“Behind the greatest zeal, do we not often hide our secret shame?”
Steve Parker’s first story for Black Library, The Falls of Marakross is set in the Pyrus Reach, the setting for Sabretooth Games’ long out of print Dark Millennium card game. On the Imperial world of Cordassa, under siege by forces of Chaos, the arrival of a Dark Angels force led by Interrogator Chaplain Artemius raises the embattled defenders’ hopes. Inquisitor Heiron, however, is doubtful of the Angels’ objective – are they there to support the defenders, or for shadowy purposes of their own?
Dark Angels are defined by the secrets they keep, and like a few other notable early stories (see The Black Pearl) this focuses on that element of their character. Artemius is instantly suspicious of Heiron, trading barbs at their first meeting and doing everything he can to keep the Inquisitor at arms’ length, for fear of revealing his purpose. The tension between the two of them runs throughout the story, as the Angels hunt for their objective while the Inquisitor and his men dog their trail. It progresses at a measured pace, carefully balancing action and quieter moments until finally ramping up for the explosive conclusion, which nicely wraps things up with a little ambiguity and a surprising (but somehow appropriate) lack of grimdark.
This was originally published as part of an anthology of short stories all set in the Pyrus Reach, back when the Dark Millennium game was going strong. Far from being a novelisation of the game though, these were stories loosely set in that little corner of the 40k universe, and in the case of The Falls of Marakross that setting was just a backdrop to the story at hand. It’s been over ten years since this was written, and lots has changed in 40k since then – so how does this stand up today?
From a lore perspective, in terms of how accurate a depiction of the Dark Angels this is, I’d say it holds up pretty well. The single-minded way in which the Angels approach their mission, even though Artemius is the only one who understands what’s actually at stake, seems in keeping with their nature to me. All of the equipment, the terminology and the little details which in some stories feel a little out of date, here they’re present and correct. So from a technical perspective, it’s all good.
One area where this does feel a little strange is in one of Parker’s stylistic choices, whereby he includes a little of Artemius’ thoughts in amongst the rest of the story. It’s told for the most part in pretty standard third person, but with snippets of first person internal monologue scattered throughout. That actually works quite nicely, adding in a little context to certain parts of the story and generally contributing a different flavour here and there. It’s not something I’ve seen used very often before, and it’s perhaps hard to imagine this being used in a contemporary 40k story, but it’s surprisingly effective.
The other point to note is to do with the plot; in my recent interview with Dan Abnett for Forgotten Texts he talked about some of the earlier Black Library stories having been written in ‘a simpler time…when people weren’t looking as hard to find new ways of interpreting things’. I think that probably applies here, as despite the inclusion of the Inquisitor this is, essentially, a pretty straightforward plot. Details are increasingly revealed as the story goes on, but there are no real twists and turns…because there didn’t need to be. Seeing an Interrogator Chaplain on the hunt for one of the Fallen has been done plenty of times by now, but back in 2006…probably not so much.
Perhaps more than most of the stories I’ve covered so far for Forgotten Texts, this feels like something simpler and less complex than many of the Black Library stories published these days. At the same time though, Steve Parker clearly had a great grasp of 40k as a setting even back in 2006. Sure, it doesn’t end on quite such a dark note as plenty of these earlier stories did, but there’s still more than enough of the classic 40k tone to fit right in – you only have to look as far as the idea of these incredibly potent super-soldiers marching into battle without having any real idea of what they’re doing, while their commander carries the burden of a toxic, ancient truth…that’s TOTALLY 40k.
For the second week running I’ve looked at a story that’s still available to purchase, despite its age. The Tales from the Dark Millennium anthology was originally published in 2006, back when Black Library was still part of BL Publishing, and while the paperback is long out of print you can still pick it up as an ebook. In fact you can get hold of either the full anthology for a measly £6.99, or each individual story separately, with The Falls of Marakross priced at £2.49.
I hope you enjoyed this instalment of Forgotten Texts. If there are any classic Black Library stories that you would like to put forward for a review, please do let me know, and likewise if you’ve got any comments or feedback. Check back next week for the next instalment where I’ll be taking a look at another story from the Black Library archives – and click here to see the full list of reviews and author interviews in this series.