"Abandon hope. Do not trust to faith. Sacrifices burn on pyres of madness, rotting corpses stir in unquiet graves. Daemonic abominations leer with rictus grins and stare into the eyes of the accursed. And the Ruinous Gods, with indifference, look on."
As I'd never explored anything from the Warhammer 40,000 universe before, yet heard so much about it from a long-time friend of mine, I was eager to experience a bit of it for myself when I saw the opportunity arise. 'The Oubliette' by J.C. Stearns was just such opportunity.
The cover depicts a seemingly large, dark hand.. clutching what seems to be a fallen being of fair hair and skin dressed in formal attire.. reaching for a pendant or something they have dropped which is about to slip away. The novel, listed under Warhammer horror, opens with the funeral for a highly regarded governor of the populace of a planet called Ceocan. It's viewed from the perspective of his daughter, who in what is perhaps some strange twist of fate, has found herself inheriting his role due to the death of both him and her eldest brother.
A younger sibling has also returned for the funeral. Having been sent away as an 'extra heir,' upon his arrival we find him to be an arbitrator, this world's version of an officer in charge of investigating incidents of just such magnitude. Though in this case, as a conflict of interest, it's not something he'd be able to become involved with despite his sister's certainty there was foul play afoot.
Normally, I lose interest with a lot of political intrigue, but the aristocrats amongst the Ceocan community are complex creatures. I enjoyed watching the battle even in what were essentially parliament style meetings between the various speakers of both the great and small houses. It was fascinating to watch them dance and duel verbally, utilizing not only their words.. but their social weight.. the volumes of their voices.. and the maneuvering of others around them.
It put me in mind of the great Senate meetings in Star Wars actually and since the original Warhammer Fantasy Battle tabletop game originated within years of the first Star Wars film, it's not unreasonable to think the creator may have taken some inspiration from it. Though, it could just as easily have been inspired by the Senates of Rome or some other real ancient ruling body.
"At the apex of the facade, the Emperor of Mankind stood in profile, His noble gaze cast to the east. In the middle of the night on Reunification Day, His gaze into the night sky lined up with the direction of Holy Terra, His graven visage seeing the distant star that mortal eyes could never discern in the blackness. Behind Him, the great aquila spread its bronze wings."
Though the violent crescendos throughout the story are brief, they are absolute. They are crisply detailed making the visuals unavoidable and lending themselves to the memory for some time.
While the supernatural horrors contained in the telling are highly imaginative, the ties that bind are a bit of rather brutal fun for the reader, so long as we're not overly squeamish.
There's a great deal of conflict, both inner and external. Enemies and friends alike, faced with unenviable choices of realignment or action, sometimes to a surprising result. Loyalties tested, mettle tested, even hands being forced by circumstance to choose pragmatism or failure at some crucial junction.
"Her father had had a saying: When conspiracy goes abroad, coincidence is the mask it wears, and she was beginning to see the wisdom in it."
This is an excellent story.. full of all the darkness and light that can be at war within.. elegantly crafted in the style of some of the most timeless classic horror novels I've ever read. I'd highly recommend it to any horror buff who isn't just looking for a jump scare, but rather a slow dawning realization of the state of one's moral compass.