you’ll devour this along with every other tasty morsel of fluff the Black Library churns out. Black Library heavy hitters Dan Abnett, Aaron Dembski Bowden and Graham Mcneill all contribute fresh offerings alongside less established canon writers like Rob Sanders.

I’ll not discuss each and every story here but Shards of Erebus by Guy Haley was a personal favorite purely because it’s focus on the central character. Is there truly a more loathsome villain in fantasy fiction right now? OK I’ll give you the Lannister’s, but Erebus? The Dark Apostle? Architect of the entire Heresy and all round shitehawk has got to be up there in the top five. This story ties up a few loose ends that hark back to Erebus’s previous visit to the moon of Davin during False Gods, right at the beginning of the whole ghastly mess. Erebus sabbatical on this occasion is spent delving deeper into the mysteries of the warp under the tutelage of the same heathen witch who tried to kill him way back when. Elements of this story reminded me of a certain young Jedi’s pilgrimage to a similarly swampy moon in Empire Strikes Back, except this time the protagonist is, well you know, a cunt.

Rob Sanders ‘A Deeper Darkness’ draws direct influence from the ancient Greek myth of Perseus and the Gorgon and is a particularly well realised piece of short story writing. The characters are developed exceptionally well within the limited parameters of the form and the genuine atmosphere of horror and primal fear that Sander’s cultivates has left me with a gnawing hunger for more of his work.

The Traveller by David Ananndale is another deliciously sinister morsel. Here the story heads underground into the catacombs and labyrinthian tunnels of the archology and focuses on the scattered pockets of survivors of Calth who continue to wage a defiant underground guerilla war against the Word Bearers and the tide of chaos that follows them. The central character here is introduced as Blanshott, a nondescript adept. This short story of posession and perverted faith has a distinct Lovecraftian feel to it, and despite the dubious voice acting, the seductive, maddening whispers of Chaos still manage to successfully create a claustrophobic atmosphere of intense paranoia and tainted cosmic horror.

Overall the narration for the whole lot is crisp and emphatic but, as is gradually becoming the trend with Black Libraries output, the voice acting really does leave a lot to be desired and particularly struggles once an ensemble dialogue is introduced. There’s a section in The Dark Heart where eight company captains of the Word Bearers are all talking at once that is absolutely mind melting, and not in a good way.

It didn’t take long before I gave up trying to make it through the audiobook as it was failing to keep my attention and instead succeeded in just winding me up, so I relunctantly forked out for the paperback version which I blasted through very quickly.

Short story collections are always good for a stop-gap, something to sate the appetite until the next dish arrives and Mark Of Calth is no exception in that regard. However, despite the presence of a few good ideas there was definitely something lacking for me here. I think the attempts to weave certain threads of the stories together as a whole seemed clumsy and a tad threabare and it felt like the more established writers in particular were just dialling it in. My advice, unless you’re an absolute fluff hoover, swerve this one and save your pennies for the next ADB novel.

This entry was posted in Book Review, Reviews by Nathan Bean. Bookmark the permalink.

About Nathan Bean

Tyrant/ Editor Nathan is a 'former member of...' numerous mediocre punk bands and internet gobshite and has been involved in the United Kingdom hardcore scene since the mid 90's. Now retired from active duty he spends his time writing about gaming, movies, music and comics, shouting at the television and threatening to start another band.