Despite being only available in the Legends of the Dark Millennium: Shas’O (or Tau Empire, depending on which version you have) anthology, Peter Fehervari’s novella Fire and Ice is as much an Inquisition story as a tau one. Hunted by a conclave of his Inquisitorial masters, Interrogator Mordaine searches for evidence of a tau conspiracy that might clear his tarnished name. Though guided by the mysterious Calavera, and aided by the savage Iwujii Sharks regiment, time is not on Mordaine’s side with the Inquisition looming and a tau-inspired uprising about to erupt.
Fehervari doesn’t really do simple stories, so look elsewhere if you’re after a straightforward action romp. Instead this is a subtle, complex story that unfolds slowly as Mordaine and the Sharks are pulled ever deeper into a web of lies, hidden plans and tangled loyalties. Mordaine isn’t the usual Inquisitorial type but rather a damaged man, wracked with guilt and self-doubt, aware that he’s being manipulated but not sure why. In contrast the majority of the other characters are strong of purpose, from the creepy, ambiguous Calavera and his ‘captive’ to the death-obsessed Sharks. There’s a lot to cover in terms of plot and character development but it’s well paced and varied, the characters gradually coming into focus as events progress.
Plot-wise there’s a strong sense of mystery as the story progresses, Fehervari stubbornly refusing to reveal exactly what’s going on until the very last. Not everyone’s going to like that, but it contributes to the novella’s forward motion and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. There’s very little of the tau for the most part, which makes it an interesting choice for a tau-themed anthology, but when they reach centre stage it’s with a typically subtle reveal that hints at a wider meaning and leaves many questions tantalisingly unanswered. When the final reveal comes, it’s clear that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Fehervari’s overall plotting.
As a standalone story this is great, with smart storytelling and great characters. As part of a bigger picture…it’s fascinating. There’s more to Mordaine, the Calavera and the Sharks than meets the eye, and the events of this novella resonate with Fehervari’s latest novel Legends of the Dark Millennium: Genestealer Cults. While this probably won’t be to everyone’s tastes, if you like your 40k stories dark, complex and interconnected…this is fantastic stuff.