The first in a week’s worth of new short stories for Black Library’s Summer of Reading campaign, Sandy Mitchell’s The Cost of Command features the Astral Knights way back before their fateful all-out assault on the necron World Engine. Here we see two of their number duking it out in an honour duel, the reason for which gradually becomes clear as the protagonist looks back on his squad’s last mission and the toll it incurred on each of them.
After the disappointment of The World Engine it’s good to see the Astral Knights brought to life in an engaging, enjoyable way and portrayed as more than just dour, gloomy and one-dimensional. Proving (again – see also the excellent Dark Heresy novels) that he can do straight-up 40k as well as the comedic Ciaphas Cain series, Mitchell takes a good look at what makes these straight-laced Space Marines tick, digging into their grim sense of duty and finding a genuinely interesting story to tell in the process. Neatly structured and written with the sort of grit and darkness that hearkens back to classic Black Library stories, it’s the sort of satisfyingly bleak story that this intriguing chapter deserves.