Few settings have changed in such a short time than Warhammer 40,000. The sudden jump alone from the last Black Crusade to Guilliman's resurrection would have been enough, but every other day new developments take place. The galaxy is both brighter and darker, and many stories of late have focused primarily upon how the setting as a whole is coming to terms with these developments. The Geld is just one of these, but it's a rare example of a faction stopping and looking back once more, to ask if a situation warrants the re-activation of an old idea.
Times are desperate for the Raven Guard. As the chapter finds itself beset on all fronts by enemies, a particularly well entrenched Alpha Legion warlord by the name of Mazik the Unfixed has denied all attempts to oust him. With his fortress posing a tactical threat and the chapter in great need of a victory, Chapter Master Shrike considers if it is time to approach matters by an unconventional means. Summoning several officers and a member of the Knights of the Raven Chapter to his chambers, he announces one simple decree: The re-formation of the Mor Deythan. Few among the chapter and its successors still possess their primarch's dark gift, but enough are known to formulate a small ad-hoc unit for this situation.
The battle to come is to be a trial by fire, and their performance will be judged in the conflict to come. Yet, as they enter the corrupted halls, many come to wonder if they are not playing exactly into the Alpha Legion's hands once more...
The benefits of stories like The Geld is that they have the freedom to experiment with certain key ideas. While they lack the inherent length to push the entire narrative of the setting forward, the stylised presentation, sound effects and capacity to utilise a talented cast all benefit many shorter stories. This is the case here with The Geld, as the focus is on presenting a good battle and an engaging quest. It experiments with larger questions about the setting and even makes them a key part of the overall narrative, but it never overburdens the whole story.
The reformation of the Shadow Masters into a single unit is a big one, but the story handles it well and only up to a point. Anything more than an experiment would likely require a full novel to fully explore, so we have a brief depiction of Shrike's summons, the theories they have in mind, and then the action itself. It's a controlled and direct method of examining the themes in question while not limiting the larger impact this might have later on. Equally, we do start to see just why this development would take place now as much as anything else. Along with the darker state the galaxy is in, and the major threats facing them, the change in leadership to Shrike has left him more open minded to unorthodox methods of resolving their problems.
The actual scenes confronting these points, questioning them and then deploying the unit into battle are told throughout the first half of the audio drama. As the unit ventures deeper into the fortress, the story cuts back to earlier points in the tale to flesh them out. While this Christopher Nolan style nonlinear narrative is becoming overplayed, it definitely works here. As this is intended to be a quick and action heavy tale, by mixing up what could have been a slow first act into the more battle-centric later segments, it becomes a far more thematically coherent experience.
The Geld is also one of the novels to use Chaos to its fullest, with Warp spawned insanity seeping into every fight. While there are good stories which stick to this, and old sin among writers is to depict Chaos as an attribute. Something added to existing space marines to give them a bit more firepower, rather than going full Lovecraft. Here though? Not only is the fortress itself heavily implied to be a full on daemonic TARDIS, but no single fight is ever the same. Time loops, hunters in the dark, mirror images and stranger things still all come into play, and no single battle could ever be considered to be "conventional" in any respect. Better yet, while the capacity to wraith-slip is a key factor in this conflict, it's not a gamebreaker. More than a few post-Heresy developments arise here which counters it, and it's down to the characters themselves to overcome them. While a few might not seem obvious at first, they end up making an incredible amount of sense once you put two and two together.
As for the combat itself? Much like George Mann's writing, it knows when to be schlocky and when to have fun with some scenes. While quite a few are extremely well told and embrace the dark thematic drama of a man hunting through enemy territory, others focus upon very overt descriptions. They are the sort of insanely over the top actions and visuals you could see them showing up in a film by someone so bombastic as John Woo or with Schwarzenegger in a starring role. Of particular note is the final battle itself where the squad is being thrown around and a swordsman makes a rather dramatic save by parting a mutant head-to-groin. It's far from bad, but it's the kind of hyper-kinetic savagery you'd expect more from a Last Chancers novel over some of the more recent Warhammer 40,000 releases. Then again, with this sort of semi B-movie plot, it adds to the charm.
Yet, while there is plenty of good, there's a notable amount of bad as well.
None of the characters are particularly memorable. The Raven Guard themselves are hardly bad and there is certainly a few hints of characterisation about them, but little really sticks. Of those present, only Shadow Captain Qeld and Mordren stand out. The former because he is the protagonist, and the latter because he is the only non-Raven Guard member. Also because of the awesome Eastern European accent. This could have been offset more by discussions or interactions, but there are large chunks of the tale where the group exchanges no words and even split off entirely from one another. We didn't need much, but something to help them comment or focus on one another would have seriously improved the tale.
Equally, the enemies themselves are problematic in their presentation. While the variety of enemy encounters and how they are dealt with does provide the book with its greatest strength, the way they are seperated out hurts it. They seem too much like levels in a video game with so little to break them up, and given how each challenge is overcome with a new objective in mind, and little lasting impact, it's an easy comparison to make. Especially when you consider that Mazik himself is waiting at the end, for a Turok style boss fight atop of his fortress.
There seems to be little serious impact on the events of the story as things progress, and the group just bulldozes through the opposition. It's lively, loud and engaging, but offers little in the way of substance from the mid-point of the narrative onward. While the tale attempts to add the sense of a ticking clock thanks to the battle playing on outside, and the Raven Guard beset by a vast number of foes, it's not enough to really work within the story. It's too distant and disjointed to really impress upon the listener a sense of true desperation.
Most of these would be forgivable, but perhaps the most frustrating sin of the story is how it fails to really utilise the Raven Guard. What we got did not need to be especially in-depth, as the early part showed, but there are a few easy characteristics which can always be implemented to give them a greater sense of identity. Usually, this is something core to their character, or even just a commonly known trait. It's part of why so many short stories on the Blood Angels tend to focus upon their inhereted curse. With this though, there simply wasn't enough there to get an impression of this. There was little in the way of guerilla fighting or skirmish tactics, even in the wider battle, nothing in the way of their internal culture and even Corax's teachings.
While the use of vague links back to the older Heresy does work, there's simply not enough said about the modern chapter. That and, when we do get it, it seems to be falling back into the Fifth Edition's Blood Wolf Nemesis curse. You know the one, where everything was defined by one single thing which related somehow to their name. In this case it's ravens. Shrike's throne has raven wings, there are ravens all about the fortress monastery, the Chaplain present has a giant raven's skull for a helm, they carry raven's skulls on their belts, and the mention of ravens comes up a great deal. On the surface this might seem fine, and it is admittedly more restrained than with the Space Wolves. However, when one of the first concerns about a fallen marine is if the skulls on his belt can be recovered along with his gene-seed, a defining theme has reached the point of borderline caricature exaggeration.
The Geld is fun but ultimately fleeting. George is a talented enough of a Mann to turn what could have been a forgettable or overly gimmicky tale into something entertaining, but it simply lacks staying power. If he had pushed things a bit further or even reworked a few chapter elements into something more engaging, this might have been fine. Without this though, it's something best left to Raven Guard fans or those interested in a more straightforward but highly entertaining bolter porn tale.
Verdict: 4.7 out of 10