I mentioned in my last post that I would write a review of newcomer Sarah Cawkwell's debut story in Hammer and Bolter when I was done reading it. Well, I've just finished the story, so here's the review.
The story describes the fortunes of an assault squad of Silver Skulls Space Marines, the 'Reckoners', deployed to the jungle world of Ancerios III to search out the possible crash site of an Eldar vessel along with any clues regarding the fate of the crew. Ploughing through the dense jungle the Marines discover a sinister alien life form that opens their eyes to a new threat; the implications of which are as disturbing as they are far-reaching.
The opening paragraphs build a vivid picture of the world she has thrown the squad into and I found her descriptive prose a joy to read. It seems to take every human sense into account in building the picture, leading to a remarkably holistic experience. Initially her beginner's nerves show themselves in the somewhat out-of-character dialogue of lead protagonist Brother Sergeant Ur'ten but within the space of the first few 'pages' (kindle pages) she seems to find her confidence and in the words of Dan Abnett, kick in the door and take no prisoners. The pace of the story ebbs and flows with the skill of a veteran and Cawkwell adds a very welcome sense of mystery to the proceedings as the plot unfolds.
The combat scenes are gripping and suitably fast paced while still managing to move the story forward rather than indulging in pure shooty-death-kill-in-space. Brother Sergeant Ur'ten grows steadily as a character, displaying a welcome measure of self-knowledge and a combat competence born of over a century of fighting in the Emperor's name. In addition, Ur'ten's supporting cast are equally compelling; though special mention must go to Prognosticator Bhehan, who in the Silver Skulls takes the role of Librarian with a hint of Chaplain. He is a really great character, who in truth deserves the title of joint lead protagonist as he adds a great deal of depth and subtlety to an already excellent story.
As far as true-to-canon goes, and this is a big one in this genre, Cawkwell brings the already developed background of this chapter, sparse as it is, and then adds gently to it in a way that never jars. She paints the picture of a proud and deeply religious chapter that looks to it's Prognosticators for both battle and spiritual guidance, seeing their warp powered visions as communications from the Emperor.
I really loved this story. Despite the very early awkwardness Cawkwell has, for me, really established her bona fides as a talented 40k storyteller.
I look forward to reading more, soon. (Please?)