A gritty tale about something sinister haunting an outpost on the planet of Potence, York-based author Justin D Hill does a great job of capturing the desolation and desperation of an agri-world on the fringes of Imperium space.
The story follows enforcer Rudgard Howe as he leaves the relative safety of his childhood home to begin the journey to claiming his birthright. It is a bildungsroman of sorts, as we experience Rudgard's shift from enthusiastic rookie to bloodied soldier, taking the first steps to replacing his father as chief enforcer. Along with Terrini, his gnarled mentor, he goes on his first duty as a rookie - enforcing the will of the God-Emperor by ensuring distant agri-complexes are harvesting enough crop to fulfil their tithes. It's bloody work - after all, it is the 40K universe - as they punish serfs and perform executions to reinforce the need for absolute compliance to the Imperium's war effort. However, then they receive a call about Thorsarbour, a facility a few days' drive away, where there has been unsettling tales of a cult uprising. When they arrive, the story truly begins, everything else setting the groundwork for what happens next - the two enforcers are quick to control the situation by whatever means necessary, getting the serfs working - but their efforts are hampered by a series of horrific events that leave Rudgard questioning whether there is something supernatural at play.
This well-written story proves an intriguing dive into the 40K universe, without necessarily being enthralling. However, the small details, e.g., Rudgard's childhood "toy", a criminal's mind trapped inside a plaything (one of the most eerie aspects of the book) keep the story interesting, and the ultimate mystery of Thorsarbour keeps you engaged till the end. I wouldn't class it as a horror, more of a mystery, which worked, given the subject, though the horror aspect could have been hightened through greater relationship development.
In Terrini, Rudgard finds a steely mentor, a man who has seen it all and lived to tell the tale and, as their relationship develops, it's nice to see Rudgard growing apart from Terrini and becoming more independent. But even that relationship is flimsy. The other people he meets are fleeting characters or props - when, given it's meant to be a horror, more developed relationships would really have hit home the terror he faced. Even without that emotional heft, the story still works.
Even though it may potentially be lacking for someone without an interest in the Warhammer universe, Justin D Hill offers enough intrigue and character development (not just of Rudgard, but the world) for a fan to deliver an enjoyable dive into - what could be refered to - an often overlooked cog in the Imperium machine.