Warhammer Crime: Bloodlines

Hey everybody,
It’s been more than a week since I finished this bad boy, so it’s definitely time that I got down my thoughts on the blog here! Warhammer Crime is the second subset of Warhammer novels, following the Horror imprint that made its debut in 2018. Warhammer Crime came along in 2020 with Bloodlines by Chris Wraight, which was a huge draw for me, for a number of reasons. First of all, of course, Chris Wraight is one of my all-time favourite Black Library authors, and while I do love a bit of the crime (stories, not actual crime), I thought this could be a great vector to introduce my wife into the world of 40k, as she reads almost exclusively crime fiction.

Bloodlines is, at its most straightforward, a missing persons story, following the Probator Agusto Zidarov as he follows the trail of a wealthy industrialist’s son. The search takes him into the underground pharmaceutical trade, and includes a fairly hefty dose of industrial espionage and politics along the way. That’s how I kept selling it to Jemma, but to date she hasn’t taken the bait. But you never know!

The novel is set on the world of Alecto, mainly in the hive city of Varangantua. There is a very strong Necromunda vibe here, for sure, and I had a lot of serious call-backs to the Ravenor books, which is probably the closest we’ve had to Warhammer Crime up to this point. Zidarov is basically the Warhammer version of a detective, so he’s a bit of a different breed to the Enforcers that we’ve also seen in novels. I found it interesting to see the emphasis placed on this being pretty much a police procedural, and the aspects that make this 40k were almost down-played, which makes me think this could be to allow the book to appeal to the widest possible audience. For sure, the references are there if we want to notice them – I mean, the major plot point of the pharmaceutical trade involves rejuvenat treatments, which we know of course from so many 40k novels (including those Ravenor novels), and of course we see folks armed with laspistols and autoguns. But you don’t need to know what any of these things are to enjoy the book – interestingly, I’d say we actually learn more about the rejuvenat process here than we’ve ever learnt in mainstream 40k.

There is some wonderful world-building here – this is one of those sci-fi books where none of the food or drink is familiar, you know? It weirdly helps to ground the book in the realms of the more mundane, though, and made me realise that we’ve never actually had a 40k book like this before. I suppose the emphasis has always been on the battles and the insane stuff, even with Ravenor we get those glimpses into the downtime that folks have, but here there is almost a family drama playing itself out for us in the middle of the investigation, with Zidarov and his wife worrying about their daughter’s desire to join the Astra Militarum. It was interesting, to me, because again, we don’t need to know what this means in the context of the 40k universe for it to have an impact – it was very much two parents worrying about their child getting shipped off to die on some distant battlefield.

It was very well written, with a fantastic feel of the classic noir detective story throughout. You could almost imagine Zidarov sat behind the frosted-glass door with his name on it, smoking a cigar while brooding on the case. No femme fatale here, but maybe that’s being kept for a later book, you know? Interestingly, the book is described as “An Agusto Zidarov Novel” as if we’ll be getting more, so hopefully there is something in the works for that, anyway!

Warhammer Crime

Varangantua is apparently the setting for at least a few more books in the subset, though, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the next one, Flesh and Steel, by Guy Haley. Another Black Library veteran, it sounds like this one might be a bit more 40k-y, as it features a probator working alongside the Adeptus Mechanicus. It’s on order, anyway, so I’m sure it won’t be too long before I’m back here with my thoughts on that one, too!

Scars

Hey everybody,
It’s been a while! I’ve been working my way slowly through the twenty-eighth novel in the Horus Heresy series, Scars. Written by Chris Wraight, one of my favourite Warhammer novelists, it’s actually a really good read, albeit a bit of an odd one. Originally serialised online back in 2013, the story does have some elements that mark it out as such, such as the occasional recaps.

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The novel, unsurprisingly, features the White Scars legion front and centre (I think the only time we’ve seen them previously was the sixth novel, Descent of Angels). The legion is a bit of an anomaly, as they are still almost always deployed as a single unit, rather than in multiple warbands to multiple fronts. The legion has, up to this point, been deployed on Chondax. We get a lot of background on them, following in particular two initiates and their careers in the legion – one a Chogorian called Shiban, and a Terran called Torghun who was originally intended to join the Luna Wolves. We also follow the primarch himself, Jaghatai Khan, as the pacing is quite broad during the beginning. The system has been cut off with Warp storms, however, leaving the Khan awaiting orders, and his legion subsequently restless.

In contrast, we also see the Space Wolves dealing with the aftermath of the battle on Prospero. While they are licking their own wounds, they are set upon by the Alpha Legion, some of whom board the Wolves’ ships and, when confronted, state that they are doing the Emperor’s work.

When the White Scars emerge from the storms, they receive multiple conflicting orders, including from Rogal Dorn asking for them to join him on Terra for the defense. The Khan, going against all of the orders that he has received, decides to go to Prospero to see for sure if Magnus has been defeated, and in an effort to learn the truth of what is happening in the galaxy. The planet has been utterly devastated, and teleporting down to the surface with his keshig guard, the Khan is beset by psychic ghosts and separated from his bodyguard. He discovers a psychic projection of Magnus however, who confirms that the Space Wolves attacked his legion, although he understands now the reasons for his censure.

While in orbit, it emerges that there are several warrior lodges within the legion, however, and as the novel goes on, it transpires that these lodges are in communication with the Sons of Horus, and believe that their true purpose is to join them in their rebellion. One of the lord commanders of the legion, Hasik, effectively leads a coup on the ships, awaiting the arrival of the Sons of Horus to join them. However, the legion who arrives to support the coup is the Death Guard, with Mortarion joining Jaghatai on the surface in an attempt to convince him to join Horus’ cause.

Needless to say, Jaghatai is not to be swayed, and things are finally made clear as regards what is happening in the universe when Targutai Yesughei, the legion’s chief librarian, arrives with news that the Warmaster has indeed gone over to Chaos, having himself come across some survivors from Isstvan III in the course of his travels across the galaxy.

Horus Heresy Scars

This is actually a really great book, one that I enjoyed a lot. The atmosphere of uncertainty in the galaxy at this time is captured really well, in particular with the use of the Alpha Legion launching their attacks on both the Space Wolves and the White Scars. The inclusion of the Alpha Legion, and their misdirection, was quite a masterstroke really, as their presence is often guaranteed to add to the air of confusion.

There is a fantastic battle sequence when the White Scars punch through the attack of the Alpha Legion – we get to see that they are really a unique legion for their use of speed. They use a lot of pseudo-Mongolian throughout the book, which I was surprised didn’t interfere too much with the telling of the story as things went along. Often with such things, I find them hard-going, but there was obviously just the right amount used that meant it wasn’t hard to keep track!

The book is a little odd in that the story seems to just forget about the Space Wolves around halfway through. Of course, I’m not a Space Wolves fan at all, so I’m not really missing that side of things, but it did feel a bit strange how they were just left out. Anyway! It was really interesting to see the events of the burning of Prospero revisited, too, and to see what has happened to the planet since the attack. Of course, it was a little bit contrived how one Thousand Sons legionary had managed to survive and led the keshig guard to safety, etc, but I suppose the narrative needed something!

Something that I keep coming back to, though, is just how effective the atmosphere of the unknown is here. The Khan really doesn’t know who to trust, and so reverts to his old friend Magnus, with whom he had pushed so strongly for the use of the librarius within the legions. There is a moment of great irony when Yesughei remarks how the Edict of Nikea has effectively hamstrung the loyalists, removing their greatest weapon against the traitors and their Warp-craft. Even though we’re still roughly around the mid-point of the series, there is a sense already of trying to pull together several plot elements from across the wider Heresy, and making a cohesive narrative out of things. Whether that was intentional or not, I don’t know, but it’s really quite remarkable how the author is able to make the book feel like the legion have been sidelined, keeping them apart from the rest of the goings-on in the galaxy, but at the same time pulling together these plot threads to make it all feel like one long story. Bravo, that man!

Overall, though, I thought this was a really fascinating look at the legion that has been somewhat on the sidelines for the series up to now. We’re 28 books in, and only now seeing yet another “new” legion – crazy! Of course, we haven’t really met the Night Lords or the Iron Hands in proper novels, either, which just feels ridiculous now that I think about it!

The Emperor’s Legion

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Earlier this week, I finished reading The Emperor’s Legion by Chris Wraight, which I have to say now, was absolutely cracking!

The story is told from the point of view of three characters – a Custodian Guard, a Silent Sister, and the Chancellor of the High Lords of Terra. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has more than one point of view character where each chapter is in their own first person! It was really interesting to me, I must say!

The Emperor’s Legion takes place around the time of the Great Rift, which initially gave me some pause as I have read quite a lot of novels set during this time, and the coming of Guilliman etc. However, two-thirds of the book is set firmly on Terra, which gives the book a different flavour on it, as we’ve not yet seen what happens there. Turns out – quite a lot goes on!

The Chancellor of the High Lords, Tieron, is quite the interesting character, as we see something of the power behind the throne at first. This is, perhaps, where the advantage of telling the story in the first person comes to the fore, as we see Tieron’s attitude to his own position degrade as the novel progresses. We learn that Tieron has been attempting to reverse the decision that was taken to keep the Custodian Guard bound to the walls of the Imperial Palace. There is a lot going on in the politics of this decision, and I found it fascinating to learn about all of those goings-on, I suppose in part because of the way in which we learn about it.

From the Custodian Valerian, we see more of the Adeptus Custodes and their own attitudes towards their long vigil. Something I found quite intriguing was seeing the history of the Imperium from the golden boys, as they clearly know more of the history of the universe than we’ve seen from, say, the Space Marines of other novels. The story told from the point of view of the Silent Sister, however, is much more interesting to start with. Aleya is a very capable warrior, who dismantles a Chaos cult when we first meet her, only to return to her convent to find it has been decimated by the Black Legion. This drives her to return to Terra, wherein ensues a hectic race through the Warp as she attempts to defy the constant daemonic incursions through their failing Geller field.

It turns out that the Silent Sisters have been allowed to become forgotten over the thousands of years since the Heresy, as many cannot abide their anti-psyker presence. Aleya burns with the injustice of this, and the narrative from her perspective is really quite vicious at times as a result! Since the Silent Sisters were a part of the Burning of Prospero game back in 2016, it’s been a bit weird to me how GW would attempt to re-integrate them into the 40k game. We did see something back in 7th Edition, with the Talons of the Emperor box set, but it was really quite disappointing as it turned out. When the Custodes made their appearance in 8th Edition as a major force, and subsequently the Adepta Sororitas, I know there were plenty of folks who were a bit put-out by the fact the Sisters were left out of things.

At any rate, the book brings all three of the main characters together when the Great Rift has opened across the sky, when Cadia has fallen, and things are looking even worse for the Imperium than ever. Enter – the Grey Knights! Oh man, I was so excited when these guys turned up, not least because I’m currently back to working on these guys! I definitely had a bit of a tingle when they first mentioned turning to Titan for help, and when they arrived in force – oh, man!

The arrival of the Grey Knights poses an interesting insight into how the Custodes are meant to fight. I think both Aleya and Valerian talk of how the Sisters and the Custodians pair up, as there is no physical enemy the latter cannot defeat, but in the case of the Archenemy, they require the null-maidens to deny any demonic nonsense, anchoring them to the physical plane for the Custodes to then destroy. By contrast, the Grey Knights fight against the Ruinous Powers on their terms, making things that much more difficult. It’s really quite incredible when they Grey Knights win, because the odds are so stacked against them even before battle has been joined!

Another thing that I really like about this novel is how it seems to blend a lot of things that we’ve seen up until now – the attack on Fenris, the fall of Cadia, etc. We get something of the mechanics of news in the Imperium here, as the fall of Cadia might have happened months ago, or worse. It’s something that we’ve had hints of in other books, of course, seeing the perils of having an Imperium held together by telepathic thought-impressions or physical messages being sent.

The Emperor's Legion

The book culminates with a massive daemonic incursion on Terra itself, which brings all three of the protagonists together. Guilliman appears on Luna, and takes command of the Council of the High Lords, some of whom had suspected as much and attempted to prevent it – serving as a kind of metaphor for how stagnant the Imperium has become, really. Valerian and Aleya discover that the Ruinous Powers have been attempting to cut off Terra from the rest of the galaxy by using the Cadian pylons to essentially nullify the Warp at strategic points. They head off to the only remaining conduit through the Warp from Terra, and thwart the forces of the Black Legion before they can carry out their nefarious plot.

It really is a great book, giving a tremendous look at the Imperium at the time of the Great Rift. In many ways, it serves to sum up so much of my love of 40k right now, taking a look at the various aspects of the Imperium, predominantly the Adeptus Ministorum. They’ll never really make an army for these guys, of course, but it’s always fascinating to me seeing the inner workings of the Empire like this.

Wonderful stuff, definitely recommended!