The Test of Faith
I was eager to read The Test of Faith, a Warhammer 40,000 short story recently published by Black Library, for several reasons. The first was that its been written by none other than Thomas Parrott, whose output so far for Black Library has convinced me he’s one of the rising stars of their latest intake of new authors; though he’s only written a few stories so far, his novella Isha’s Lament is one of the strongest and most engaging pieces of Warhammer fiction I’ve read in a long time, and single-handedly got me interested in the Blackstone Fortress setting. Secondly, it’s a story focusing on the Dark Angels, an Astartes Chapter I have a certain fondness for, and which never seem to get as much attention as others in the canon. And thirdly, and perhaps most intriguingly, it focuses on the inherent conflict between ‘original’ Firstborn Astartes and the new Primaris Astartes that have been forged to support their older brethren, and eventually replace them. Put simply, Primaris are better than Firstborn Astartes – faster, stronger, taller, and generally better designed to withstand the dramatic changes that have occurred in the Imperium of Man, with the destruction of Cadia and the Great Rift (Cicatrix Maledictum) splitting the Imperium in two. There’s going to be a ridiculous amount of tension and internal (and perhaps even external) conflict around the idea of being replaced, which was one of the themes in Josh Reynold’s amazing Space Marines Conquest: Apocalypse that I devoured within a few days. But that viewed the tensions through the prism of a Primaris Lieutenant of the Imperial Fists, and several Firstborn Astartes from other Chapters. I was curious to see how that interplay and tension would be demonstrated within a single Chapter, especially the famously insular and secretive Dark Angels.
It’s already a fascinating idea on Parrott’s part, and he makes the story concept even more intense by having the two main characters be Chaplains, the spiritual heart of a Chapter. The senior, Interrogator-Chaplain Raguel is a Firstborn, while his comrade Chaplain Hadariel is the new breed of Primaris, and the story is told from the point of view of Raguel as he leads a squad of Dark Angels into combat. At first glance, their foes appear to be mere heretics or recidivists who have taken over one of the huge mining vessels that ply the toxic surface of a planet, but it soon becomes clear that they are actually far, far more dangerous than first assumed, and the Dark Angels are soon clashing with an unexpected foe. Parrott has created some really awesome and creative locations in his previous works, such as the mind-bending, sense-shredding interior of the Blackstone Fortress in Isha’s Lament, and this gigantic mobile, tracked facility is another hit for him, coming across as both intimidating and ominous.
Once the Dark Angels have boarded the miner, it’s a chance for Parrott to give us the brutal close-quarters combat that the Astartes are known for; this is the first time I’ve seen him write them, and he does a sterling job of putting across just how devastating these warriors are, with bodies being exploded by bolter rounds and gutted by blades in a maelstrom of hyper-effective violence. It gets even more horrific once the true nature of the enemy is revealed, with Parrott more than upto the job of writing another style of combat; but the real strength of the story, and the reason why it’s so damn good, is the characterisation and the manner in which Parrott blends together the (in-universe) controversial nature of the Primaris Marines and the machinations-within-machinations nature of the Dark Angels Chapter. Indeed, while I was expecting there to be some unexpected twist because, well, I think Dark Angel stories are contractually obligated to have at least one, the exact nature of it genuinely surprised and shocked me. It puts the Chapter in a new, strange and somewhat disturbing light, and I wish I could discuss more without comprehensively spoiling the twist as a whole.
Once again I’m deeply impressed by Thomas Parrott and his Warhammer 40,000 fiction. The Test of Faith demonstrates once again his intuitive understanding of the setting, and an ability to create an immersive, engaging and action-packed story that also has some great characters in it. He really nails the Dark Angels as a Chapter, giving them a depth and dimension that some writers have failed to imbue them with, and the nature of the story’s revelation is a grimly fascinating one that I’d like to see expanded upon in a future story. Mr Parrott has a Space Marines Conquest novel coming out later this year, judging by the Amazon listings, and I eagerly look forward to his take on the Raven Guard, another Chapter so easy to make two-dimensional and boring. It’ll be on my reading pile as soon as its published!