The latest in this burgeoning series, Legends of the Dark Millennium: Genestealer Cults sees the welcome return of Peter Fehervari with his second Black Library novel after a three-year wait since his first, Fire Caste. Set on the troubled shrine world of Redemption, the coming of an insidious alien menace results in the rise of a strange religious sect in place of the planet’s previous defenders. When distant sect members make pilgrimage to the shrine world, instead of welcoming arms they’re met by harsh, paranoid guardsmen led by officers who treat the sect with deep suspicion.
Released to tie in with the new 40k Genestealer Cults rules and miniatures, this a relatively short but enjoyably complex and sinister novel from an author who’s known for his unconventional storytelling. Here he scatters a few familiar faces from his previous work into a collection of troubled, flawed characters who bring the sinister world of Redemption to life in a story that’s dark, twisty and at times genuinely chilling. Nobody in this story is a straight-up good guy, instead it’s all shades of grey from the close-mouthed, reluctant soldier Cross to the medicae, Ariken, who embraces life as a soldier under the tutelage of the decideldy creepy Captain Omazet. As for the members of the sect/cult – the eerie Spiral Dawn – well, they’re just downright sinister…but strangely sympathetic.
Cross and Ariken are the key characters, but Fehervari populates the story with a varied supporting cast, fleshing out both the suspicious, perhaps cursed guardsmen of the Black Flag and the members of the insidious Spiral Dawn. Most of these characters are driven by complex, at times unclear motivations, which helps give the story a strong sense of mystery alongside the uneasy tension that underpins the whole thing – there’s an inevitability to affairs that only ramps up as the book progresses. It’s a smart, engaging story that manages the difficult trick of working narratively while also fleshing out the workings of a Genestealer cult in a natural (if that’s the right word) manner.
Fehervari is clearly a talented author, but he truly excels at creating two things – a dark and sinister atmosphere, and complex, flawed characters. This book showcases both of those talents, rolled up with tantalising links to Fehervari’s other stories that hint at an untapped well of interconnected plots just waiting to be unleashed. Add to that a great sense of pace and a dark but beautiful sense of style, and the result is a fantastic book. The only downside is its length, which means you’re left wishing there had been more time to flesh out a few arcs which remain unfinished and begging to be explored further. While this sort of thing might not be to everyone’s tastes, Fehervari’s style is so fundamentally suited to the 40k universe it would be a tragedy not to see more from him.