It’s good to see Sarah Cawkwell back on the Black Library radar after a fairly quiet year in 2013. The Tyrant’s Champion, her latest short story, returns us to the world of Huron Blackheart and his Red Corsairs, pretty much following on from the events of the Gildar Rift. Blackheart was the antagonist in that novel, providing a good mixture of moustache-twirling criminal mastermind and scary, anger-fuelled power maniac. As the title suggests however, this new story is concerned with his champion, or rather the selection of a new one after the last one met a sticky end at the hands of the Silver Skulls.
It’s a shame in a way that Blackheart doesn’t play more of a part in this tale, as he’s such a fun character and Cawkwell has really nailed it with how she puts him across. Instead we see events through the eyes of Vorenus, a member of the decadent Emperor’s Children legion now serving as part of Blackheart’s mercenary band of Red Corsairs. She does well to give us as good a feel for him as possible given the short word count, with a slow build up showing us his towering arrogance tempered with the understanding that as a soldier who’s been fighting the long war for centuries he’s pretty much entitled to his views on his fellow Red Corsairs. Suffice to say he’s not always too impressed with his current battle brothers.
When the action kicks in and we see Vorenus taking part in the challenge to find the next champion, there’s actually very little in the way of combat scenes. Instead we see him traipsing through a baffling, three-dimensional maze where the laws of physics don’t apply and he’s tested mentally as much as physically. Depending on your point of view you might prefer a bit more of the usual 40k bolter action, but in context of the story this actually works really well as we start to see the cracks in Vorenus’ facade of the perfect warrior.
The ending delivers satisfyingly, with a healthy dose of classic Black Library grimness, the twist confirming something that’s been lurking throughout the whole story as a murky possibility. Overall it’s an entertaining, gripping story that largely delivers the goods but is just slightly let down by showing us events through the eyes of a character that we don’t really feel anything for. What it does really well though is whet the appetite for more Huron Blackheart action – a new Silver Skulls novel is due this year, so hopefully Blackheart will make a bigger dent in that story.