So after finishing my first Ciaphas Cain book I was pretty hyped to see his adventures continue. We’d had a fun romp with our loveably self centred protagonist somehow managing to save the day and see his fame continue to grow despite his best effort to simply live a quiet boring life. This meant that picking up Caves of Ice was an easy sell. Cain but in an ice world, enough of a description to see if you’re interested in picking up this story. With that, if you want more let’s jump into my thoughts of Ciaphas Cain Book 2: Caves of Ice.
Firstly, I need to praise a few things I forgot in my last Cain review. I didn’t mention that the audiobooks for these novels are fantastic and some of the best I’ve listened to from Black Library. We get a cast of voices who take up the different characters who recount their perspectives on the various events. While we mostly have Cain himself (narrated by Stephen Perring) each characters input is given a different narrator which further adds to the biographic nature of these books. Well done Black Library. Another element I forgot to mention was how breezy these books are. Whereas you can easily have Warhammer epics that range up to 600 pages and take almost 20 hours to finish, these are short snappy stories without any additional baggage. Both of the audiobook clock in under 9 hours and mean that you can revisit them without a major commitment.
Now that’s out of the way, I need to bring my right hook of criticism for Caves of Ice. Whereas the first Cain novel (For the Emperor) had an intriguing mystery throughout, Caves of Ice feels fairly directionless for large parts of the plot. While there is the looming threat of the Orc invasion and the later threat of the Necrons, neither feel particularly urgent and instead sit as a nebulous faceless threat. I think Sandy Mitchell missed a trick by not giving us an antagonist to drive the threat up a little. While I don’t think For the Emperor had a clear central antagonist for a lot of the story, the mystery of who is pulling the strings was the driving factor until the antagonist was revealed. In Caves of Ice, we don’t ever see much of either Xenos factions which feels like a missed opportunity.
However, the characters are back with zeal. Cain is great once again but I think Jurgen comes into his own in Caves of Ice. Whereas in the first book he took a back seat in most of the scenes, in this story he’s a prominent character throughout. There’s also the squad who journey with the pair into the titular Caves of Ice and getting to know key members from this group is fun as we know that their lives are ultimately expendable. Knowing that everyone except Cain could die at any moment means that when he is in danger it’s funny to see how he’ll survive, but seeing anyone else in danger is a life and death circumstance. While nobody except Cain and Jurgen are given a lot of time to develop, it’s enough for us to care about their fates.
And while I think the breezy nature of these books is a positive, perhaps Caves of Ice is too breezy. The audiobook clocks in under 7 hours which is almost 2 hours shorter than For the Emperor and that decrease in run time shows. While this story is of a far smaller scale, I found myself far less excited to find out what happens next because the time wasn’t being taken to develop the various elements of the story. This could be because I listen to the stories back to back and I might have been suffering from some Ciaphas Cain burnout but at the start of Caves of Ice I was hyped to see what shenanigans he got himself into next but by the end, I feel happy to take a break from this series.
That being said, there’s a lot to get out of Caves of Ice. The inclusion of the Ambull and Necrons were intriguing. I especially loved how terrifying the Necrons come across. Cain is genuinely afraid to confront them and since he’s also facing down a horde of Orcs, this fear makes them seem like a far more fearsome enemy. When our characters confront the Necrons, you see the terror and danger they face and these are some of the standout moments in this book. This balances out with Cain’s usual happy go lucky nature and forces you to take the Necron threat seriously. I especially loved these bits after how much I hated the Indomitus novel.
Overall, I think this is an alright addition to the Ciaphas Cain series but isn’t as strong as his first outing. I’m looking forward to seeing more of his adventures but need a break to explore other areas of the galaxy first. I still think Cain and Jurgen make for a compelling and hilarious duo and easily the best double act in the Imperium. If you enjoyed For the Emperor and want more Cain then Caves of Ice delivers but if you want a better background story than For the Emperor, you might need to look elsewhere.
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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