Well, despite my initial ire I caved and purchased Last Step Backwards by Justin D. Hill. My disappointment wasn't with this work on the Black Library advent calendar but that it was paired with a weak mission supplement on the digital editions side. I'll be discussing that on my blog today and hopefully have a few nicer things to say about GW by the end.
Warning to all: Here there be spoilers!
|THIS WAY! NO, NOT THAT WAY!|
Let us begin with the plot. Not a terribly complicated one but I cannot blame Mr. Hill for that, who has not done too much work with BL before (mostly seems to do historical fiction based on the Normands so I may have to look him up some more.) In many ways, it seems like this story just serves the purpose of setting up Lord General (not Lord Castellian) Ursakar Creed as a character. He shows up, on behalf of a Warmaster, in order to save this world from falling to a chaos uprising that is kicking Imperial Guard butt. Well, that cannot stand, and his first actions, show off scene sadly, is to have the commanding officer arrested for incompetence.
Now in charge in both name and fact, because you be the guy to tell him otherwise after that kind of entrance, he begins by cancelling the evacuation of the planet and then going off to what is left of the front. This isn't saying much since the front consists of about two-hundred conscripts and a damaged Leman Russ. They're almost overrun when Creed shows up accompanied by Valkyrie attack runs, Kasyrkin support, and a bunch of heavy weapons and ammo for the conscripts to upgun themselves with. Its like Santa showed up and armed his elves to the teeth.
Now well equipped and with a solid defensive position, the conscripts are able to hold back the enemy and use the geography to cause them to bunch up...just in time for an orbital bombardment.
CREEEEDDD!!!! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Well, the enemy, now good and scattered, turn tail and run, only to find that those landers full of evacuating guardsmen had dropped an entire crusade army behind them. Trapped between a rock and a hard place the enemy is thoroughly dismantled, though their leader escapes so that the setting allows for more writing later.
There is also some work here and there about some conscripts earning away their stripe...
The work was rather short. While I'm not exactly expecting a novel I was able to read it in about twenty minutes. Arcades represent a less expensive time/money ratio, at least if you're good at the games. That is a bit of a disappointment for me and probably lead to the second problem.
The book was about Creed, which is good, but failed on two fronts. First, he remains a 2D character at the end. Stuff from Codex: Astra Militarum makes him seem more human. Several times its mentioned that he's reckless, came from Cadia's backwaters (where reckless people apparently come from), and how brilliant he is. Despite that, he seems very unbrilliant and unreckless, except for going to the front himself but that is not reckless if its the only path to victory. Plus, the surrounding of your enemy isn't a grand stroke of brilliant if your enemy puts their entire army into a single bottleneck. NOTE AUTHORS, DUMB ENEMIES =/ BRILLIANT HEROES. He does come off as a 'common man' but if you don't get that message then you were smart enough to keep you mouth closed because it was very much shoved into your face, complete with Creed sharing a drink from the admirals stock with the common soldiers afterwards. Very heartwarming.
Secondly, the story, short as it was, tried to do too much. Several background characters, specifically the conscript sergeant and two of the surviving conscripts, seem better built up and this make Creed, by comparison, less developed. Had the story been longer there would have been more time to build up each character in their own time and place, letting each be their own special snowflake, but there wasn't time. I would much rather have seen more of Creed and less of conscripts desperate to survive the next twenty-four hours. That might seem harsh but this is Creed's first BL work and I'd like him to be center stage. I did fork out five bucks because of his name.
Last complaint, I promise. The action was very stiff. Too much thinking and reminiscing during firefights distracts from the threat their supposed to represent. Allow the fighting to come to a lull before soldiers stop to assess their values and views on mortality.
Now I feel compelled to say something nice about this work, since I've been pretty harsh to Mr. Hill thus far. The story was an enjoyable read overall. I don't not recommend it. If you are an Imperial Guard player (BTW, they hamfisted in Astra Militarum) then you should read this. It gives a bit of insight into Cadia and Cadians. It shows a bit of how other regiments see Cadians. It also gives us a view of the Lord Castellian before he was raised to so an exalted rank.
Overall, if you like IG give it a read. Otherwise, pass.
3/5 (If you like IG)