My first introduction to author Edoardo Albert was through Lords of the Storm, his excellent contribution to Black Library’s Novella Series 2; a fast-paced, action packed but also surprisingly thoughtful take on the eternal clash between the Imperium of Man and the forces of Chaos, I consider the novella to be one of the best contributions to that particular series. Having enjoyed his lengthier contribution, and looking for some shorter Warhammer stories to read during my lunch breaks, I decided to take a look at the two short stories by Albert that had been published by Black Library. Both are set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, my favourite of those produced by Games Workshop, and they had an intriguingly diverse array of settings. The first, Born of the Storm, follows the steps taken by Augustin, protagonist of the novella Lords of the Storm, in order to fulfill his destiny as a Primaris Astarte of the Fulminators Chapter; while the second, Last Flight, follows the crew of an Imperial bomber as they fly a perilous mission towards a distant target, with the ever-present danger of ditching in terrifying waters if they run out of fuel.
Starting with Born of the Storm, we see that the future Primaris actually has his origins as the son of a humble Hive worker, who then progresses into a career in the Imperial Guard; it’s an interesting background, and particularly refreshing given the fact that most Chapters recruit from the unskilled, savage native tribes and populations on their home worlds. Indeed, the actions that lead to Augustin being recruited into the Fulminators Chapter are also unusual, as well as being action-packed and eyebrow-raising; together, they give a good flavour of his personality and what drives him forward throughout his life. Showing his skill as a writer, in only a few pages Albert is able to create a unique, strong-willed character that the reader can engage with, an especially difficult task given how bland Astartes characters can become.
We also get a distinctly harrowing account of the processes that Augustin is put through in order to become Primaris, and the sacrifices he makes (some willingly and some less so) as he is shaped into a demigod. The brief, staccato wording used during this section is particularly fitting, acting as the perfect framework for the hideous and graphic things done to Augustin’s body and mind during the long period of his transformation. Then we follow the final, gruelling trial to go from aspirant to full Astartes, travelling through the storm-wracked terrain of Holy Mars back to where the Chapter is based. It’s a trope that’s common amongst Astartes fiction, but Albert manages to keep it fresh and interesting by demonstrating the raw, destructive power of the Martian storms and the tech abominations lingering underneath the terrain. Add to that an interesting test of character that Albert throws into the mix towards the end of the short story, and you have a first-rate Warhammer 40, 000 short story that works both as a stand-alone story, and as a prologue to the novella, Lords of the Storm.
We then move onto the Aeronautica Imperialis story, Last Flight, which has a unique take on the setting that I haven’t seen before in Black Libary fiction. Set on the ocean world of Sagaraya, Pilot Commander Baruch Neriah of the Marauder bomber Spirit of St Pascale is given a seemingly-impossible task. He will have to lead his flight of Marauders on a mission that will almost certainly exceed their maximum flight range, across a vast, seething ocean filled with a myriad of lethal sea creatures that will surely kill anyone forced to ditch when damaged or running out of fuel. If the mission is successful, then victory for the Imperium is all but guaranteed; but even if their targets are struck, there’s only s fleeting chance that their carriers will be in range to recover the aircraft and their precious crew.
It’s a daunting task that evokes real-life bomber raids such as the Doolittle Raid against Tokyo in 1942, and Operation Black Buck forty years later, when a single Vulcan bomber flew one of the longest-ranged bombing missions in history against Argentine positions in the Falklands. So not only is there real-life, historical precedent for such a task, but the blase manner in which a suicidal mission is assigned to the Marauder crews perfectly encapsulates the uncaring, grinding nature of the Imperium of Man and service in the Astra Militarum. The potential loss of aircraft and crews is of minor inconvenience to senior officers compared to the possibility of ending an entire conflict. You can’t really get anything more inherently grimdark than that.
It’s an intriguing scenario, and one that Albert executes flawlessly. He portrays the cramped, claustrophobic interior of a Marauder bomber brilliantly, really bringing us into the world of Pilot Commander Neriah and his comrades, who are faced with the potential of sudden death at any moment; if not from enemy action, then the possibility of a moment’s inattention causing them to slam into the merciless ocean. I particularly enjoyed the concept of being “lost in the blue”, becoming mesmerised by the endless expanse of ocean to the extent that all awareness of time and location are lost completely. Alongside some thrilling and white-knuckle descriptions of wave-height flying and evasive action, there’s some first-class action as the crew of Spirit of St Pascale are forced to fend off Chaos aircraft en-route to their target, with heavy bolters blazing and auto-cannons chugging. Then there’s a genuinely awe-inspiring set-piece against their target which had me at the edge of my seat, before a suitably grim and fitting finale closes out the story. With the same focus on engaging characters and thrilling descriptions of lightning-fast flying, Last Flight reminded me of Abnett’s classic novel Double Eagle, and is well worth the £2.49 outlay needed to read it.
Taken together, Born of the Storm & Last Flight are an indication of just how skilled a writer Edoardo Albert is, able to compose two thrilling, engaging and memorable stories set in two very different aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Taken alongside his excellent novella Lords of the Storm, all three act as clear evidence that Albert is one of the best authors in the latest Black Library cohort, easily ranking alongside fellow newcomers like Thomas Parrott and Danie Ware, as well as veterans like Reynolds, Wraight and and Annandale. I hope to see more stories from him in the future, and fervently hope that this includes novels as well as short stories.