Trapped in the fighting pits of the dread city of Commorragh and forced to battle for their alien captors’ amusement, two Space Marines form an alliance to escape their tormentors – but are they who they seem to be?
This is yet another excellent short story from Andy Smillie. It’s a visceral, intense and action-packed tale of two Astartes from different Legions trapped and forced to fight in the gladiatorial fighting pits of the depraved Dark Eldar. This is a great short story.
Many of the scenes and early structure of the story reminded me a little of the movie, Gladiator, which was by no means a bad thing. We’re dropped right into a bought, before being introduced to our protagonists. I thought it was a very interesting voice that he’d given to the Space Wolf, Thorolf (who provides our main perspective on events) – it was very different from what I expected. The second Space Marine, a Dark Angel, is dropped into the pit a little later in the story, and the two form a very shaky and mistrustful bond to plot their escape. The new arrival, Ecanus, struggles with a nagging suspicion that Thorolf isn’t who he says he is.
The action is furious, well-written and intense. Smillie’s prose are fluid and precise, restrained, with little-to-no extraneous padding. As a result, I flew through the story, and I think it’s one of the best Warhammer 40,000 short stories I’ve read in a quite a while. It’s easily on a par with the better Horus Heresy short stories, too.
It’s tricky to go into any more detail, as the story is both quite short and also has a pretty surprising ending. Smillie manages to give readers plenty of character development in such a short story – we’re kept guessing until the very end about what’s really going on, and the identities of certain players. The Dark Eldar pit-fighting world is very well realised, and Smillie does a great job of portraying their insanity and proclivities in a way that is not over-done or ridiculous. It’s an interesting quality of the author’s writing, that he is able to be so restrained in his prose, yet produce such evocative, visceral scenes and combat.
Needless to say, there’s plenty of action, some great detail on the depravities of the Dark Eldar, and great writing. Can’t ask for more than that, can we? I would still love to see what Smillie’s capable of in a longer format, but until he’s able to write a full-length novel, I’m more than happy to keep buying and reading his short fiction.
Very highly recommended, Andy Smillie is an author to watch.