Mephiston: Lord of Death by David Annandale – Limited Edition Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the first in the brand new limited edition series Lords of the Space Marines, Mephiston: Lord of Death by Black Library newcomer David Annandale.
“An engrossing look into one of the most mysterious characters in Warhammer 40k, and a story that is a must-read for any fans of the Blood Angels.” – The Founding Fields
I love limited editions. I am a collector of things like that, and so it was a no-brainer that Mephiston: Lord of Death would definitely become a part of my collection. But admittedly I was a little unsure of what the story would be like, as my only previous experience with David Annandale is the short story The Carrion Anthemn which I found flawed. But Mephiston: Lord of Death wasa very nice surprise for me in that I greatly enjoyed it, it’s depiction of Mephiston and the tantalizing mystery element to the story. My own personal Mephiston is #528/2434.
Mephiston is an anomaly among his brothers. Once Lexicanum Calistarius of the Blood Angels, who was lost to the Black Rage that beats in the hearts of each Son of Sanguinius, he was reborn as Mephiston the Lord of Death, he who commands the darkness in service to the light. But what is he? Is he truly a servant of the light that walks in the darkness? Or is there a more sinister side to Mephiston, one that is hidden from even himself but that the servants of evil can see and know him as their brother? No one, not even Mephiston himself, is truly sure. And as the Blood Angels descend onto the lost world of Pallevon in search of answers to questions gained aboard a ghost-ship Mephiston must determine who and what he is, before somebody else determines it for him.
Now the story being a limited it is expected to be something that is not mandatory reading, but since this is not connected to any series, yet, Mephiston: Lord of Death tells it’s own self-contained story that serves as a direct sequel to the short story Eclipse of Hope. That of course gives the story a nice background to carry on from, and makes it feel longer than it’s page count by connecting it to another work. The references to James Swallow’s Blood Angels series did not go unnoticed or unappreciated either, a very nice touch. I particularly enjoyed the mystery element to the story, I was genuinely eager to learn what was happening in the story and exactly what was causing these events to happen, and the answer was spectacular and a great choice by David Annandale to use for his story. I must also say that I really enjoyed the fact that he distinguished between the Black Rage and the Red Thirst, as a Blood Angels fan I feel that previous BA works have not done that and focused more on the Rage, ommitting the Thirst all together. But this novella gives a very good showing of both and the difference between them, both in what they cause and how they are regarded.
I feel this series is about character study as much as a story and as such Mephiston is the most important element to the novella. This is Mephiston however is very different from his few prior depictions in James Swallow’s Blood Angels series or in Codex lore. This is a man who uses the darkness for the light, who is literally a different man than he once was and who is plagued by his own doubts about his “resurrection”. Sometimes that sort of doubt can be annoying but Annandale pulls it off nicely and makes Mephiston’s doubts legitimate causes for concern rather than just a character who lacks confidence. Annandale’s Mephiston feels like a very alien character, one who does not view the world around him as his brothers do, yet still maintains tenuous connections to them and his desire to stay grounded by those connections made him a much more understandable character.
The action scenes are a very nice mix of bolters and blades and psychic powers unleashed by one of the most powerful psykers in the setting. Annandale doesn’t go for the subtle powers that some do, instead we have lightning storms, blood boiling in veins and wings made of pure crimson light as Mephiston goes to war. The Blood Angels flaw is reflected very nicely by the battle scenes, they fight with the same fury that could consume them and the narrative shows just how close they come to the Black Rage each time they go into battle, which only makes them cooler. One scene in particular was nicely keyed to really ramp up the mystery, the strangeness inherent in what is going on only made me want to read ahead even more to understand what even Mephiston did not. And the final battle was epic, a really good showing of psychic might and the strength of the Sanguinius line, that and the particular character that shows up just ramped up the epicness.
I would also discuss the limited edition that this novella belongs to, and the quality of that. The collector’s case is an extremely nice touch, and is my favourite of the additions to the Lords series. It protects the novel and gives a nice sense of order and permanence to the collection. Plus a chapbook of Eclipse of Hope as a prequel to the novella gives you just a little bit more Mephiston and helps you understand some of the references in the novella. An art-card that shows the entirety of the cover art and is a great size is a further nice touch, and one that I intend to frame and put on my bookcase. And finally the internal artwork takes on a better dimension than the previous limited editions, being a foldout of Mephiston and detailed drawings of his wargear and addendums revealing the history behind each piece, which fans of the setting will definitely appreciate.
The pacing of the novella is quite a good one, particularly since the novella is only 121 pages long and stories like this need to be smaller yet still flow like a full novel. Mephiston: Lord of Death did feel like a full story to me, one that captured my interest on the first page with it’s well-written first-person narrative and further ensnared me with the mystery that was Mephiston, the planet Pallevon and the mystery behind it only made it easier for me to complete the novella in a single sitting, which I think is a sign the novella is truly strong as when a novella or short story that takes you days or so to finish, and reading time is not in short supply for you, it’s a sign that the book has problems and in a piece only 1/4 the size of a novel, the problems are more keenly felt. Mephiston: Lord of Death suffers from none of these and kept me hooked from start to finish, even the problems I had with The Carrion Anthemn were absent from the novella, definitely a good sign.
My favourite quote, there are quite a few badass threats from Mephiston and some as narrative rather than quotes but this one is definitely my favourite,
“Find your soul now, Mephiston, or learn now if you still have one.”
The ending is well-written and wraps up the story while at the same time keeping Mephiston’s character arc alive, the Codex does state some things that can’t be overturned yet and while Mephiston still has his doubts, his character has taken some steps forward and I quite liked the final lines of his narrative, it felt like a man who is more sure about who he is and his place in the galaxy. And one particular plot strand has been left to be explored further, and I do hope that this plot strand will be picked up in the future. It would make for a very engaging novel. Annandale has not only made a good novella but he has also explored the character Mephiston to a very satisfying degree, and hopefully that is what this series will be about. The Lords of the Space Marines, delving into their characters in more detail than can be done on a single Codex page.
For an enjoyable story, the engaging and mysterious Mephiston whose character has never been depicted more finely I give Mephiston: Lord of Death a score of 8.0/10. This is not a mandatory read but I would suggest that once this story is mass-released that fans of the Blood Angels make it a priority to read, it is a very enjoyable story and depiction of the Blood Angels and Mephiston and could perhaps be the depiction that many looked for but did not find in James Swallow’s Blood Angels. As this is a character piece and not a look into the wider chapter I cannot really say which is better, but I can say that David Annandale’s Mephiston is definitely the one I want to see more of.
That’s it for this review. Next i’ll be getting back to David Annandale with Death of Antagonis. So until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!