Kaldor Draigo: Knight of Titan by L.J. Goulding – Short Story Review [Bellarius]
Making a start on Black Library’s Lord of the Space Marines tales, Bellarius analyses where Kaldor Draigo: Knight of Titan just doesn’t work.
“Bland, self-defeating and empty.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
If there is anything Knight of Titan proves it is two points when it comes to writing this form of Black Library fiction:
Firstly, these thousand word stories simply do not work with battle. Without the room to deliver grandiose details, descriptive environments or even a basic three act structure any battle is hamstrung as soon as it begins. While some certainly do work, these are the exceptions and it is often the quieter or more contemplative scenes which prove to have much more impact.
Secondly, Draigo is poison to almost any tale which requires character.
Set during the figure’s time in the Warp, the story gives a brief moment of him staggering blindly through the Warp and considering what events brought him there. If it was his own attitude, hubris or event something unseen beyond his visions.
Unfortunately for us, while this might sound good this is barely focused upon at all. A few paragraphs at the most are devoted to exploring these themes but beyond that they are focused upon Draigo’s current situation. As such while half the story is trying to portray Draigo as a sympathetic character, the other half is trying to maintain he idea he is Draigod the Supreme Lord of Sues. The two elements simply don’t work together and proceed to openly undermine one another even as the story attempts to develop the character in what little space is given. Even then the few efforts to try and make him sympathetic almost feel half-hearted throughout a lot of the tale.
For example, the story opens with Draigo fighting an enemy and regretting using one of his precious few bolt rounds he has remaining. The story makes a point of noting how he arrived with very limited ammunition capping off a short sequence with “I have fired precisely five shots in all that time, and I have regretted every single one.” This is a good method of establishing that Draigo is still hard pressed here and far from invincible.
The unfortunate thing is that the very next sentence manages to undercut this completely with Driago effortlessly killing what is suggested to be a very powerful daemon of Khorne or potentially a Bloodthirster in seconds. No, really, the bolt manages to hit it with such force that the creature is sent flying backwards. Draigo then kicks away its “brazen axe” and even as it is dying somehow, scrabbling as it is crushed under his boot, he finishes it off with a single stab.
This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact Draigo recognises it as a champion and tries to list off those he has slain. Okay, the story tries to establish he has been in the Warp so long that identifying which daemon is which is simply becoming a blur from the constant combat. The issue stems from the fact that nothing here suggests this is from fatigue from relentless combat, and Draigo seems to be fighting them perfectly fine. The battle itself is meant to serve as some idea of what fighting in the Warp is like and if anything Draigo’s having an easier time here than he is in the mortal plane. The daemon charges at him on its lonesome, he kills it near instantly and then is promptly left alone for the rest of the short story. Then it goes the extra mile and lists “Skulltaker” under the list of daemons Draigo fleetingly thinks this might be, leaving a brief suggestion he might be able to similarly go through a powerful champion as he like a buzzsaw. So not only is he having an easy time with the champions, but they’re fighting him alone and seemingly giving him time to rest between fights.
This overshadows everything which follows, even as Knight of Titan tries to portray Draigo as a flawed figure. It goes into his history and expresses how his ascension to power was opposed by prognosticars who believes that there might be something more to Draigo’s victories. It tries to express the idea that he is being manipulated, that he is following someone else’s path but this point is forgotten fairly quickly.
While it rightfully attempts put down some of the more obscene power fantasy elements of his character to the manipulation of others, the fact we see he is shown as extremely powerful within this tale hamstrings even this element. Okay, he might be manipulated by other beings, but rather than giving some visible suggestion that his conquest over immensely powerful figures might be put down to the machinations of other Warp entities rather than his own strength it just leaves it at that. Furthermore his own hubris and open stupidity shown within that scene does little to make him likable. Draigo leaves after the objection, never returning again and the fact he doesn’t seem to heed their warnings, nor even understand any of them, makes him look as if he willingly dug his own grave out of arrogance. Though at least the story suggests that last point might be true rather than trying to pass it off as something else.
It also doesn’t help that one line includes “your name, according to the old divinations, is a killing word”. Apparently it wasn’t enough to have him punch out demi-gods with ease, they needed to invoke a comparison with Muad’dib.
Readers might also be interested to know that this is another first person story with us looking from Draigo’s perspective, yet there’s little to nothing there. There’s not enough time given to really make him seem to stand out and looking through his eyes makes his thoughts seem bland, lifeless and without any character to them. There’s a specific talent which comes from writing from a first person perspective and using it to build upon a figure, the Eisenhorn trilogy being a monument to how successful it can be when done right, but there’s no angle of interest it adds here.
While the tale at least doesn’t repeat the mistake of trying to create landmarks and monuments within the Warp, there’s nothing alien about it. The daemon worlds featured in the like of Dead Sky, Black Sun and Daemon World were supposed to be the nightmarish Warp poisoned planets which could be comprehended by and lived on by mortals, but they’re more effective at expressing the alien nature of the Warp. If anything what we get here of the realm of daemons seems dull by comparison.
The story is ultimately confused, conflicted in trying to incorporate two very opposing characters aspects and fails to gel them together in any effective manner. Combined with Draigo being a dull, lifeless figure, the Warp failing to impress any alien elements. It reflects the neutered, tame version many codices seem to be using which is of no threat to mortals, there’s really nothing here. It doesn’t commit any major literary sins and the prose seems fine, but the tale’s content is just lacking beyond belief. Skip this and look to one of the other stories for entertainment.