So it is time once again for a Heresy book to make it to the Mass Market Paperback format. This time it is Mark of Calth. Continuing the narrative set in Know No Fear, Mark of Calth finds the Ultramarines locked in a bitter struggle with their hated enemies the Wordbearers below the ravaged remains of the titular planet as they seek to eradicate the stranded invaders. It is remarkable just how much attention has been paid to this previously understated stage of the heresy. What was once a throwaway vague reference, designed to explain why the largest of legions didn’t play a large role in the Siege of Terra, has now developed into a whole series of entries including the Heresy’s very first graphic novel!
Some might accuse BL of milking this part of the story but personally im really enjoying the expanded narrative that is being presented to us and i feel that it has fully justified its increased prescence. Eventually I am sure that they will move away from this area of the Heresy and continue the march toward Terra but I have to confess that some of the Horus Heresies finest moments have come from this splintered narrative.
Mark of Calth is an anthology of stories by premier Horus Heresy writers, within you will find efforts from ADB, Abnett, French and Sanders plus a novella length entry from Mr Graham McNeil. Rather than discuss the book as a whole I’m going to split it up into individual entries and review it that way then present a summary at the end.
1: The Shards of Erebus: By Guy Haley.
The first effort finds us joining the titular Dark Apostle as he shatters the Athame, giving the shards to various bit part characters. This plot point is never really addressed in full anywhere else in Mark of Calth (although it reoccurs from time to time) so it seems that Haley is quite content to leave this story just as a means to explain events that happen in Know No Fear. The story is totally about The World Bearers and Erebus’ machinations and to be honest not a great deal happens. Shards of Erebus is political and shadowy filler nothing more and fairly forgettable.
2: Calth that Was: by Graham McNeil.
By far the longest instalment, actually more a novella than a short story. Calth that Was details the Ultramarines continuing campaign to eradicate the Word Bearers from Calth, be it below in the caverns underground or on the surface. The hatred that the Ultramarines and in particular the vitriol main character Ventanus feels towards the Word Bearers is palpable and well portrayed. When whole shelters start being destroyed in an insidious Word Bearer plot Ventanus must use all his guile to stop further atrocities. It’s well written and has plenty of punchy action to keep you reading, with a decent plot and great pacing with some good characters this story is one that will see you acquire a new found admiration for the Ultramarines.
3: Dark Heart: By Anthony Reynolds.
This story actually ties into Mr Reynolds 40k Word Bearer Trilogy featuring the same main character. Now im not too sure about characters featuring in both Heresy era and contemporary 40k novels, it seems to be that there are far too many 10,000 year old Marines running around in the 31st Millennium than can comfortably be accounted for. Still this is a pretty good story told in a flashback kind of way as an apprentice outgrows his mentor in the most dramatic of fashions. Much of the story takes place around a superbly visceral boarding action and again the bitter enmity between the forces is well realised. It’s a good read with a decent ending. One of the better entries.
4.The Traveller: By David Annandale:
After a series of stories from both the Ultramarines and Word Bearers perspectives here we have something from the point of view of the common man. The story concerns a worker in one of the shelters deep below the surface of Calth. Over time an indistinct whisper starts forming in his head, but is it a warning from the Emperor or something a good deal more sinister? It’s nice to have a story that isn’t Astartes dominated and this one rattles along nicely dealing with faith, influence and paranoia on the way it’s not overly clever or original and you’ll likely see where it’s going long before it ends but it’s a good read nonetheless.
5: A Deeper Darkness: By Rob Sanders.
This one read like a story out of Inferno! of old. Although it might borrow heavily from a certain Greek myth this is a great story as an Ultramarine warrior tries to hunt down the last of a group of Word Bearers only to find that all is not as it seems and he may have stumbled across more than he bargained for. With a heavy dose of mystery and suspense, marine action meets monster movie in one of the more easily assimilated entries
6: The Underworld War: By Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
A Word Bearer entry from one of the BLs big hitters, The Underworld War is easily one of the most cryptically titled stories in this book, Perhaps a little too clever for its own good, it is however wonderfully ambitious in the end with a great twist. It meanders somewhat getting there though. There’s not a great deal wrong with the story but it’s not spectacular as you might expect an ADB effort to be and plods along in self indulgent introspection for too long till the delightful pay off.
7: Athame: By John French:
I’ve read a lot of stories and books over the years. Athame may well be the first I have ready that is told from the perspective of an (arguably) inanimate object. It details the construction of the weapon and its passing through the hands of many owners and the murders it commits in their names. Of all the stories within ‘Mark of Calth’ this is one I may need to revisit as I get the feeling that Mr French is being very clever with some of the Athame’s backstory and further analysis may well provide further insight. Other than that there isn’t a great deal more to say. Certainly one of the more intriguing entries and one that may yet yield hidden merit.
8: Unmarked: By Dan Abnett:
Ahh, in Abnett we trust. A safe bet pretty much every single time, this effort is actually slightly below par for Dan Reviving the perpetual/Immortal storyline, though John Grammaticus is only featured a little. Instead the story focusses on another of his Ilk as he races through universes to an unknown destination passing though many locations on the way. Some of these will be familiar to the reader and some not so much, it’s another one that might benefit from a re-read at some point. One thing that can be said is that it is a much more metaphysical tale than others featured, mostly exposition and character development with a fair bit of dialogue, certainly not much in the way of action to be found. As usual it is well written by Abnett but it does come off as a little passive and you certainly couldn’t say that it is the most interesting or exciting of entries. Probably best taken more as an indicator that the Perpetuals will return and have a greater role to play in the Heresy yet and a promise of things yet to come….
So that’s Mark of Calth, I’d be lying if I said it was what I expected. I figured it would be far more of what was in Know no Fear, more of a direct continuation of that narrative. Instead we get a much more esoteric set of stories than I bargained for. Quite a few of them do tie into the events in KNF in one way or another but I do feel I would have liked something a little more focussed. I would also say that in the grand scheme if things that the Word Bearers get much more coverage than their enemies and we don’t REALLY get a good idea of just what is going on on/under Calth which is a shame really.
As a whole the book doesn’t really work to be honest, it certainly isn’t cohesive and it feels like a collection of ideas rather than anything structured. However, taken individually the stories are fine, there are some that are much better than others but all of them are at least average in quality and have something unique to offer in their own way. I’ll be surprised if this is that last of this narrative we see and on the whole it is worth the read. Just don’t expect great things as a lot of it does feel like filler, albeit filler that is well written and unorthodox in nature.