Essentially an introductory story for readers new to Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 fiction, Andy Clark’s Crusade is a straight-up action tale of Ultramarines taking on Death Guard in the still-new surroundings of the Dark Imperium. Forced into real space by a harrowing warp storm, Lieutenant Cassian’s strike force of Primaris Space Marines reach the Imperial world of Kalides Prime only to find it besieged by the Death Guard. Determined to rejoin the Indomitus Crusade, the Ultramarines aim to fight their way through the traitor lines to a vital Imperial emplacement and get word out about the plight of Kalides.
Described at the 2017 Black Library Weekender as a Warhammer 40,000 primer, this is clearly intended to be the ‘official’ entry point to new fans finding their feet with Black Library as a whole, and specifically with the key factions in the Dark Imperium-era 40k. To that end it’s currently only available in the incredibly good value Crusade + Other Stories collection, alongside a range of other 40k short stories, which has a helpful START HERE label on its cover. That’s not to say that it’s only for new fans, but rather that its focus is on introduction and scene setting rather than stretching the boundaries of the setting, the characters or the factions.
Clark is the perfect choice for this, with his easy, entertaining writing style that lends itself to the sort of enjoyable story that should get new readers suitably hooked. Working within the constraints of clearly needing to include as many of the new Primaris and Death Guard character types as possible within just a novella, he populates Crusade with characters who, though only lightly fleshed-out, are engaging enough to maintain interest and carry a fairly streamlined but satisfying plot. There’s just enough depth to the characters to please existing fans, from Cassian’s atypical flexibility to Lord of Contagion Gurloch’s almost paternal good humour, and while the plot is pretty much what you’d expect it’s all suitably 40k-appropriate and rattles along at an enjoyably fast pace with the occasional less-expected touch.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t a sophisticated story and it’s not aimed at long-term fans wanting something unusual. It’s pitched just right to give someone their first taste of 40k fiction, and while it might feel a little simplistic for some existing fans, if you approach it with that in mind there’s plenty to enjoy in just kicking back and losing yourself in a good old fashioned Space Marine action story. As always, Clark also manages to inject some fun into the story, highlights being a high-octane drop sequence and a particularly sassy exchange between Cassian and a Cadian captain. It’s also a good introduction to Clark’s writing, and anyone looking for more could do a lot worse than moving on afterwards to Kingsblade or Shroud of Night to see what he can do with a longer, less constrained story.