Carcharadons: Red Tithe by Robbie MacNiven (Book Review)

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is incredibly vast in terms of its scope and the material it thus covers. From one edge of the galaxy to another, from current events to those ten thousand years ago, there is a lot of potential to explore. That is where Robbie MacNiven’s Carcharadons: Red Tithe is set. This first novel in what is hopefully going to be a series seeks to turn into fact some of the myths of the Carcharadons Astra Chapter of the Space Marines. Robbie’s tale is one of dour heroism matched against cruel barbarity and is a fantastic introduction to one of the most mysterious of the all the Space Marine Chapters.

The lead protagonist of the novel, if we talk about the Carcharadons themselves, is Company Master Bail Sharr, newly promoted to that rank who is given the task of carrying out a successful Red Tithe. For a Space Marine Chapter, recruiting new blood is a crucial task that must be regularly performed, lest the Chapter run the risk of dying out because there are no neophytes in training to replace battlefield losses. That is, invariably, what Red Tithe is all about. But it is no easy going for the Carcharadons, who are colloquially also known as the Star Starks, for the planet they have chosen for their tithing has also become a target for the senseless predations of a warband of the Night Lords, Chaos Space Marines who fell from grace and heroism some ten thousand years ago. It is a battle against the clock as both forces move towards their objectives.

The first I read of the Carcharadons was in one of the Imperial Armour campaign books from Forge World, a subsidiary of Game Workshop which owns the Warhammer 40,000 IP. Detailing the disastrous Badab War, the Carcharadons were mentioned as a rogue element that came to the aid of the Imperium against the rebels. With brutal shock-assault tactics, the Carcharadons were a key part of the Imperium’s retaliation and they disappeared soon after the end of the conflict. While the campaign book gave us a lot of details about the Chapter, there was much that was shrouded in mystery and myth, some of which Robbie attempts to crystallize with Red Tithe.

On a purely action level, Red Tithe is a masterful novel that balances the brutal savagery of the Carcharadons against the horror-inducing rampages of the Night Lords. I know Robbie of old through a Black Library fan-forum where we were both aspiring writers and it is really great to see how far he has come and how well he has done for himself. He captures the essence of both Space Marine forces and delves deeply into the culture of the Carcharadons in particular. I was certainly impressed. And it isn’t as if the Night Lords get the short end of the stick either for he does delve into their war tactics as well and gives them a good outing.

It has been a while since I read Imperial Armour: Badab War and I don’t remember how the Carcharadons were portrayed in the campaign book, but in Red Tithe we see that Robbie infuses them with elements of the Maori culture, as well as wider Polynesia. This is apparent in the names for the various Carcharadon characters such as Kahu and Te Kahurangi and Nikora. Or the fact that they use various objects made out of coral and decorate themselves in the style of tattoos favoured among these cultures. And references to sharks are definitely there, such as in the name of their ship featured here, the Great Maw or the epithet given to their Chapter Master Tyberos, the Red Wake. Each Space Marine Chapter has its unique quirks, and for the Carcharadons, this mix of Pacific Island cultures is something that is very unique and even forms a sort of counterpoint to the usual Westernisation of the Chapters as can be found among the Ultramarines and Black Templars and others. This was something that Robbie did a great job of, and for this alone I would love to see many more Carcharadon novels so that we can learn more about them and what motivates them.

If there’s something that really struck me about the Carcharadons here was the whole mystery of their origins. They have apparently been a Chapter since the Second Founding, almost ten thousand years ago but given the incompleteness of Imperial records in-universe, they are classed as of unknown provenance. As such, their parent Chapter is tough to pin down and theories range from them being Raven Guard successors and all the way to even being World Eaters, depending on whom you ask. Sadly Robbie doesn’t explore this aspect, which would definitely take up a whole novel by itself at least. However, just reading all the clues dropped was exhilarating. Their remit apparently was to roam Outer Space beyond the edge of the galaxy and fight all enemies of the Imperium and this is something that has soaked deep into their psyche and their culture, to the point even that it affects how their Librarians’ powers work and how they conduct themselves in battle: utterly silent with no war-cries to declare their allegiances or oaths. Almost frightening when you are reading their battle scenes. Sure, they converse over the communications channels with each other, but by and large they choose not to be… expressive.

And this is something that works very much against the Night Lords. Which was pretty fantastic as a point of comparison since the Night Lords love to terrify and harass their targets with deathly chants and other sounds of bloody murder. How the Night Lords cope against the Carcharadons in such a situation is intriguing and Robbie does well to go over this several time, making that as much a part of the fabric of the narrative as anything else.

Something else that I really liked was that Robbie crafted a tale of opposites that share many similarities nonetheless. Both Bail Sharr of the Carcharadons and Amon Cull of the Night Lords are young leaders where age and experience are concerned and they have warriors under their command who outstrip them in both categories and have the attitudes to match. Yet, one is loyal to the Imperium and the Emperor while the other is a dangerous heretic and traitor leading others such as him.

These are the sorts of stories I really like to read in Warhammer 40,000 because it adds several layers of subtle commentary and perspective to the narrative. And Robbie doesn’t overdo any of this either. It all just feels very natural how things work out for both leaders and by the end of the novel I was left wanting more. I do believe that Robbie has more planned and I definitely look forward to whatever comes. If I have any criticism of the novel, it is merely that some of the scene transitions didn’t work so well for me. The Carcharadons and the Night Lords aren’t the only characters to be found here, for we also have scenes from the perspectives of the law officers of the Adeptus Arbites as well as various elements of the prison-planet Zartak’s incarcerated criminal population. When all these perspectives get mixed, the pace falters at times and when the pace picks up in the second half it gets a little tough to properly follow along. Plus some of the Night Lords were a bit too… gimmicky and acted out as I expected these treacherous warriors to.

Suffice to say, Carcharadons: Red Tithe is an excellent debut nonetheless. In the main, it has a great story with some great characters. And the titular Red Tithe in the end is fearsome in its own right. Certainly not what I had expected and the chapter intros that Robbie used to frame the post-narrative were chilling as well, creating an aura of deep mystery and confusion that I enjoyed reading about.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Posted on June 8, 2017, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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