Cain’s Last Stand (WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #6) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Cain’s Last Stand
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #6
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 326
Words: 110K

This really should have been called Ciaphas Cain versus Space Hitler. Cain is retired and teaching on the world where the Shadow artifact is and suddenly a chaos fleet is on its way to take over the planet and find the artifact. They are led by a small, dumpy guy with a small mustache who can turn even the most ardent Emperor Botherer (Cain’s description) into a full supporter of chaos, who is Space Hitler. It was pretty blatant and made me laugh. Unfortunately, he and Cain only have one encounter and Cain wins by pushing him over a cliff. Yeah, for real. And it made me laugh too. But I was hoping for more fighting between them. Oh well

You’d think from the title and the fact that Cain is in his late 100’s (hadn’t hit 200 yet I don’t think) that this was going to be the last book, but nope, there are at least 3 more and I think I saw that a 10th one recently came out?
* elevator music *
Ok, so it was 2018, but that’s recent as far as I’m concerned.

I was pleased by my read of this and if I could find some more non-Space Marine Warhammer 40K stories, I’d be very tempted to dive into them after this series. Wanting to read more is usually a good sign.


Duty Calls (WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #5) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Duty Calls
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #5
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 317
Words: 101K

Cain gets in another scrap on some world and finds a weapon that is capable of turning regular humans into psykers. A rogue priest (? I simply can’t keep straight what various non-soldiers in the Imperium are called. There are so many!) wants to use it to turn humanity into a massive psyker fist and punch out the lights of Chaos. Of course, he’s tainted by Chaos and ignores that psyker abilities are an aspect of Chaos. Thankfully, the woman who Cain hangs out with (not a clue what her name is at the moment) is involved and she’s got some power armor. Plus a genestealer fleet is invading and the world is full of chaos cultists as well.

Cain stumbles from one hairy situation to another, always succeeding, always coming out looking good and always knowing he’s a Hero of the Imperium. It just makes me grin 🙂 Plus, the action, while not non-stop, is pretty intense. That always helps keep my interest in a franchise fiction story.

Mitchell (the author) continues to impress me with the workman like writing. Sometimes that can be a bad thing, but for franchise fiction, it is pretty much what I want. Get the grammar right, get the syntax correct and don’t have Cain being in two places at once in the story and I’m satisfied. I know I judge other books harder and hold them to a higher standard, but that simply isn’t done for this kind of book or series.

When I want to judge an energy drink, I compare it to a Reign White Gummy Bear and its 300mg of caffeine. When I drink an 8oz Red Bull, I know I’m only getting 80mg of caffeine and something that I imagine tastes like horse piss. I don’t blame the Red Bull for being weak horse piss. It is what it is. Hahahahahaa. So franchise fiction has its limitations and I judge accordingly.


Death or Glory (WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #4) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Death or Glory
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #4
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 289
Words: 96K


The Traitor’s Hand (WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #3) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Traitor’s Hand
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #3
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 303
Words: 97K



Part One

Aboard the troop ship Emperor’s Beneficence en route to Adumbria, Ciaphas Cain is surprised to be hailed by an old acquaintance: Tomas Beije, now regimental commissar of the Tallarn 229th. Cain remembers Beije from the Schola Progenium as a sanctimonious prig, and is less than pleased to see him, though he hides it with the skill of long experience. Beije likewise fails to make a good impression on Colonel Kasteen when they are introduced, as he is unable to hide his incredulity that the Valhallan 597th has a woman as its commanding officer.

In the ship’s main hall, Lord General Zyvan briefs the assembled command staffs, explaining why they’ve been withdrawn from Kastafore with unusual haste: a Chaos warband, calling themselves the Ravagers, escaped an Imperial Navy trap in the Salomine system and their projected course through the Warp will have them invading Adumbria within the next few days. Zyvan’s force is the advance guard, whose job is to fortify and defend the planet as much as possible until the rest of the task force catches up.

A brief extract from Jerval Sekara’s popular travelogue explains that Adumbria is a tidally-locked planet: the side permanently facing the sun is a baked desert, while the side permanently facing away is an eternally dark icescape. The majority of the planet’s population and urban centers occupy the narrow twilight strip between the two zones.

During the journey through the Warp, tensions run high between the Valhallan and Tallarn Guardsmen; the Tallarns express a conservative disdain for regiments that include women, and the Valhallans’ response is natural. Commissar Beije comes storming into Cain’s office after the Tallarns’ regimental unarmed combat champion is sent to the infirmary after a “friendly” bout with one of the Valhallans’, Corporal Magot. Cain breezily lets Magot off with a reprimand, explaining that it would be unwise to demote her before her squad is deployed to a battlezone.

In private, Beije admits to Cain that he is surprised by how far Cain’s career has come since they last saw each other; he’d have expected any Hero of the Imperium to have become much more pious to the Emperor than Cain was at the Schola. Cain detects seething jealousy under Beije’s carefully civil words, and enjoys the moment to the fullest, while maintaining his usual pose of modesty.

As the 597th is disembarking to the surface, Cain accompanies the first shuttle down, which happens to be carrying Captain Detoi’s Second Company, which includes the perpetually irritating (to Cain) Lieutenant Sulla and her platoon. To their surprise, vox-traffic from the surface warns that the Tallarns’ command squad has come under attack. To avoid the same ambush, Cain orders the shuttle pilot to set down on the vegetable garden of a monastery abutting the starport, and the company deploys behind the enemy forces with gratifying surprise. Cain decides to join Sulla’s platoon on the flank, to keep her from doing anything impetuous (and hopefully avoid the main action), but an unwary traffic praetor blunders on the enemy position and flees back towards the platoon, leading a group of pursuers. The Valhallans ambush them, and Cain is surprised at their luridly-coloured and scanty clothes, and their surprising ecstasy at being maimed by lasguns and chainswords. Just as the Valhallans are mopping up, Beije roars up in a Chimera on the way to rescue his Colonel, only for Cain to cheerfully inform him that everything is under control.

A brief excerpt from a history of the invasion explains the political situation on Adumbria: the incumbent Governor died about a year earlier, without leaving an heir, only a welter of squabbling noble houses, with the leading Administratum representative acting as Regent. This unstable situation only became worse when news of the impending invasion arrived.

Part Two

Zyvan briefs the planetary government and the Guard commanders, saying there is no doubt that a Chaos cult is active on the planet, likely preparing the way for the Ravagers’ arrival.

To Cain’s pleasure, Zyvan tasks him to stay in the capital and liase with the local Arbites, while the rest of the 597th deploys to the dark side of the planet. But danger refuses to leave him alone; a cultist group pilots an aircar into the side of the hotel suite where Zyvan has made his headquarters. A group of luridly-dressed cultists attack, and Cain downs several of them with his chainsword. Then it strikes him that the fight was too easy, and yells for the staff to evacuate the building. Cain’s first impulse is to follow them, but his paranoia warns him that there might be a trap waiting outside. Instead, he stays behind, and looks closer at the wrecked aircar, recognizing a bomb. Sure that there isn’t enough time left for him to run, he demands a vox-link to a Tech Priest, who talks him through defusing it.

A (mercifully brief) extract from Sulla’s memoirs details an early skirmish on the ice side. While performing a routine check on the perimeter sensors, her platoon stumbles across an unauthorized ice crawler which opens fire on them as soon as they challenge it, and their return fire causes it to explode spectacularly, revealing that it was laden with illegal weapons.

Cain visits the regimental headquarters, and he, Kasteen, and Broklaw do their best to analyze the implications (since Sulla, characteristically, didn’t leave any survivors to interrogate). It seems obvious that the heretics are smuggling weapons in through the planetary starport, and caching them in hidden bases. When Cain relays their deductions back to Zyvan, he is dismayed when the Lord General comes to the same conclusion and encourages Cain to lead the search of the likely spots on the ice side.

Kasteen and Broklaw are skeptical at first, saying they don’t have the time or the manpower to search all the possible sites, but Cain, in a flash of inspiration, narrows it down further by filtering out seismic activity picked up by the sensors that they can trace to local, innocent activities.

Leading Sulla’s platoon, along with the regiment’s entire Sentinel troop, they happen onto another crawler, which they neutralize and its trail leads them back to the cultists’ hideout, a prefabricated habitat dome badly disguised (at least to an Ice Worlder’s eye) as a natural snowdrift.

Sulla orders the platoon to assault the hideout, but Cain is squeamish at the troopers (and himself) having to storm any of the entrance doors, which are doubtless heavily fortified. He comes up with another option: grabbing Sergeant Lustig’s squad, he leads them to the wall of the dome, and Jurgen creates a convenient entrance with his melta gun.

Whatever they were expecting to find inside the dome, they are all taken aback: the interior is luxuriously furnished and decorated with loud pornographic murals. Cain also notices a sweet, narcotic scent in the air that brings back memories of the Slaaneshi cult he and Jurgen encountered on Slawkenberg. Outflanking the cultists guarding the doors, they are able to pacify it with minimal casualties. In the center of the dome, Cain finds a hidden chamber, and inside are dozens of dead bodies, mutated and warped by sorcery, and surrounded by Chaos sigils. Cain shudders at the realization that some kind of ritual has taken place.

Another excerpt from the history elaborates that Cain’s discovery increased the fear of how deeply the cultists had infiltrated the planet’s population, although it would be some time before they showed their hand again.

A dispatch from Beije acknowledges Zyvan’s order to search the “hot” side of Adumbria for similar cultist hideouts, while making his opinion clear that it is highly unlikely that heretics could be operating under the noses of such pious servants of the Emperor as himself and the Tallarns.

Cain returns to Skitterfall (the capital), and Zyvan’s Sanctioned Psyker, Malden, reports on his examination of the cultist site. He recognizes the signs of a summoning ritual, but there is no sign of a Daemon appearing on Adumbria, so the purpose of the ritual is a mystery to him. Meanwhile, Zyvan reports that there is no word from the rest of the task force, so he has to distribute their available forces around the planet, with their limited number of troop ships standing by to ferry reinforcements around as needed.

Part Three

In his bunk at the headquarters building, Cain has a nightmare of Emeli Duboir, who playfully warns him that she’ll be coming back soon.

Over breakfast, Cain receives a call from Arbitrator Hekwyn, who has followed the trail of the smuggled weapons from Glacier Peak back to a corrupt freight dispatcher. Under interrogation, the dispatcher identifies his contacts among the cultists. Several of them own warehouses which could easily be stockpiles for more weapons. Eager to avoid anything really hazardous, Cain chooses to accompany the PDF troop raiding one of the more innocuous names, a bordello owner named Kyria Sejwek. He sells the idea to Zyvan by planting the suggestion that Sejwek—given her profession—may have the closest connection to the Slaaneshi cultists.

As usual, serendipity makes a mockery of Cain’s efforts to keep himself out of trouble. As soon as the PDF Chimera approaches the bordello, they come under fire, mostly from prostitutes wielding heavy weapons with astonishing familiarity. Unfortunately, Jurgen takes Cain’s order to find the nearest cover as an instruction to drive the Chimera straight through the bordello’s wall. Cain reluctantly leads a squad into the interior, dispatching the “joygirls” at the weapon emplacements.

He is stunned when Amberley Vail appears on the staircase, approaching him with a coquettish smile. The PDF troopers are similarly befuddled, even when “Amberley” reaches out and touches one, killing him instantly. As soon as Jurgen reaches Cain’s side, “Amberley” disappears, to be replaced by the rather dumpy figure of Madame Sejwek. With a sneer, Cain informs her that impersonating an Inquisitor is a capital offense, and shoots her with his laspistol. In the depths of the bordello they find another sacrificial chamber, heaped with bodies. Grimly, he concludes that, as with Glacier Peak, they have arrived too late to stop whatever ritual the cultists were conducting.

In a dispatch to the higher office of the Commissariat (which is never sent due to the increasingly turbulent Warp currents around the planet) Beije “regretfully” suggests that there may be something suspicious, even sinister, about the fact that Cain has now been on the scene of two cultist summoning rituals and, in both cases, has arrived too late to do anything about them.

In the next meeting of the command staff, Zyvan introduces his ship’s Navigator, Lady Gianela DiMarco, who informs them all that the Warp currents are shifting in a way she’s never seen before, and these shifts coincide with the times of the summoning rituals. It seems clear to her and Malden that the heretics are trying to do something to the space surrounding Adumbria, but neither of them can say exactly what. Before they can debate the matter any further, Zyvan receives a message from the Navy pickets, informing him that the Ravagers’ fleet has arrived in the outskirts of the system. The invasion has begun.

Although severely outnumbered, the Navy picket ships give a good account of themselves, managing to cripple or destroy the invasion fleet’s advance ships and delaying the Ravagers’ landfall for a few crucial days.

Cain returns to the 597th at Glacier Peak, where Kasteen is grimly assessing the odds: a Chaos invasion force is inbound, a daemon may be running around somewhere, and an unknown number of well-armed insurgents are hiding among the population, just waiting for the Guard to turn their backs. Zyvan calls their headquarters to report that the Tallarns did indeed find another ritual site (after bothering to look for it, his acid tone makes clear). Unfortunately, Malden and the other psykers were unable to examine the Chaos sigils, since the Tallarns burned the site to the ground as soon as they discovered it. Looking at the map of the planet, Kasteen notices something that has escaped everyone else’s notice: the three ritual sites form a triangle bisecting the planet. If there is a pattern to the sites’ locations, they may be able to divine the site of the next one.

Part Four

The Ravagers finally arrive, landing in a haphazard storm of shuttles that is rather baffling to the Valhallans’ tactical sensibilities. As the perimeter companies begin to engage, Cain excuses himself from the command center (which he’s painfully aware is an inviting target) and joins Detoi’s Second Company, which is being held in reserve.

Naturally, that is the moment when one of the shuttles comes down all but on top of them, disgorging fanatics screaming “Blood for the Blood God!” Given their preference to close range and use melee weapons instead of their ranged arms, the Chaos soldiers are contained and eliminated without much difficulty – at least Cain thinks so until someone screams “unstoppable…!” over the vox, and a squad disappears off the net. Lt. Faril sends in reinforcements, which unluckily sweep Cain along with them as he is trying to slip back to the command center. To his secret astonishment, they are so cheered by his presence that they start shouting his name like a battlecry.

Cresting the ridge where the squad disappeared, Cain sees his worst nightmare: a Khorne Berserker, a full-sized Chaos Space Marine of the World Eaters Legion. Cain is about to turn and run, when the monster leaps to avoid the flurry of lasbolts fired at him, and lands in front of Cain. Cain’s duelist reflexes take over, and he is able to parry or evade the vicious swipes of the Berserker’s chainaxe, and even scores a glancing hit on his Power Armour with his chainsword. Cain buys himself just enough distance for Jurgen to drop the Berserker with a melta blast.

After the initial attacks are repelled, Zyvan reconvenes the command staff and analyzes the enemy’s pattern. Cain realizes that they are not facing an invasion as much as they are caught in the middle between two feuding Chaos factions; he knows from hard experience that the Ruinous Powers are bitter rivals with each other, and for followers of Khorne and Slaanesh to be working together is virtually unheard of. Picking up on his reasoning, Kasteen looks at the map and realizes that the Ravagers weren’t making a coordinated attack on the Guard forces, they were trying to reach the ritual sites. Colonel Asmar admits that he hadn’t considered that possibility, but it could be equally possible on the hot side. With a little luck, Zyvan finishes, they can deduce the site of the final summoning ritual.

Part Five

The second enemy wave is launched at the planet. The Valhallan Guard forces are hard-pressed, but Kasteen insists on leaving Second Company aboard their one available drop ship, in case reinforcements are needed elsewhere.

Cain is unable to stop worrying over where the last summoning ritual will take place. If Kasteen is right and the other three sites form a pattern, then the fourth point will be somewhere in the equatorial ocean. Cain asks the Arbites to check shipping activity in the area, but Zyvan dismisses the theory; according to Malden, the ritual would need to take place somewhere in contact with the solid part of the planet.

While driving around in a Salamander with Jurgen, trying to find the safest spot possible, Cain is unlucky enough to happen across a corrupted Leman Russ tank, butchering a squad of hapless PDF troopers with its heavy bolters. Jurgen disables the tank with his trusty melta, but the turret is still able to traverse, and starts turning toward the dropship. With the surviving PDF troopers idiotically swarming over the disabled tank, Jurgen is unable to take a second shot, so Cain rushes them aboard the dropship and orders the pilot to lift off immediately to avoid the tank round.

While the shuttle is in a holding pattern above the battle zone, Arbiter Kolbe calls with news; during their check on maritime traffic, they lost contact with an oceanic dredger, a sort of floating manufactorum designed to extract minerals from the ocean floor—physical contact with the solid part of the planet. Cain immediately orders the pilot to head for the dredger, while calling Zyvan over the vox. Zyvan is unavailable, but Malden hears enough to confirm Cain’s theory, and warns that the ritual will likely take place in the next few hours.

In private, Cain confides to his reader that he’d have liked nothing better than to speed into orbit and grab the first warp-capable craft available out of system; however, there was a void battle going on at the moment, and he also knew from painful experience that there is no hiding from some threats, especially Warp-based threats, and your only hope of surviving one is to confront it before its purpose is completed.

Arriving on the dredger, Captain Detoi deploys the Second Company, though they find the cultists heavily dug in. He and Cain conclude that they have little choice but to order a direct assault, but they are interrupted when a small courier shuttle touches down nearby. Beije marches out accompanied by a squad of Tallarns, smugly declaring Cain under arrest for desertion.

Part Six

Cain tries to talk sense into Beije, who scornfully replies that Cain can’t hide his cowardice behind his fraudulent reputation any longer; he’s been looking for any excuse to escape the main action, and has hijacked a whole company of Guard soldiers to do so. In the midst of this tirade, Beije makes the awful mistake of tossing in an insult to the Valhallans’ “petticoat Colonel”, which trails off when he takes in their murderous expressions. In a level voice, Cain says that Beije is free to say whatever he wants about him, but Beije will apologize to Colonel Kasteen or face Cain in a duel.

Seeing that Beije’s Tallarn escorts at least have some sense in them, Cain insists that their mission on the dredger is in deadly earnest – a fact which is reinforced when a force of five World Eaters teleport onto the dredger and hurl themselves at the entrenched Slaaneshi cultists. The defenses which presented such a formidable obstacle to the Guardsmen barely slow the Traitor Marines down, and Cain, seeing an opportunity, orders the squads around him to follow in their wake, while Detoi keeps the rest of the company dispersed, keeping the other cultist defenders pinned down. Beije orders his own men to follow Cain, ostensibly to stop him escaping.

Traveling cautiously along, they dispatch several wounded cultists, and encounter one of the World Eaters, severely wounded. Seeing them, the enormous figure rushes them with his bare fists. Again, Cain’s duelist reflexes take over, and he disables the World Eater with a well-placed stab from his chainsword, through a rent in the ceramite armour left by a cultist’s krak grenade. The World Eater falls, and Jurgen finishes him off with his melta. The Valhallans cheer, and the Tallarns are awestruck; from then on, as far as they’re concerned, Beije is part of the landscape.

They breach the doors of the dredger’s chapel just as the cultists within have completed their summoning ritual, and the daemon emerges from the Warp: Emeli Duboir, no longer a mortal woman. She lazily tears the last surviving World Eater in half, and sweetly informs Cain that she is about to transform Adumbria into a Daemon World; half inside the Warp, half out, a world remade to her liking and a conduit for any number of daemonic hordes to pour into the Materium.

As with their last meeting, she invites him to join her and enjoy the sublime pleasures Slaanesh can offer. But Cain, whose self-preservation has always outweighed his self-indulgence, replies, “Frak this!” and charges. Under normal circumstances, Emeli could kill him with a flick of her hand, but rears back in surprise as her power is nullified by Jurgen’s presence at Cain’s side. With her link to the Warp severed, the Guardsmen’s weapons can actually hurt her. But she lashes back, and the small wounds from lasbolts aren’t doing enough damage. Even a hit from Jurgen’s melta that burns away half of her face doesn’t drop her, and she smashes Jurgen to the ground in rage. Cain is defenseless, and she rises above him, preparing to rip him to pieces.

Then there is a hurricane of lasbolts, and she is torn apart and disappears, either dead or banished. Cain turns and sees the remainder of Second Company in the chapel, Captain Detoi cheerfully explaining that he decided to bring them up when Cain didn’t vox. One of the few surviving cultists – who happens to be one of the hopeful heirs to the Governorship from the aristocracy – says defiantly that Slaanesh is eternal. Cain retorts that Slaanesh may be, but he’s not, as the cultists are marched out at gunpoint. Cain turns to Beije, who has been practically rooted to the spot since the Daemoness appeared, and says he looks forward to the tribunal.


After the campaign on Adumbria is wrapped up, a tribunal of senior Commissars is convened, at Beije’s insistence, to assess the merit of his charges against Cain. Cain prepares to meet his fate stoically, even though he knows that reason and common sense are hardly the most abundant qualities among the upper levels of the Departmento Munitorum.

The results are all he could have wished for; with the aid of some information discreetly provided by Zyvan, the tribunal exonerates Cain of all charges, and finds that his actions were heroic, and probably crucial to the salvation of Adumbria. Then the Commissars turn to Beije, and inform him that he is being charged with conduct unbecoming his station, and stripped of his rank pending a more formal court martial – which, if he’s found guilty, will almost certainly end in execution.

Cain rejoins Kasteen and Broklaw outside the court room, and Beije staggers out in a daze a few seconds later. Cain reassures him that he will speak in his defense, testifying that his actions – however pig-headed – had only the best intentions. Privately, Cain reflects that as much as he detests Beije, shooting him is not going to do anyone much good; and he would much prefer for Beije to owe Cain his life for the remainder of their days.

Cain politely asks Beije when they may meet for their appointment; Beije, having seen Cain’s skills with chainsword and laspistol firsthand, offers a humble apology to Colonel Kasteen for any offense he may have given, then makes as dignified an exit as he can manage (which is not much). Cain, in a mood to celebrate, invites Kasteen and Broklaw to see if one of his favorite restaurants in Skitterfall is still standing.

My Thoughts:

So, here’s a complaint that isn’t directly related to the book. Why do some of the book get the Full Synopsis Treatment, like this one, and others are left to hang out like dirty laundry that nobody wants? Where’s the love from the Warhammer 40K groupies? Ok, I’m done with that now.

I enjoyed this story and the short story I previously read, The Beguiling, really helped me to know what was going on. The vampiress from that story makes a comeback and appears to be a demon in disguise or something. Whatever she is, she’s bad news and while she’s apparently destroyed, I never believe anything of Chaos is gone until I see the body burning. And even then sometimes I still don’t believe it 🙂

There is another Commisar and he’s a weak, by the book, selfish and petty kind of guy. He’s also inept and causes more problems than anything. I was kind of hoping he’d get eaten, gruesomely, by the vampiress, but no such luck. Sometimes it can be hard to be a reader, you know?

While I enjoyed the short stories I read featuring Cain, he does much better in a full novel. I zipped right through this and could have read another for breakfast, but my iron will obviously kept me on the righteous path of book rotation. Sometimes I’m so amazing that I amaze even myself. Feel free to bask, there’s no charge.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Beguiling (WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #1.7) ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress & Blogspot by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Beguiling
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #1.7
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF Short Story
Pages: 21
Words: 6K


From The Black Library & Me

On Slawkenberg, Ciaphas Cain is a long way from the front lines and that’s precisely what he wanted. However, Chaos is present on Slawkenberg and Cain finds himself back in the firefight against his better judgement. And ends up almost being seduced by a vampire/agent of a chaos god.

My Thoughts:

Despite only giving these short stories 3stars (yeah, like 3stars is somehow bad, sigh. See, that’s how the culture creeps in and twists and warps your own value system, no matter how much you may rage and fight against it), I am thoroughly enjoying them. Most of them are collected in one single volume called Hero of the Imperium or something, but without another ground pounder Warhammer 40K series lined up after this, I have to admit that I am trying to stretch out my time with Cain.

And while I’m being brutally honest (because aren’t book reviews supposed to be full of pathos, drama and personal connections to make you think that I care about you? I obviously don’t, but I can play that game, watch me. Look me in the eye and tell me I don’t care about you. * ba-dump * That was your heart skipping a beat as we made eye contact and had “a moment”. Forget the Geico Lizard, I can do “fake connections” better than anyone), dang it, that fake connection totally made me forget what I was going to write. Wow, I am even better than I thought! Oh, oh, I remember! Ha, steeltrap McBookstooge they called me in ye olde countrye. I am totally making up the series numbers for the short stories. I have ZERO idea where any of them actually fit in with regards to the full novels, but in 10 years, I’m not going to care and in 1 day you’re probably not going to care either. So I’m not sweating it. If you’re sweating it, get a better antiperspirant. Mitchum, I’ve heard of that, so use it.

It was really weird to see vampires in a Warhammer 40K story. I’m so used to just tech and the chaos gods that all the other manifestations of them always take me by surprise. It is interesting how urban fantasy or straight up fantasy (orks anyone?) are woven into a far future story and presented as non-mystical.

With this short story I realized that I have read some of Mitchell’s Warhammer novels a couple of years ago (The Blood on the Reik trilogy) and sort of enjoyed them. So after I’m done Cain I might have to see what else Mitchell has written in the WH:40K universe as chances are decent that I’ll enjoy them.

If anyone reading this has read a bunch of Warhammer 40K and has some recommendations that are similar to either Gaunt’s Ghosts or Ciaphas Cain, please, let me know.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Echoes of the Tomb ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Echoes of the Tomb
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #1.5
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF Short Story
Pages: 27
Words: 7K


From The Black Library & Me

Ciaphas Cain battles alongside the Reclaimers Space Marine Chapter against a mysterious foe. Who turn out to be necrons.

My Thoughts:

short Story good. Grunk has spoken. * grunt * * grunt *

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Sector Thirteen ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Sector Thirteen
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #0.6
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF Short Story
Pages: 20
Words: 9K


Ciaphas Cain battles alongside the planet’s custodians against the tyranid foe on the agri-world of Keffia.

Picking up what seems to be the relatively light duty of reprimanding a tavern/brothel where several of his men became drunk and disorderly, Cain is unpleasantly surprised to find that the place is actually the central nest for a Genestealer infestation. Awakening the mob of infected, Cain and company retreat to the local enforcers headquarters where they hole up under assault from the horde who manages to break in. Retreating upstairs and eventually to the rooftop, Jurgen spots re-inforcements in the form of Cadians arriving and driving off the Genestealer horde. Later at a ball, Cain’s reputatation is enhanced further by Divas who states that if Cain had not uncovered the infestation in the brothel then every regiment would eventually be infested and the war lost.

My Thoughts:

Cain once again runs away like a coward and ends up saving millions of lives and being the living embodiment of a Hero of the Imperium. Not sure what that title actually gets him though.

This was a little short story and I must say, reading one short story really hit the spot. Pick it up, 30 minutes later I’m done and yet I’ve still got a complete story under my belt. There’s a reason why the short story has survived the Sandersonization of the SFF world.

I’m happy with the time I spent here.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Caves of Ice ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Caves of Ice
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #2
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 275
Words: 73K



Part One

About a year after the Gravalax Incident, the Valhallan 597th is deployed to Simia Orichalcae, to defend a vital promethium refinery from a maurading band of Orks. The Valhallans couldn’t be happier, being sent to an Ice World to combat their hated ancestral enemies, though Commissar Cain can’t muster much enthusiasm for either.

Despite his usual self-effacement, Cain is justifiably proud of his efforts to merge the formerly disparate elements of the regiment into a cohesive fighting unit. By now, the men and women of the former 296th and 301st regiments are so tight-knit that he has to deal with a fair share of disciplinary problems arising from excessive “fraternization.”

Cain and Jurgen have some early excitement while riding in the first shuttle heading down, which comes under fire from a stray band of Orks on the ground. A lucky hit from a Rokkit Launcha forces them to make an emergency landing which bloodies their noses but nothing worse. Mistaking the size of the landing force, the Orks come charging in, and are cut to pieces in an ambush.

In the first meeting with the refinery’s administrators, Colonel Kasteen cuts through their bureaucratic meandering and declares the facility to be under martial law, allowing her to dictate the measures for the defense.

After the meeting, Cain pulls aside Artur Morel, a representative from the miners’ guild who has been trying, without success, to get an investigation into the disappearances of several miners in some of the lower tunnels. Kasteen is worried that there may be a cave opening that will let the Orks bypass their defenses, and Cain volunteers to lead the search party, reasoning that poking around a tunnel system will be more comfortable and less dangerous than hanging around on the embattled front lines.

Cain makes his first foray into the caves accompanied by Sgt. Lustig’s squad, and Jurgen. Finding a set of tracks, they follow them to a steep depression, which Trooper Penlan is unlucky enough to fall down. Alarmed, she hears something in the tunnels with her, and Cain, assisting the effort to haul her up, slips and falls into the pit with her. Something big and mean attacks, but Cain is able to drive it off with a flurry of lasgun shots. Wounded but still alive, the beast retreats before they can get a good look at it.

Cain agrees to lead a second team, which still seems like the safer option, now that the Orks are attacking the defenses in earnest. To his surprise, a junior Tech Priest named Logash asks to come along, claiming an avid interest in xenobiology.

While reviewing the tactical situation, Kasteen, Ruput Broklaw, and Cain are alarmed to receive a report from the orbiting troop ship’s sensors: a Gargant is headed their way. It will not arrive for several hours, but Kasteen already knows the 597th has nothing in their arsenal that will even slow it down.

An extract from Lieutenant Sulla’s memoirs reports on the fight at the front lines, where the Orks are attacking ferociously, but being effectively repelled.

Part Two

Since Penlan is still recovering from her injuries, Cain and Jurgen take Sgt. Grifen’s squad with them, as they pick up the search from the pit where they stopped earlier. At first the tunnels appear to be deserted, but as the squad disperses to check the various exits, Cain hears something coming, and realizes that the beast is burrowing directly through the ice at him. Before he can run it is on him, too close for the rest of the squad to use their weapons, but Cain’s natural reflexes allow him to kill the thing with his chainsword.

Bewildered, Logash identifies the dead beast as an ambull. Native to Luther Macintyre IX, they have been spotted on dozens of worlds, but its native environment is a desert. With a sinking feeling, Cain looks closer and sees no lasgun wounds, meaning they are dealing with more than one such beast.

During the next meeting of the “Committee for the Defence and Preservation of Simia Orichalcae”, Kasteen informs the Administratum and Mechanicus heads of her plan to mine the ice tunnels under the gargant’s path, collapsing the ground under it. Worried about the risk of damaging or destroying the refinery, the Administrator demands that Kasteen come up with an alternative strategy. Kasteen’s curt response is that she is welcome to ”go outside and ask the orks to go away if she thought that would help.” As for Cain’s party, there is a risk of them being caught in the explosion, but Kasteen and Broklaw are reasonably confident that they will be back before then.

Pressing forward, Cain’s team encounters several more ambulls (Logash estimates their numbers at around half a dozen), but one of the Troopers, Janny Drere, is seriously wounded. Cain would like nothing better than to use that as an excuse to order the whole party back to base, but Jurgen finds an ork skull among the ambulls’ leavings. The conclusion is unavoidable: whether the orks know it or not, there is a way to the refinery through the tunnels, and the ambulls have picked off a few of them already.

Part Three

Cain decides they have no choice but to go on, though he divides the squad into fireteams, having Corporal Karta’s carry Drere back to the refinery for medical treatment.

Continuing on with Sgt. Grifen’s fireteam, they find the walls of an artificial chamber, made of strange dark stone and inscribed with xenos symbols. Logash is excited at finding previously-unsuspected archaeotech, but Cain is horrified to recognize a Necron Tomb. Over Logash’s frantic protests, he orders the team to use their demolition charges to seal the entrance to the chamber.

After the explosives are detonated, Cain’s first impulse is to rush back to the surface (followed by the troopship, and then hopefully a whole other solar system) and warn Kasteen of the Necron presence. But finding yet another relic of the Orks, a dropped Shoota, proves that there is still a way open into the tunnels.

Another extract from Sulla’s memoirs relates that the Valhallans are holding the line against the Orks, though not without casualties. After her platoon is relieved from the main defenses, Kasteen, to whom Karta has just reported back, details them to escort the sappers and engineers while they lay the mines in the tunnels, and retrieve Cain’s team, which is uncomfortably close to the planned mining route.

Cain’s team emerges on the surface at the other end of the tunnel, finding tracks that indicate the eaten Orks were Kommandos from the same scouting party, making it more than likely that the main body of Orks doesn’t know about the tunnel. When Logash unexpectedly disappears, they have to spread out to search for him, and see a terrible spectacle: a band of thirty Orks stumbles onto a pair of Necron Warriors, and are almost completely wiped out. The Necrons teleport away, while the remaining orks raise their heads from cover and see the tunnel. Cain orders the Valhallans to open fire, and the Orks are killed, but the team loses one of its own, Trooper Lunt. Cain reluctantly orders Jurgen to incinerate the body with his melta gun, since they can’t carry it back, nor can they leave any trace for the Orks or the Necrons to find.

Heading back down the tunnel, they pass the tomb and are horrified to see that one last ambull has tunneled another entrance into it (before being killed). Worse still, another band of Kommandos stumbles across them, and they kill two more of the troopers before they are dispatched. In the fight, a rock-fall cuts off their original route, and they have to find another way back – unfortunately, the only one available takes them through the now-open tomb.

With only Cain, Jurgen, Grifen, and Trooper Magot left alive, the team enters the Tomb with as much stealth as possible. The chamber is massive, and there are thousands of (mercifully dormant) Necrons inside. They hide when a party of Flayed Ones passes through the chamber, disappearing through a Warp Portal. Wherever they disappeared to, Cain is sure they will be back, and picks up the pace. To their astonishment, they find Logash, who escaped from their party to run back to the Tomb and take in its mysteries – completely oblivious to the danger. Cain is tempted to shoot the Tech Priest on the spot, but Logash pulls an auspex from his belt that allows them to find another fresh ambull tunnel that takes them back to the surface, just in time to meet Sulla’s platoon.

Part Four

After returning to the refinery, Cain briefs Kasteen and the refinery administrators, insisting that their only option is to evacuate the planet and call in the Navy to obliterate the Tomb from orbit.

Magos Ernulph, the leading Mechanicus representative, objects frantically, saying the Tomb is a priceless trove of technology that must be examined, not destroyed. Cain forms a terrible suspicion, and consulting some old survey reports procured for him by Broklaw confirms it – the refinery wasn’t built over the most plentiful promethium deposits on the planet, making it almost certain that someone in the Mechanicus knew the Tomb was there and built the refinery with the intent of giving themselves just this opportunity.

Cain insists that they all have only hours left; the spike in warp energy caused by the arrival of the Orks’ space hulk reactivated the dormant portal inside the Tomb, drawing a scouting party from wherever the Necrons’ home planet is. Now that their scouts have confirmed the presence of the Tomb, they will be back soon, in force, to awaken it. If the portal is left open, then it could disgorge hundreds of thousands of Necrons into the sector.

But Magos Ernulph cannily seizes on this very point: it would take months, or even years, for a naval strike force to arrive, so the only safe option is for an infantry team to return to the Tomb and destroy the portal, before any more Necrons come through it. Cain is horrified when Kasteen agrees, and asks him to lead the team, but cannot think of any plausible reason to refuse.

Cain is assigned a squad of stormtroopers, and Jurgen comes along as always, while Kasteen and Broklaw are coordinating the evacuation of the regiment. To his consternation, a vox call from Kasteen asks after the whereabouts of Ernulph, who has disappeared – obviously unwilling to leave the Tomb alone.

On the front lines, Sulla is momentarily stunned to witness the gargant being attacked by a flotilla of Monoliths, which begin tearing huge chunks out of it with their weapons.

Making their way to the Tomb, Cain’s team begin exchanging fire with another Necron scouting party; the warriors have started to awaken, thanks to Magos Ernulph and his followers. They find a tearful and babbling Logash, the only survivor of the Mechanicus team, the rest having been cut down. There are enough awake warriors now, and more emerging from the warp portal, to overcome Cain’s stormtrooper escort, leaving only himself, Jurgen, and Logash. Jurgen clears their path with his melta, and they run for the surface. Since the stormtroopers were carrying the demolition charges, there is nothing they can do about the portal now.

They emerge in the tunnels under the main processing center of the refinery, and Cain warns Kasteen over the vox that the Necrons are fully awake now, and on their way. In a sudden inspiration, he realizes they are in a position to open the promethium storage tanks, flooding the underground tunnels. Not only does the flood wash away the pursuit right behind them, but it will (hopefully) do the same job as the demolition charges, once it is ignited. Cain is almost ready to think themselves safe, until they return to the surface just as the (heavily damaged) gargant reaches the Imperial lines. Seeing a tear in one of its legs, Kasteen concentrates fire on it, and succeeds in toppling the war machine. Deciding it is an excellent time to leave, she orders the last company to board the last waiting shuttle and lift off.

From orbit, Cain and Jurgen watch as Captain Federer detonates the demolition charges laid for the gargant, which are close enough to ignite the promethium in the tunnels. The resulting explosion throws up a pillar of flame kilometers high, taking the refinery and the remaining Orks with it.


Cain spends a welcome few days with Amberley Vail, who is responsible for debriefing the Valhallan soldiers about the Necron presence, and swearing them all to total silence. As she is composing her report to the Ordo Xenos, he takes the liberty of ordering a room-service dinner for them. The main course is, naturally, ambull steak.

In a footnote, Vail states that there was no further sign of Necron activity on Simia Orichalcae, though the Tomb was buried too deeply to be certain, and no one was eager to dig down and take a look.

My Thoughts:

This was a rollicking good read, with plenty of action to keep my attention. Cain once again tries to avoid all the fights and in the process gets right in the middle of them all and comes out looking like a Hero of the Imperium.

The enemies this time are mainly orcs with a side of Necrons. With this series I am learning a lot about other threats to the Human Imperium, as Gaunt and his Ghosts mainly dealt with the Dark Powers and their ilk. Necrons are like Terminators on steroids that are on steroids. It was awesome! I just had them in my head as unskinned T800’s. That can teleport. How scarily awesome is that?!?

Part of me enjoyed this so much that I was tempted to bump this up to 4stars, but on the other hand it IS franchise fiction and as such, it has its own built-in limitations. Maybe if I only read franchise fiction I’d give this 4stars, but since I read Shakespeare and Rex Stout, well 3.5stars is pretty high praise!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Fight or Flight ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Fight or Flight
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #0
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 22
Words: 8K


A short story of Cain’s first assignment as a Commissar and how Jurgen was assigned as his aide.

My Thoughts:

Who would have guessed that such a short story would have spawned over 10 books in a series? In the foreward Mitchell tells how this was supposed to be a one-off for a Black Library anthology but that Cain ended up being so popular that he ended up getting a whole novel to himself, which then morphed into a whole series.

Not bad for a short story in a franchise fiction mega-series.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

For the Emperor (WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #1) ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: For the Emperor
Series: WH40K: Ciaphas Cain #1
Authors: Sandy Mitchell
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 281
Words: 91K



Part One

Ciaphas Cain has a problem; since leaving the Schola Progenium as an Imperial commissar, all he’s ever wanted is a nice, safe posting, far away from any action, where he can keep his head down and count the years until his retirement. Unfortunately, his unwanted reputation for heroism follows him wherever he goes, together with the risk of imminent death. Even a lofty posting to a brigade headquarters isn’t safe, since most general officers tend to see him as the perfect man to lead the most daring (i.e., suicidal) missions they can imagine. His only safe option, he reasons, is to request a transfer back to a serving line regiment.

He is saddled with the fractious Valhallan 296th/301st , the amalgamation of two Valhallan Ice Warriors regiments torn to pieces by Tyranids on Corania, while it is en route to Gravalax. The fact that the unit’s new and surprisingly young C.O., Colonel Regina Kasteen, is genuinely glad to see him (a Commissar) and Jurgen when they step off the transport, gives him an idea how bad things are.

The 296th was a rear-echelon all-female regiment, while the 301st was a battle-hardened all-male one. The remnants of the two units openly detest each other, and the male troopers understandably resent Kasteen’s promotion (by virtue of simple seniority) over their more combat-experienced senior officer, Ruput Broklaw.

Less than a week after Cain’s arrival, a riot breaks out in the troop ship’s mess hall that leaves several troopers and naval provosts dead. Cain manages to stare down the rioters, preventing an all-out bloodbath from engulfing the rest of the ship.

In conference with the regiment’s senior officers, Cain declares that the regiment will never be an effective fighting force unless its troopers learn to work together, so he orders them integrated together at squad level, and, in order to preserve their pride, re-designates the regiment as the Valhallan 597th (296 + 301); the two former regiments, he explains, are not being abolished, only reborn and redefined. Kasteen and her subordinates are skeptical, but he lightly reminds them that another Commissar would have happily ordered wholesale executions to restore discipline, and that the Departmento Munitorum would be equally pleased to re-designate the regiment as a Penal Legion.

Gradually, the troopers begin to adapt to the change, and morale recovers. But it threatens to dive again when the captain of the ship demands that the worst of the rioters be tried for murder and shot. Cain has no authority to overrule the Navy, so he works out a clever compromise: the five troopers found to have committed murder are tried and convicted, but instead of execution, he orders them held until they can be transferred to a Penal Legion, or, failing that, “volunteer” for a particularly dangerous mission.

By the time the ship has reached Gravalax, the 597th is united in regarding Cain as one of their own.

Part Two

The regiment’s official mission is to police Gravalax and discourage the local populace from defecting to the Tau Empire, which seems set on annexing the planet. Right away, Cain notices the conspicuous lack of the respect, or fear, he is used to seeing among Imperial populations whenever a Guard unit makes planetfall. He also gravely notes the enthusiasm with which the people have adopted Tau styles of dress and architecture.

Soon after the regiment establishes its base, Cain is surprised to be hailed by an old friend, Toren Divas from the Valhallan 12th Field Artillery, also deployed to Gravalax. The two men spend a night out on the town, and Divas, half-drunk, mentions rumors that the situation is serious enough that an Inquisitor is poking around. While staggering home, they run into a gang of pro-Tau locals, and are nearly beaten to death, before a Kroot warrior, Gorok, appears and tells them to go home.

Cain and Kasteen are invited to a reception at the Governor’s palace, where they are introduced to the vapid (and, Cain suspects, inbred) Governor Grice, the local Imperial envoy Erasmus Donali, and a Rogue Trader named Orelius. Cain has heard enough gossip to suspect Orelius of being the rumoured Inquisitor, but he is most captivated by the young lounge singer providing entertainment for the party, Amberley Vail. They share a few minutes of conversation, and a dance around the room, before the footman announces the arrival of the Tau ambassador.

Moments after the Ambassador pays his respects to the governor, a bolter is fired, and the Ambassador falls dead. No one saw where the shot came from, but some in the Ambassador’s entourage accuse the Imperials of killing him. Cain steps in and narrowly prevents a firefight, pointing out reasonably that whoever killed the Ambassador is trying to provoke war between the two factions.

Unfortunately, news of the crime has already spread, and word comes in that there is rioting in the streets between pro-Tau and anti-xenos extremists. Kasteen voxes the regimental headquarters, ordering them to support the PDF in restoring order, but not to engage the Tau for any reason. When another hidden agent destroys the Tau’s transport skimmer with a rocket, Cain and his Guard escort reluctantly agree to escort the Ambassador’s party back to their compound. Doing so forces them to shoot an over-zealous PDF lieutenant and his squad that mistakes them for Tau sympathizers, but returning the Tau safely helps prevent open war, although the rioting that engulfs the city for the rest of the night is savage.

Part Three

Cain’s actions have brought him to the attention of Lord General Zyvan himself, who frankly is reluctant to draw the Imperial Guard into a protracted conflict with the Tau over a “mudball” like Gravalax. Instead, the Guard regiments are detailed to box in and neutralize the rebellious PDF elements who are still fighting, while Donali makes it known that Cain is heading the investigation into finding the Ambassador’s killer.

As Kasteen and the 597th are preparing to advance against a rebel stronghold, Cain invents a task that will let him absent himself – putting the fear of the Emperor into a loyalist PDF unit that is maintaining a somewhat slack perimeter around another rebel garrison.

Accompanied by Lieutenant Sulla’s platoon, including Sergeant Lustig’s squad (who escorted him and Kasteen from the Governor’s Palace), Cain visits the PDF, only to find that they are desperately holding their own against a much larger rebel force, having been instructed by “the inquisitor” to keep guard while the inquisitor was investigating something in the undercity. Cain acts quickly, igniting a promethium stockpile that starts to collapse the rebels’ fort on them, before receiving an urgent call for extraction from the Inquisitor’s party over the vox. Given the choice between charging into a burning building and taking the blame for an Inquisitor’s death, Cain chooses the former without much thought. With a borrowed Chimera, he and Jurgen extract the Inquisitor’s party under heavy fire from the rebels… only to be stupefied when the Inquisitor introduces herself – Amberley Vail.

Meanwhile, Sulla manages to break the back of the rebel position with a reckless, albeit effective, charge, led by herself and her Command Squad.

Part Four

No longer hiding her real identity, Inquisitor Vail meets in private with Cain and Zyvan, and fills them in on the strategic situation: by itself, Gravalax is not worth fighting a protracted, bloody war with the Tau, especially when the Imperium’s military resources may be needed elsewhere, with ominous signs of a new Tyranid Hive Fleet on the horizon and Necrons awakening all over the galaxy. On the other hand, simply letting the Tau annex the planet would invite them to do the same to other Imperial worlds.

Vail concludes that the cleanest way to resolve the situation is to find and destroy the third party hoping to provoke war between the two sides. That will mean leading another team down to the undercity, which she was investigating when they were attacked. Since her original team was killed or injured, she needs Cain to supply her with another. With a sinking feeling, Cain realizes that she is “inviting” him along.

To Cain’s further dismay, the escorts she selects to accompany them are the five condemned troopers from the Righteous Wrath, promising a pardon to any who come back alive – and the terrible, patient vengeance of the Inquisition on any of them who get treacherous ideas. The one bright spot is that Jurgen volunteers to come along and watch Cain’s back.

But just as they are descending into the undercity, they receive word that the PDF has rebelled, attacking Guard and Tau alike. The Governor has panicked and ordered the Guard to mobilize, and the Tau are doing the same. War has broken out across Gravalax, and the Guard and Tau forces are only a hairsbreadth from opening fire on each other.

Under the city, they come upon a Tau scouting party on the same errand, which fortunately includes Gorok (the Kroot Cain encountered earlier). The two parties are able to broker a temporary alliance, and continue on together. Coming upon the bodies of some humans killed by their mysterious enemy, Gorok samples their flesh, and declares it “tainted” – which gives them the first idea of their true enemy: Genestealers, infiltrating the population and trying to throw it into anarchy and make the planet easy pickings for an incoming Hive Fleet.

Aboveground, General Zyvan orders the 597th to place the Governor under arrest, seeing it as the best way to pacify the Tau. However, when they reach the governor’s palace, they are opposed by a force larger, better-armed, and more vicious than any of them expected.

Stumbling onto a genestealer, nest, Cain and Vail’s party is all but wiped out, and the two of them are separated from Jurgen when a wall collapses on him, apparently killing him. Cain and Vail have to find their way back to the surface, relying on Cain’s innate sense of direction in an underground environment. For a moment they argue over whether he really knows where he’s going, putting him in mind of “a couple of juvies on a disappointing date” – an image so incongruous with their situation that both of them burst into hysterical laughter.

After this release of tension, they are able to focus on finding their way back to the surface – and neither of them can muster much surprise when a route from the genestealers’ nest takes them to a secret cellar beneath the Governor’s palace. Just then they are rushed by a brood of purestrains, and have to fight their way through. To Cain’s surprise and delight, Jurgen appears in the tunnel behind them, along with the last remaining trooper from their party. Then the trooper goes down, shot in the head by the Genestealer Patriarch: Governor Grice. Seeing the third arm extending from Grice’s chest, Cain swiftly realizes where the shot that killed the Tau ambassador came from.

Outside the Palace, the Valhallans are alarmed when the Tau appear in force – Hammerheads, Battlesuits, the works – and almost equally surprised when the xenos open fire on the traitor forces. Though it goes against the grain, the Guard forms up behind the Tau to fight their common enemy together.

Inside the palace, Grice drops Jurgen with a bolt pistol round to the head, though it ricochets off his helmet and the wound is not fatal. Amberley is narrowly saved from taking his next shot by her displacer field. While Cain tries to aim Jurgen’s dropped hellgun at the Governor, Amberley drops him with a poisoned dart from a digital needler concealed in her ring. The Governor dies after a few seconds of agony which go a long way towards relieving Cain’s feelings.

Cain, Vail, and the wounded Jurgen are escorted out of the Palace by the recently-arrived Valhallans, and it seems war has been averted. Further good news comes when two of the troopers from their party appear at the tunnel entrance, miraculously alive. Suspicious, Cain questions them about what happened, and they say they don’t remember clearly. Without further explanation, Cain draws his laspistol and shoots them both in the head. Kasteen and Broklaw are outraged, until Cain points to an identical wound in each of their sides, revealing that they were both infected by the genestealers. Understanding swiftly, Kasteen orders the bodies incinerated.

At the same time, two Pathfinders from the Tau party likewise miraculously appear, and are reunited with their own people. Cain is alarmed, but Amberley quells him with a look, and a secret smirk – if the Pathfinders are similarly infected, she has no intention of warning the Tau.

With Grice’s death, the war comes to an end, though the genestealer infestation remains a carefully guarded secret.


Cain and Vail dine at an exclusive restaurant, where she asks after Jurgen and is pleased to hear that he is recovering steadily.

As for the Tau, to general surprise, they are abandoning Gravalax. As Donali explains, they concluded that, if the Imperium was so determined to fight a protracted, bloody war to hold on to the planet, it would not “advance the Greater Good” for the Tau to give them the opportunity.

Vail has some surprising news for Cain: she has been observing Jurgen closely, including her psyker, Rakel’s violent reaction to him when Cain first rescued their party from the undercity. Jurgen, she explains, is a Blank — a staggeringly rare attribute that nullifies psychic or daemonic forces in his proximity. Cain is afraid that Vail will recruit him, but she confesses that the Inquisition is much more divided and factionalized than it appears on the outside, and most inquisitors learn to guard their resources jealously. She decides it is safest to leave Jurgen where he is, adding that she’ll know where to find them if she needs them. Cain is inwardly terrified at the idea of being recruited to any more Inquisitorial errands, but joins her in toasting “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

My Thoughts:

Having found that I got along tolerably well with Ibram Gaunt and the Commisariat, I asked around it turns out that Ciaphas Cain was another Commisar and as such was worth a look-see. From this first book, that would appear to be the case.

Gaunt and the Ghosts were of the Sabbat Crusade, on the bleeding edge fighting the forces of Chaos directly. Cain on the other hand seems to attach himself where ever he thinks the least danger is and in this book only deals with xenos and genestealers, neither of which are direct forces of Chaos (as far as I can tell). It shined a different light on the Imperium of Man, deliberately so and it made me wonder just how humanity had survived in space so long.

While Gaunt is serious and driven by duty, Cain is just trying to survive, cherry picking what he thinks are the easy jobs and doing what he thinks is the always the safest and easiest route. This is a semi-comical series in that no matter what he does Cain comes across looking like a Hero of the Imperium. It is fun to read about to be honest.

The main issue I had with this book was in its organization. It is from Cain’s journals, but they are being processed through the Inquisitor Vail and there are footnotes and addendums. It is a deliberately layered narrative that is relying on the unreliableness of both narrators to give the readers the clues they need to pick out the truth. That’s a lot of work for a franchise fiction book :-/ On the other hand, it adds to the overall amusement of reading these so I’m only mildly complaining instead of ranting.

There are 8 or 9 novels in this series and 4 or 5 short stories. I’ll be going through them all in the order they’re listed under, so the next couple of entries in the Ciaphus Cain series will be short stories. I don’t expect the reviews for those to be very long at all.

Rating: 3 out of 5.