Warhammer 40k (wh40k from now on) is an absolute universe. The line between good (or, more likely, lesser evil) and evil (or truly evil) is more or less defined. This results in equally absolute characters, with all that this entails. It may sound like a really bad idea for books but this pulp (in a good way) nature of this setting makes the stories of wh40k quite entertaining in a unique way.
This may be the norm but as we all know there are always exceptions andCiaphas Cain is the ultimate exception. Ciaphas is an unconventional commissar of the Imperium, responsible for the morale of a military regiment. His colleagues, known for their tendency to execute soldiers in any case of disobedience or cowardice (they also tend to die “mysteriously” with a bullet, of unknown origins, to their back, or so our hero says) and thus are not really loved by Imperial Troops. Ciaphas on the other hand just wants to survive in a hostile universe but it seems that every time he tries to stay clear of any danger he ends up right in the middle of the enemies he is trying to avoid.
Apart from Ciaphas though and his peculiar follower Jurgen, this book won me for another reason, the way it was written. The stories are his memoirs, under control of the Inquisition of course, and to emphasize that the most important person to Ciaphas is his own self, the Inquisitor Amberley puts many footnotes so we can understand the events surrounding our commissar better. Indeed, the classic phrase of “as usual, Cain takes little interest in anything which doesn’t affect him directly”, a phrase that is usually followed by documents written by other characters, where Mitchell is actually changing his way of writing thus creating an illusion that the book is actually true.
Having read this volume (a second one exists but I haven’t had the chance to read it yet)which includes the first 3 books in the series and 3 exclusive stories, I am still undecided whether Ciaphas is truly such a cynic rogue. He often claims that his heroics are completely random and that his interest for the well-being of the regiment’s soldiers exists just to make them think that he cares (and thus making them prime sacrificial candidates if the need arises), but his actions contradict him. Same thing can be said for the sympathies (and antipathies of course) that are created throughout his memoirs. Last but not least his unique relationship with Jurgen, his faithful assistant with the particularly strong odor and simplistic thinking is not consistent with a man who cares for nothing but his own self. Mitchell covers it up by adding a unique ability to Jurgen (but I won’t say more because…spoilers) but still Ciaphas sometimes describes Jurgen as a friend (or the next best thing).
Definitely one (or three) of the best wh40k books, suitable for both fanatic fans of this setting and for readers who want to read something different set in a grim dark sci fi universe.
Title: Ciaphas Cain – Hero of the Imperium
Writer: Sandy Mitchell
Publisher: Black Library