BOOK REVIEW: Crisis of Faith, by Phil Kelly

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  • Book One of Farsight
  • Focuses on the T’au
  • Published by Black Library in 2016
  • Space Opera
  • 393 pages
  • ⭐⭐⭐

The t’au are a young race, but their goals are lofty indeed. Crossing the great rift of the Damocles Gulf, their expansion brings them into conflict with the barbaric Imperium. But mortal foes may not be their greatest challenge . . .

The t’au (formerly the tau sans apostrophe) are something of an odd duck in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Everything else in the setting has an aesthetic somewhere between gothic industrial and dieselpunk. I mean, the Imperium is basically waging both World Wars simultaneously if you go by the art. Everything is doom and gloom, and even the fairly flashy space marines are usually to be found splattered with the remains of their dead foes. But the t’au? The t’au are pristine. Legions of soldiers clad in armour that looks brand new, using advanced weaponry, and vehicles that float serenely above the mud and blood of the battlefield. Okay, so a lot of that comes down to the way the miniatures are painted, but the t’au do seem less scarred by everything going on than their rivals. But that’s just the surface. The depths are a lot murkier.

Crisis of Faith cuts straight to the darker side of the t’au. After a brief prologue and an in-universe recap of important events (Farsight has appeared in shorter fiction before, but you can easily read this as your first foray into t’au or Warhammer fiction in general), we have one of my favourite scenes in a Warhammer book in a long time. It’s essentially a script, including editing directions and recycled/edited footage, showing the Imperium and the t’au as the t’au wish them to be seen. It’s propaganda, and Kelly writes it perfectly. There’s a nice level of self-awareness in these early pages. Not some tedious breaking of the fourth wall, but a genuine examination of how literature and media can be manipulated to further political agendas. All delivered with enthusiasm and skill. If the entire book had been presented in similar form, it would easily be up there with my favourites.

What Crisis of Faith actually becomes for the rest of its chapters is a fairly standard space opera take on the grim dark future. It has battles, gore, paranoia, and all the other trappings you’d expect. My overwhelming reaction to all of this is that it’s alright, but I wish it had been different. Because for every aspect that really worked for me, there’s something that didn’t. The strongest narrative arc of this book is, somewhat surprisingly, the presence of a daemon. The Water Spider, or rather the thing that possesses him, is a genuinely unsettling persona. Especially when it comes to the psychic naivety of the t’au, who do not know what a daemon is. Having a trickster daemon who can only tell the truth is also a neat twist on expectations, manipulating rather than subverting them. There are times when the Water Spider is in full force that I almost wish this had been a full-blown political thriller rather another military adventure, regardless of how good Kelly is at crafting the latter.

My biggest gripe with Crisis of Faith is the inclusion of space marines as viewpoint characters. While this is a fairly long book by Warhammer 40,000 standards, it’s still not long enough to support an additional cast of characters. The space marines featured here are as stereotypical as they come, and every page spent on them could have been used to further detail t’au society, which is where the book truly excels. Having a non-t’au perspective is useful, but we already have Vykola, the undercover inquisitor. Having a full team of space marines doesn’t really add anything for me. Especially when having them as faceless antagonists could have made them even more fearsome.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to enjoy here. It’s a decent foundation for the Farsight series, and I doubt I’ll ever complain about non-Imperial novels. If you want to know more about the t’au, this is the place to start.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
Brutal Kunnin, by Mike Brooks
Rogue Trader, by Andy Hoare
The Infinite and the Divine, by Robert Rath

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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