I read Flesh of Cretatica, the latest Flesh Tearers Novel by Andy Smillie. It is a 123 page story in Black Library’s new “premium hardback format”, similar to the Dark Vengeance novel. It details the Flesh Tearers’ conquest of Cretacia, their home world. The book is available only by direct order from Black Library. It is short. It is expensive for what you get. Above all, it is bloody good fun. Balls-to-the-walls Space Marines carnage at its best.
Mere centuries after the end of the Horus Heresy, the newly-founded Flesh Tearers Chapter continues its bloody crusade against the xenos races that threaten Segmentum Pacificus. Chapter Master Amit leads his warriors to a feral world in pursuit of orks, but discovers something far more ancient and deadly in the depths of the jungle. Already battle-weary, the Flesh Tearers must master the dark legacy of their primarch Sanguinius if they are to prevail… and perhaps find a world worthy of being called their home.
The Flesh Tearers – Dramatis Personae
Flesh of Cretacia is part of the Space Marines Battles line from Black Library. These are not subtle or sophisticated books. They don’t try to be. If you buy a Space Marines Battles novel, you want Bolters blazing and Chainswords ripping by about page 5 or so.
Ideally long before that.
Being a very short novel on top of being a Space Marine Battles novel, Flesh of Cretacia wastes no time to deliver. The story opens with a staccato of character introductions: The fearless warrior native to Cretacia. The young Space Marine Scout on his first mission. The Assault Marine new to the command of a Squad. The Chapter Master, who still baffles his lieutenants with daring and unorthodox strategies, etc.. .
These aren’t the most original characters you’ll ever meet. There is no multi-layer character-building of the sort you find in more character-driven, longer books, such as Dan Abnett’s recent Pariah. But they work very well for Flesh of Cretacia and Andy Smillie gives (most of) them just enough personality to make them memorable.
My main complaint would be that there are – for a short book such as this – too many of characters. Moreover, the focus shifts notably about two-thirds into the book.
Cassiel the Scout, for example, gets lots of attention early on and one of the most memorable fights in the book (more on that below). He feels like a protagonist at the start. Yet after his moment to shine, he vanishes completely from the tale. He simply isn’t mentioned again. Inversely, the Chaplain seems a peripheral character to begin with, yet takes on a central role towards the end.
I guess the idea is to showcase many roles and types of Space Marines in the Flesh Tearers Chapter, as well as to highlight how they all deal in their own unique ways with the curse of the Black Rage, which is a major theme throughout. Nevertheless, a few more pages to the book could have achieved the same result, as well as allowing the main characters a better, more complete story arc.
The Battle for Cretacia – Glorious Carnage
Chapter Master Amit and his Flesh Tearers chase the remnants of an Ork army to an inhospitable Death World, Cretacia. The Orks don’t play a big role, other than providing a reason for the Flesh Tearers to land on Cretacia (if you’re looking for a story featuring Orks in action, this one isn’t for you). Once the Flesh Tearers make it through a rough planet-fall, they start battling the ferocious wild-life of the deadly world of Cretacia.
The big, mid-story showcase battle has the Flesh Tearers defending their landing site against an onslaught of the Cretacia’s wildlife – a scene that reminded me of a grimdark version of James Cameron’s Avatar finale, mixed with a heavy helping of King Kong vs. Godzilla. Giant beasts charge in from all sides to do battle with the Space Marines, (gigantic) teeth and claws vs. chainswords and meltabombs.
Sounds silly. It is silly. And yet it works. Andy Smillie uses the idea of Space Marines fighting – literally – a planet to unleash such wonderful and awe-inspiring carnage, that there is no time to reflect on it too much. Blood is spilled, beasts and Space Marines eviscerated, skulls crushed and death tally rises sky-high.
It is not high literature. But it sure is fun.
And those few moments the Space Marines are not stuck in combat, the Red Thirst threatens to overwhelm them and set them against each other. This is the first time I read a Flesh Tearer novel by Andy Smillie, he written a few more, but he did an excellent job of depicting the Flesh Tearers as a Chapter constantly on the edge, constantly besieged by the curse of the Black Rage. It shapes and defines every thing about them.
One of my favourite scenes forces Scout Cassiel to face one of his senior battle-brothers, who has given in to the Black Rage. How he deals with it really shines an interesting light on the culture of the Flesh Tearers Chapter.
My other favourite scene has another Flesh Tearer fight down his rage to befriend the local natives. I love how the two sides get around their language barrier, mainly by sharing – despite a difference of 40.000 years of technological advancement – such a primal, blood-soaked and down-to-the-basics warrior-culture.
Great stuff there. These themes would well be worth exploring in a longer book, I believe.
The Production Value of the Book
The format of the book is described by Black Library as “premium hardback format’.
It is the same format they used for the Dark Vengeance Novel. I have voiced my reservations for this format in my review of the Dark Vengeance book.
I still don’t think it is really worth the price BlackLibrary are asking. The hard-cover is nice. The colour- inlay is.. ok, I guess; 4 colour pages in the middle, one of them a Space Marine depiction similar to the ones you often see in Forge World books.
For a “premium” product, the regular paper and printing felt sub-par. There were even one or two pages, where some paragraphs appeared to me a lighter grey compared to the rest. Not unlike the effect you get from a copy machine that is just about to run low on toner.
Not good enough for a “collectors product”, too expensive to just read it and bin it. It is a very odd product format overall.
It is surprisingly hard for me to “rate” this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story itself. It delivers everything you could want from a Space Marines Battles novel. It’s packed with action, bloodshed and carnage front-to-back. It reads great, doesn’t get tired, keeps you turning pages. Awesome stuff.
My only complaint is that I think it would’ve been even better with a bit more “padding”. The characters seem interesting enough. They would have deserved more space to unfold. The Black Rage theme is very well written, for what is there, but these themes could likewise use a bit more space to breathe.
It sometimes feels as if this should have been a ~ 200 page novel. But as there wasn’t “enough” to make it a full 400 page book, so they chopped it down to 120-something pages that is their standard for the “premium hardback format”.
As a story in itself, I would give it at least 4 stars. More if I would only rank it up against other Space Marines Battles novels.
I will subtract half a star for the odd format. It’s expensive, not up to scratch for the price it asks. It also feels like it was a constraint on the story itself in many ways.
Still, if you like no-nonsense, no-holds-barred Space Marines action, and you are prepared to spend £12.00 for the book (or £7.50 for the eBook), I don’t think you will regret delving into the glorious carnage unleashed by ‘Flesh of Cretacia’.