Shadowsun: The Last of Kiru’s Line is a premium hardback novella from Black Library.
Shadowsun: The Last of Kiru’s Line tells an origins-story of sort for one of the only three special characters in the current Tau Empires Codex, Commander O’Shaserra (or Shadowsun). The author, Braden Campbell, appears also to be relatively new to Black Library.
This is a well-crafted book.
Unusually for Warhammer 40K, it places the theme of family at the heart of the story. Campbell also keeps things low-key, eschewing the over-the-top approach of many 40K stories.
Ultimately, this book didn’t quite work for me. The story, especially the ending, were too contrived and the depiction of Shadowsun herself inconsistent and – at times – unconvincing.
Commander Shadowsun, child of the famed Kiru and protégé of the legendary Commander Puretide, is destined to lead the next phase of the Tau Empire’s expansion… if she can survive the trials before her. Crash-landed on an enemy-held planet, with foes all around and a seemingly impossible mission to complete Shadowsun is determined to achieve victory, even at the cost of her life. But when she receives a message that tears her world apart, Shadowsun must make a choice unthinkable to most tau: to abandon her duty for the sake of family, or continue to fight for the Greater Good.
#1 – To Format: A Black Library Premium Novella
The format is a 128 pages “premium hardback” format, which Black Library has used a lot since the Dark Vengeance novella.
Curiously, this story had no chapters or other intermissions. It’s 128 pages straight text. Even double-line-spaces separating a change in scenes are limited to at most 4 or 5 in the entire book.
#2 – The Story: Origins and Family
The story is an origins-story of sorts for Shadowsun. It pivots on the theme of “family vs. duty”.
Shadowsun, born to a lineage of military heroes, already is the commander of a sizable Tau army when she is shot down by the Imperium over the planet the Tau tried to add to their Empire.
On the planet, she re-groups the Tau survivors and sets out to disable the planetary defenses, aided by a human turncoat. She also finds out that all her family members died while she was in interstellar transit, forcing Shadowsun to choose between quitting military service to produce an heir for Kiru’s line, or to sacrifice not only herself, but her entire lineage to “the Greater Good”.
Inversely, the motives for the IG turncoat aiding the Tau are – SPOILER – to save his family by allowing the Tau to takeover the planet without orbital bombardment (which would kill his family).
It has a nice mirror-theme there with Shadowsun choosing duty over family and the Guardsman deserting to save his family.
The action is surprisingly low-key. The biggest battles in the book could comfortably be re-played with a 1.500 pts. game of Warhammer 40K. It is a nice change in many ways, but also feels a bit quaint at times. Perhaps I simply read too many Space Marines Battles novel recently
#3 – The Problem: The Inconsistencies of O’Shaserra
Given the story of Shadowsun (see above), O’Shaserra’s characterization in the book did not work for me, mainly because it seemed (to me) to jump from one extreme to the other multiple times (and this is only a 100+ page story).
- At the start, Shadowsun coldly assesses the immediate risk of drowning, fully prepared to die for duty. Towards the end, she’s suddenly squeamish crossing a high suspension bridge (wearing a jetpack suit, mind you).
- At the start, she speaks human language slowly and with painful disgust. Later she trades dry wit and sly words dueling the Imperial commander.
- At times, she commands her Fire Warriors to certain death without a thought. At others, she’s paralyzed by indecisiveness for no apparent reason (other than story drama).
- At the start, she scolds the humans for their lack of respect for nature. At the end, she’s making proposals for wildlife genocide, while the humans plead with her to preserve the planet’s natural beauty.
These may sound like little things, and by themselves they clearly are.
Together, this left Shadowsun a surprisingly vague character. Is she taciturn or chatty? Is she efficiently cold-blooded or emotional? Is she fascinated by humans, or disgusted? Is she (or Tau) more “in tune” with nature than humans, or less so?
After reading the book, I still couldn’t tell you.
I thus felt the book failed badly at its main mission: to give Shadowsun more “substance” as a character.
Indeed, the character of the Guardsmen – Colonel Hollett - betraying his duty, planet and species to save his family is arguably the better character. Yet even Hollett’s actions often feels contrived or non-nonsensical, driven by the needs of the story, rather than natural to the character.
The obvious comparison (for me) was Yarrick: Chains of Golgotha, where Annandale takes an iconic character for a spin and absolutely nails it. This Shadowsun novella doesn’t do that.
#4 – Final Thoughts
That said, these inconsistencies aren’t deal-breakers. Campbell still wrote a fun story, nicely paced and with some good action and interesting twists. The interaction among the different Tau is done well. As noted, the entire family theme is crafted nicely into the tale.
It’s definitely an enjoyable book. If you’re looking for books on Tau, this one delivers just enough fun to make it worthwhile.
It simply feels a bit like writing about Commander Shadowsun wasn’t the author’s main motivation. Too often it feels like a story adapted, for better or worse, to make a “Shadowsun-story” out of it.