Review: The Unburdened by David Annandale

Posted by DarkChaplain at 3/07/2016
As the surface of Calth is consumed by fire, the caverns beneath the planet are host to vicious battles. Kurtha Sedd of the Word Bearers must set aside his doubts and embrace the darkness if they are to prevail.

Long considering themselves persecuted by the rest of the Imperium, the apostles of the XVIIth Legion have courted sedition, betrayal and even open heresy for decades. But for Kurtha Sedd of the Third Hand Chapter, the Word Bearers’ assault on Calth has proven… troubling. Drawn into the haunted shadows of the planet’s underworld, the Chaplain and his devout brethren must now put aside all other concerns and continue to wage war against the Ultramarines, no matter the ultimate cost.
In late 2015, Black Library released two new half-length novels (roughly 200 pages) to accompany the Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth boxed game by overlord Games Workshop.
One of these is "The Unburdened" by David Annandale. Here's my take on it.
The Story:
"As the surface of Calth is consumed by fire, the caverns beneath the planet are host to vicious battles. Kurtha Sedd of the Word Bearers must set aside his doubts and embrace the darkness if they are to prevail.

Long considering themselves persecuted by the rest of the Imperium, the apostles of the XVIIth Legion have courted sedition, betrayal and even open heresy for decades. But for Kurtha Sedd of the Third Hand Chapter, the Word Bearers’ assault on Calth has proven… troubling. Drawn into the haunted shadows of the planet’s underworld, the Chaplain and his devout brethren must now put aside all other concerns and continue to wage war against the Ultramarines, no matter the ultimate cost."

The Review
Alright, people. You know the drill by now. This is a David Annandale story, so expect a large spiritual component.

Indeed, The Unburdened is all about Kurtha Sedd (first seen in [author:Nick Kyme|398110]'s audio drama Censure before being introduced as the antagonist in the Betrayal at Calth box set) and his spiritual journey towards becoming "unburdened".
It is also the flipside of Rob Sanders's The Honoured, which I would urge you to read ahead of this short novel.

The reason for that is mostly the framing of the plot. The Honoured follows a more structured and anchored progress, and each chapter starts with a Know No Fear-style timestamp. This book does not, but follows along the events in the other book, though its first chapter goes all the way back to the humbling of Lorgar and the Word Bearers, delivering a very different perspective to the one found in The First Heretic.

You will see a lot of overlap with The Honoured, but Annandale's book does not concern itself so much with the exact events, or the action. Instead, the WB's morale and faith are the pillars, as well as Kurtha Sedd's internal struggle. He is desperately trying to find his place again, especially after hearing that his old friend Steloc Aethon is leading the Ultramarines arrayed against him.
He has to cut himself loose from the things and thoughts wearing him down: Loyalty to the Legion, which abandoned him and his men on a dying world. Friendship with Aethon, who took part in tearing down the monument city of Monarchia, all those decades ago. And also his belief in divine retribution and the Emperor watching him.

Taken as that, I very much enjoyed The Unburdened. Unlike its plot-armor dripping counterpiece, this installment was very atmospheric, dark and esoteric. It put me right into Kurtha Sedd's mind, and growing madness. As such, I much prefer it to Aethon and co from Sanders' work.

But you can't really read this without the context of The Honoured without getting lost in the more action-packed sections from said book. The scope felt far more limited, more centered around the warband rather than the war as a whole. Where Aethon's company is aware of other traitor groups and generals in the underground network of Calth, Sedd and co are isolated, and it wears on them.

Overall, though, I would recommend this as a fine addition to the Calth saga in the Heresy. I'd say it is one of the best pieces in that story arc, and would heartily recommend picking up the Betrayal at Calth combo - though I would recommend waiting for a combined print copy, which is bound to happen sooner or later.

The Unburdened on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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