Red Tithe is the latest novel from Black Library written by Robbie MacNiven, a writer who cut his literary eyeteeth in fan fiction forums such as the Black Library Bolthole along with other such luminaries as… well, everyone who writes for this site. He’s achieved the fan fiction writer’s dream, and rumours that I’ve been planning his assassination are greatly exaggerated.
This novel features the Space Marines Chapter “the Carcharadons Astra,” known back in the day as the “Space Sharks:” one of the leftovers from the days when Games Workshop developers took more of a “fuck it, that sounds funny” attitude than they do now… coughRainbow Warriorscough. I believe this is the first major work that BL have published featuring them as protagonists, which left MacNiven with a lot of leeway to develop their background and characteristics.
The Carcharadons have come to an isolated penal planet on the very edge of the galaxy, seeking to enact a red tithe: a harvest of the convicts held there to replenish the crews of their ships and, perhaps, to find some who are worthy of being transformed into Space Marines. Unfortunately for them a warband of the Night Lords, Traitor Space Marines who long ago turned their back on the Imperium of mankind, are also there for the same purpose, and both sides are seeking one boy in particular who possesses incredible psychic potential.
I have to start off by saying how much I love what MacNiven has done with the Carcharadons. They have a feel to them quite unlike any other loyalist Space Marine Chapter, and their exile to the void outside of our galaxy, battling the foul things that dwell there, is a fascinating one. There is massive potential for stories about what they have encountered before, whether Tyranid or even stranger. The hints about their origins are tantalising too, and though it is never definitely spelled out, there are big clues about who they might be descended from that readers familiar with the universe in question will love.
The Night Lords are portrayed well too: this is a warband mostly made up of warriors who were not around at the time of the Horus Heresy, which brings a great deal of freshness to them and cuts down on the usual reminiscing about the bad old days that is basically inescapable when Traitor Legion Space Marines are being written about. This is not to say that they are any less vicious though, which of course is the fun thing about them. Might have just betrayed something worrying about my own mind, there.
Black Library books revolve around war, of course, and MacNiven handles the battles with his trademark flair. Wins and losses go both ways, and the action has a visceral urgency to it that works very well.
This is not to say that the novel is entirely without flaw. The pacing in parts is not all that it could be, and the end felt more than a little rushed. One character’s tendency to have flashbacks to his life before he became a Space Marine was definitely overused. The use of a single Predator tank by the Night Lords at one point was confusing since the fight was firstly underground in a tunnel environment and secondly that, if they were going to deploy armour, why didn’t we see any more of it?
Overall though this is a great book from an author who is definitely one of the rising talents within Black Library. If you’re not familiar with his work yet, then you should certainly give this book a try!