Black Library increasingly takes us into new and unexplored territory, with the hardback release of CARCHARODONS – RED TITHE. The first full-length novel to feature the Carcharodon Astra (also known as the Space Sharks), this book is also the first full-length outing from author Robbie MacNiven. The Sharks are one of those Space Marine chapters which is well-loved and often revered by fans of the wider backstory: having never read anything by MacNiven I was a little apprehensive to pick this one up…
RED TITHE is the dual story of both the Carcharodons and their dark reflection, the Night Lords. Both chapters find themselves converging on the planet Zartak: a former mining colony, depleted in mysterious circumstances, currently a penal colony, populated by a selection of the worst Imperial criminals. Both chapters are drawn to Zartak with the same purpose: exacting a toll on the population, and extracting precious resources to allow them to remain mission-capable. The Carcharodons are a nomadic, fleet-based chapter – if they don’t obtain personnel and fresh recruits, they will wither away and it will become impossible to patrol the Great Void. Meanwhile, the Night Lords are a renegade Space Marine chapter – sworn to destroy the Imperium, clinging to existence by raiding colonies and taking what they need.
I’ll get this out the way quickly: the Space Sharks are certainly in safe hands with Robbie MacNiven. This may be his first full-length Black Library book (and first novel full stop, for that matter), but he knows what he’s doing. The writing is confident, expressive and engaging – all you could really want from an action novel. The story structure is typical Black Library – I don’t say that as a criticism, but rather a complement, because MacNiven knows how to guide the plot and keep things moving. He holds back on the main throw-down between the Sharks and the Night Lords until well into the book; I personally found the early scene-setting and back story built suspense nicely. When the two chapters finally come head to head, it’s gratifying as a result.
The Carcharodons are also handled respectfully and with care; giving the reader a little background information here and there, but never fully exposing their mysterious core. There are a couple of throw-away suggestions of the Sharks’ bloodline, but MacNiven weaves this material into the story in such a way that you’re never really sure whether it is reliable. His handling of the Carcharodons reminded me of David Annandale’s treatment of the Black Dragons in DEATH OF ANTAGONIS, or perhaps Andy Smillie’s FLESH TEARERS. Both of those books explored niche Space Marine chapters, written by authors who have an obvious love for the subject matter. RED TITHE feels a lot like that. I personally thought that MacNiven’s writing was up there with the likes of Dan Abnett or Aaron Dembski-Bowden – he’s certainly a Black Library author to watch.
After finishing RED TITHE, I delved into the back catalogue of fiction on the Black Library website, and discovered that MacNiven has actually written a short story about the Carcharodons as well. Titled THE REAPING TIME, this is a relatively brief tale which actually links in with RED TITHE: examining the main character’s backstory, and answering one of the central questions concerning the planet Zartak. Although it is therefore a prequel of sorts, REAPING TIME can be read before or after RED TITHE – either way, I’d recommend it as a nice addition to the Carcharodons lore.