The Wraithbone Phoenix

I should have written a review of this book ages ago, but somehow kept getting distracted!

The story involves Baggit, a Ratling, and Clodde, an Ogryn, who are working at a breakers yard on Varangantua. The two are former Imperial Guard auxiliaries, and escape their jobs to try and discover a hidden treasure that has arrived within the hulk of an old Imperial Navy ship destined for the breakers. Their overseer is unhappy that they have left, and engages in a vengeful pursuit of the two of them, however he inadvertently informs half the planet of the treasure hunt, so we get all sorts of additional parties, including a washed-out Navy captain, a group of religious zealots, and an Indiana Jones-type archaeologist.

The chase is on, although Baggit is convinced he has the edge because the artefact, the Wraithbone Phoenix of the title, was hidden on board the ship by a fellow Ratling. After twists and turns aplenty, the artefact is discovered, changes hands multiple times, and ends up with an Eldar outcast, who perhaps inadvertently opens himself up to the psychic potential of the Phoenix and disappears, dropping it into the rubbish heap on the street far below.

I’d not really registered Baggit & Clodde before, but they were in an audio drama also published under the Warhammer Crime imprint. At any rate, I was quite excited to get hold of this book as I have previously enjoyed Warhammer Crime books. This one, however, was very different, and somehow I couldn’t seem to bring myself to like it quite so much.

In all honesty, it’s not a bad book. I think perhaps it went on a bit too long at times, though that could have been due to the sheer volume of cast members that were being covered. I suppose the fact that I wasn’t particularly that interested in the protagonists also didn’t help me, but I wonder if I had listened to the audio drama first, that could have changed my view?

The atmosphere of Varangantua is as palpable here as it has been in every other book I’ve read in this setting, though, and the set pieces as the two auxiliaries ran through a market place, or through the breakers yard etc, were particularly cinematic. In fact, a lot of this book, perhaps more than any other, put me in mind of Necromunda. I’ve often felt that Varangantua is almost written like a Necromunda 2.0, so those aspects were really very nicely done.

The story does flip-flop between the original Ratling on board the ship and the “present day”, which I hadn’t realised until maybe a third of the way through the novel are actually separated by hundreds of years. So I did find it a bit jarring at that point! But I have to say, I didn’t really care about the Ratling, Clodde was a kinda cool character in the gentle-giant mould. It did make reading the book difficult at times, though, because I was reading this more for the atmosphere than anything else – I mean, I didn’t care who got to the Phoenix first, or how, but towards the end as the thing went through almost every major player’s hands, it did become quite entertaining! I especially liked the end, where the Phoenix just drops into the street rubbish and is lost once more.

Also, the archaeologist-lady seems to use a Dark Eldar agoniser whip, which was really nice to read about!

Overall, though, not my favourite book so far. I actually gave this a 2/5 rating, which now I reflect on it some more does seem a bit harsh! There’s still plenty of Warhammer Crime to catch up on (unfortunately, though, a lot of anthologies too), so I really ought to make an effort to read these things.