For longtime followers of the background fiction of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Carcharodons–or Space Sharks as they were known earlier–have been a mysterious bunch of Astartes. And I mean really mysterious, not the Teenage-Emo-Wannabe-Mysterious like the Dark Angels.
Nobody knows where they came from. Nobody knows their composition, their lore, or their ethos. Though Loyalists, like their namesake, they are habitual loners, only showing up to eviscerate the Imperium’s enemies, feed their logistics chain, and then vanish back into the sea of stars. Their careful, measured approach is seemingly contradictory to their vicious savagery once the fight is joined.
First mentioned in a White Dwarf article about the Badab War, an inter-Astartes conflict sometime after the Horus Heresy, the Space Sharks were relative latecomers to the fight. Although only given a few terse sentences, it was implied that there was something not quite right about these particular Loyalists, loyal though they were. Beyond a few figures painted up in White Dwarf every now and then, that was pretty much it for some time.
Forge World revisited the Badab War in Volumes 9 and 10 of their Imperial Armour series of expansions/background books, of course accompanied by a slew of beautiful resin models, and what we learned of the Carcaradons only made them seem more mysterious. They were a wandering, Loyalist Chapter of uncertain lineage, wandering the stars to annihilate the enemies they encountered there. Their interaction even with fellow Loyalist Astartes was minimal, and their savagery and ruthlessness made even fellow Space Marines blanch!
OK, so we have mysterious, shark-themed Space Marines. This brings us to Red Tithe, by Robbie MacNiven. I picked up the hardback copy from my local Games Workshop Store for about $28.00 and was not disappointed.
In it, two forces of predatory Astartes–one Loyalist, one Traitor–clash over the most important resources necessary for sustaining themselves: human resources. The bleak, jungle-shrouded Prison Planet of Zartak is the target of the vicious Night Lords Traitor Legion. Agony and terror strike from the shadows at the Arbites garrison and inmates alike until salvation arrives from the void. However, the Carcharodons may not be the salvation any expected, because the grey-armored Astartes may be Loyalists, but they have a Tithe to collect…a red one.
This is the first piece of MacNiven’s that I’ve read, and overall I was pretty pleased. He captured both the alien, solitary nature of the Space Sharks and the embittered, vicious sadism of the Night Lords very well. The plot moves very smoothly and comfortably, with no gaps or implausibilities. Victories and deaths, successes and defeats, fortunes on the battlefield move they way they should, with the Night Lords pressing their advantage in warpcraft, while the Carcharondons use their strengths and prosper accordingly. There’s no implausible deus ex machinas or “shark jumping” to ruin the tension or sour the conclusion. All in all, it’s a good first novel for MacNiven and I’d look forward to more from him.
Carcharodons fans will be especially thrilled to look at what goes on inside the Chapter and learn more of its ways and culture. The tension between animalistic savagery and analytical thinking is very interesting, as is the constant need to be concerned with resources that a permanently space-faring force without outposts must have. I wish MacNiven had more time to go into the Carcharodons lifestyle, but…In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, There is Only War!
My only issue was with the treatment of the Arbites survivor, Rannick. Now, this is just my opinion–everyone’s got one and they’re all equally valid or worthless. However, I thought she was just slightly too weak and vulnerable for an Arbitrator, particularly one with a bit of rank on them. It never got to the point where she stopped being a character and simply served as a convenient plot device, but she seemed just a tad too soft emotionally and spiritually. However, this may just be my perception based on my experience with the Shira Calpurnia series by Farrer. Like I said, it wasn’t bad enough to throw up my hands about, just enough to notice.
In conclusion, Red Tithe is a great yarn. It’s out now in hardback, with paperbacks soon to follow. I highly recommend it as a great yarn, and hope they’ll let Robbie MacNiven write more Charcharodons tales. They’re a cool, spooky Chapter, and Loyalist Astartes fans want to know about them!