Warhammer books are a lot of things. You’ve got some intriguing wartime stories, epic power struggles between beings with crazy powers and deep dives into the life of ordinary people trying to live their lives. However, I’ve yet to find one that makes me laugh. And you’d think that makes sense with the whole grimdark setting and all that. And so it’s refreshing to read the Ciaphas Cain books, where his brand of humour and action fit in perfectly, even if by lifting the comedy they sometimes lose the other interesting elements of Warhammer books.
To get a quick understanding of what to expect from the Ciaphas Cain books you might want to picture a scenario that is more or less Blackadder Goes Forth (the one set in World War 1) but in space. This is a somewhat flawed comparison but if that concept sounds amazing (and it should), then you can save yourself some time and pick up this first book. However, if you want to know a little bit more then let’s dive into one of 40k’s most beloved characters.
The Ciaphas Cain books, For the Emperor included, are set the personal retellings of his most famous moments. Interspersed are some segments by Inquisitor Amberley Vail who comments on how Cain tells the story or fills what is happening around the main story. And this form of storytelling is refreshing after going through a lot of boots on the ground, the supposed main character could die at any moment stories. Because we know that Cain survives his adventures to write this book and instead of worrying about his well being, we can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
And Cain is an enjoyable character to follow. He’s a coward, cunning and self-serving throughout and a brilliant juxtaposition to almost everyone around him. He gets through situations by the skin of his pants either through luck or throwing someone else under the bus. It’s fun to watch how him looking out for himself ends up saving the day and resulting in people treating him like a hero. Cain’s most recent assignment, the one that lands him in this scenario in this book, is due to his unwanted reputation for heroism he’s been attached to the Valhallan 296th/301st when all he wants is a safe posting far from the front lines. It’s this contrast with those around him, his accidental heroism and constant selfishness that ultimately make him a character you fall in love with.
I think it’s safe to say that you wouldn’t want to live in the 40k universe. It’s awful. There are like a million wars going on all the time, the Imperium is an insane religious cult that rules with an authoritarian fist and the worlds are either industrial hive worlds or struggling backwaters. And Cain understands this. He doesn’t want to live here either. He wants to find somewhere nice and safe and enjoy the finer things in life.
With all of that in mind, this story sees Cain sent to Gravalax where there has been an ongoing problem with the Tau Empire including various defections. We get to see Cain interact with all the major players in this conflict before the inevitable twist that see’s him take a different route. And that is all you really need to know about the plot because it isn’t important and, frankly, nothing special. Cain is what makes this book and his subsequent undertakings fun to read with the ‘narrative’ taking a backseat. I think that if the surrounding story was more interesting then the Ciaphas Cain books would instantly be some of the most compelling and brilliant books in the 40k catalogue. However, as it stands we have a fascinating and fun character getting up to hijinx in interesting locals and that is still plenty.
And I almost forgot Jurgen. He’s Cain’s main companion/punching bag and in our Blackadder comparison, he’s our Baldrick character. The duo bounces off each other in a way that continues to be amusing, even if this book occasionally reuses the same joke in a couple of instances. However, as an ongoing companion, Jurgen appears in later books which is a treat because his unique brand of thick-headed naivety is a constant source of comedy.
And that’s the first Ciaphas Cain book. It’s a welcome source of laughter in a Universe that can sometimes be a little self-serious. However, it’s comedy compliments the already campy, silly nature of the 40k Universe and Cain is a genuinely fun character to follow. If you’re after some lighter Warhammer stories, then this first book gets my stamp of approval and watch this space for reviews of the rest.
Thanks for reading. If you are thinking of kicking off 9th Edition with the Indomitus novel, then read my review first as it might make your reconsider that purchase. For a more positive review, why not read about the Talon of Horus which is a great story of Chaos Space Marines.
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