BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Chapter Master Amit and a company of space marines descend upon Cretacia to exterminate orks but find a different sort of enemy once they make planetfall.
PROS: A look at the internal struggle of the Chapter, plenty of flesh tearing.
CONS: Could use more characterization.
BOTTOM LINE: Smillie continues to flesh out a beloved Space Marine Chapter (pardon the pun), while providing lots of that old fashion bolter porn.
Total victory is robbed from the Flesh Tearers fleet as a number of orks escape before the final blow can be dealt. With a desire to bring death to the enemy, Chapter Master Amit assembles a company to track and eradicate the survivors. After arriving on the planet the Flesh Tearers become aware of a different sort of enemy…an enemy that has massacred the fleeing orks and wishes to expel all intruders from the world. Can the Flesh Tearers defeat an entire world fixed upon their death or will they succumb to their own inner blood lust?
“When in doubt, brother, kill everything.”
A novella by Andy Smillie! Finally! Now we’re just one step away from a full-length novel! I’ll keep my fingers crossed. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a big fan of this fellow. Beneath the Flesh earned my loyalty and Reparation, one of the most enjoyable short stories I’ve ever read, cemented it. Torturer’s Thirst was just crimson icing on the flesh cake (wonderful mental image that). Now here we have Flesh of Cretacia, a Space Marine Battles novella and as far as I know Smillie’s first solo physical edition. It also comes in eBook if you swing that way.
So why am I such a fan of Smillie? He shows amazing promise as one of the newer authors of the esteemed Black Library. He doesn’t shirk the details – and really, what is a Warhammer 40,000 novel without the details? His space marines aren’t of the crybaby variety – yes I want depth out of my Angels of Death, but no I don’t want them to whine like prepubescent children. His action is gloriously gory and bound to catch flak for being bolter porn – it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, deal with it. But best of all, Smillie’s main writing interest so far has been the Flesh Tearers, a Second Founding offshoot of the Blood Angels. The Flesh Tearers are endlessly entertaining because they straddle the line between the Emperor’s righteous killers and blood thirsty butchers.
Smillie’s Flesh Tearers stories are as much about the Chapter’s internal struggle as the external conquests they wage. Any who enjoyed James Swallow’s latest Horus Heresy novel, Fear to Tread, are likely to find Flesh of Cretacia to be a good supplement. All space marines are reflections of their lineage and the Rage and Thirst that the Flesh Tearers inherited from their gene-father, Primarch Sanguinius, is a great weapon and the ultimate defect. In combat the Flesh Tearers fight with a feral edge, becoming a mobile slaughterhouse bearing a closer resemblance to the berserkers of Khorne than any loyalist Chapter. This same strength presents a danger. At any moment one of these space marines could give in fully to the Rage, no longer being able to discern friend from foe. This is a curse that all Flesh Tearers must live with and it is an ever present reminder of the failure of their father Sanguinius.
“We took our rage and tried to blunt it on the stars themselves.”
This curse is what Flesh of Cretacia is truly about. The Flesh Tearers find death in many forms on Cretacia but the greatest threat of all is that posed to the soul of the Chapter. Amit, one of the original space marines that fought alongside the Primarch during the Horus Heresy, is desperate to find a solution to the curse. Those who have read Fear to Tread know of the grave transgression that Amit has committed, a weight that continues to drag him down. Flesh of Cretacia is told from multiple perspectives though Amits is the strongest. The characters do leave a bit to be desired as individuals but as a whole I think they successfully tell the story of a Chapter on the brink of extinction. Smillie has room to grow when it comes to character writing but I’d say that he has the subject of themes down pat. More emphasis is placed on the larger story than any single aspect. Smillie isn’t telling the journey of a single space marine, instead he is building a Chapter.
I’m a noted critic of the Space Marine Battles series. The idea of this line of books seems to be to provide stories that are heavy on action and light on plot. The commonly used term is “bolter porn” and it has come to take on a negative connotation. I don’t see why bolter porn has to be a bad thing, sometimes you just want to get the lead out. I will say that a lot of the action in the Space Marine Battles series feels formulaic and vanilla. Fortunately Smillie doesn’t stray into that territory. The action in Flesh of Cretacia is sweet and satisfying. Smillie applies the appropriate amount of viscera and refrains from overindulging. When you see a cover with a hulk clad in Tactical Dreadnought armour (with a face that oddly resembles that of the author) wielding twin chainfists you expect a certain degree of dual fisting action. Smillie delivers.
Flesh of Cretacia isn’t Smillie’s best work to date (I reserve that title for Reparation), but it is an excellent example of what this author can accomplish with a little bit longer to play in the sandbox. This is a desirable addition to the collection and a sure promise of incredible things to come.