Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cadian Blood by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Warhammer 40,000 is a diverse setting. Beyond the obvious infinite possibilities of an Empire of millions of worlds, the built-in settings for series of books give a number of options. Like the space marines? Then there are series galore: Ultramarines, Blood Angels, Grey Knights, Soul Drinkers, Dawn of War (aka Blood Ravens), Space Wolf, Salamanders, Imperial Fist, etc. If that isn’t your cup of tea, you can focus on the Inquisition, as they fight heresy. Series include the Eisenhorn trilogy, the Ravenor trilogy, the Inquisition War trilogy, and the new Bastion Wars series. Luke Reviews has delved into both of those segments, but never before have I looked at the Imperial Guard novels, a series of stand-alone books that follow the men who aren’t enhanced war machines or religious fanatics. So it was about time to give the Imperial Guard a look.

On the planet Kathur, Chaos has overrun the populace, killing many and leaving the rest viciously ill. Those who die wracked with this disease don’t stay dead; they rise up again, and conquer the world in the name of Chaos. Reclaiming the planet seems like it should be a minor ordeal of blasting the planet from space, but things get complicated. Kathur is named after Saint Kathur, hero of the Great Crusade, and full of relics of his life. The Empire refuses to let these holy sites be destroyed, and instead send in a series of guardsmen to recover Kathur. Among them are the Cadian 88th Mechanized Infantry, in part led by Captain Thade. They must survive the onslaught of plague-ridden zombies if they hope to return home.

This book has been getting seemingly nothing but good reviews, so I was very excited to give it a look. This of course made me even more baffled than normal when the beginning just fell flat, due to excessive amounts of telling and not showing (“Don’t tell the reader, show them”). It was dry and not at all engaging for the first 20 or so pages. A recap of the history of the planet, and the onset of the Plague of Unbelief.

And then Cadian Blood took off. Once the story set into place, it was brilliant. Dembski-Bowden hits every part right, creating very memorable characters in Thade and his lieutenants, creating a flow of action that never let up, and making the story incredibly easy to find yourself drawn into. Almost unparalleled in Warhammer 40,000 fiction, Dembski-Bowden’s first novel brings the realities of war in this setting to life, and he doesn’t hold back.

One minor quibble that I had was his choice of announcing that certain characters would die before they actually did in the story, as well as a slight lull about two-thirds of the way through, but otherwise Cadian Blood was a brilliant work. I am very much excited about Dembski-Bowden’s next novel, Soul Hunter.


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