The third short story in Black Library’s Summer of Reading, Monolith sees Chris Dows return with a second tale of Veteran Sergeant Zachariah and his Elysian Drop Troops (see Hammer & Bolter 21 for the first – The Mouth of Chaos). Here we see Zachariah and his squad attempting a daring high-altitude drop to reinforce a beleaguered Cadian outpost situated at the summit of the titular monolith, facing off against the Traitor Marine Raptors of the Blood Disciples. Forced to fight in the air and on the ground against superior opponents, things look bleak for the Elysians.
It’s a classic Imperial Guard against-the-odds tale, with Zachariah knowing he’s outclassed even before things start going wrong, and carrying on anyway. Dows maintains a spot-on balance of plucky heroism and gritty brutality as he throws his characters through a series of punishing encounters, keeping up a breathless pace as they make their way deeper into the monolith. Crucially he avoids most of the usual 40k cliches in favour of strong characters and straightforward, effective dialogue, resulting in a story full of exhilarating action that still feels remarkably down to earth. As Imperial Guard stories go, this is up there with the best.