The first Black Library short story published under the name Rachel Harrison, rather than Ray Harrison, Execution is a powerful depiction of the human cost of war for the Imperial Guard, and the burdens placed upon their political officers. Having executing the captain of the 11th Antari Rifles for refusing to follow orders, commissar Severina Raine takes command of a daring mission to break the siege of a rebel-held fortress. After her uncompromising show of authority, Raine has to maintain her grip on the morale of her troops while leading them into ferocious battle.
Opening with a summary execution is a brave but effective choice, and despite her pitiless exterior Raine proves to be a surprisingly relatable character, recognising and accepting the cost of her actions as the inevitable burden of her duty. Harrison supports and enhances Raine with an intriguing set of characters in the Antari platoon, quickly building a sense of both individual and collective identity that helps them stand out from the typical Guardsmen and provide an unusual emotional context for the commissar. The plot is smart and well-paced, the action powerful but not overpowering and the tone is delightfully dark, but it’s the characters which elevate this into something a little special. Highly recommended.