BOOK REVIEW: Mark of Faith, by Rachel Harrison

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Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Military SF/Space Opera

Pages: 310

Publication Date: 2019

Verdict: 4/5

One of the few survivors of a devastating attack by the forces of Chaos, there is no rest for Sister Evangeline. Forced to work alongside a secretive Inquisitor, Evangeline is sent to the far side of the Galaxy in search of a holy relic. But with the motives of her allies uncertain, what hope for success can she have . . ?

With her debut novel Honourbound and the audio drama No Way Out, Rachel Harrison established herself as one of Black Library’s rising stars. That reputation is well-earned, and Mark of Faith cements her position in the field. It also continues Black Library’s current trend of putting out strong, standalone novels that explore some of the more obscure regions of the forty-first millennium. Even with Battle Sisters and Inquisitors on board, this is a far from traditional tale, delving deep into the more mystical side of the setting.

Mark of Faith  is rooted in the more fantastical side of the grim dark future, and Harrison captures the unknowable as few other authors do. The pervasive horror of the universe is ever-present, but the reader never becomes numb to it. In any book based on a game, it can be hard to fear creatures when you can easily look up score sheets for them, but Warhammer has always been good at keeping its lore mysterious to the characters within, and Harrison is among the best in the game. No pun intended. When demons appear, which they do rather frequently, each occasion is as horrifying as the last, albeit in new and unpredictable ways. While this magical element of the setting is not what draws me to it, there is no denying that harrison makes it as engaging as her mortal main characters.

Though the roles of the characters are fairly stock and standard for Warhammer 40,000, Mark of Faith continues Black Library’s strong trend of making characters who are more than just their abilities. Sister Evangeline is a role model for the Sisters of Battle, even if she is uncomfortable in such a role. Her personal struggle is an echo of the larger conflict, with the zealous Sisterhood forging a new path in the wake of the Galaxy-shattering events of the present overarching Warhammer storyline. Her counterpart, Inquisitor Ravara is a unique creation, incomparable to those who have gone before. For a character who only takes up half if a fairly short book, she is remarkably well-developed, and I would happily read an entire series from her perspective.

What Mark of Faith does best is to convey the sense of a universe in despair. As with all the best Warhammer fiction, success is not guaranteed, and a happy ending is something only a fool would expect. Not for a single page is the threat of peril lifted, and it’s clear from the outset that not everyone is going to make it out alive. The darkness is palpable, and it’s always good to see consequences for the actions of characters. For better or worse, usually worse, these characters do have an effect on their world, and vice versa.

Though not without faults, Mark of Faith is another strong entry in Black Library’s catalogue, and a fine example of what the setting can be.

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