Saturday, May 11, 2024

The Emperor's Finest (Review)


Original cover.

The Emperor's Finest by Sandy Mitchell.. 

Ciaphas Cain has been around for 20 years now? It's true! And it has been a good while, too long even, since I read a Ciaphas Cain novel and I felt it was finally time to do so. 

This story begins with Cain summarizing his previous adventure (The short story Echos of the Tomb) and telling us how he narrowly escaped from a Necron tombworld and how he came to be in the service of a group of Adeptus Astartes of the Reclaimers Chapter.  They used cybernetics to rebuild some of his fingers that he had lost when escaping the Necron tombworld. We are introduced to his hosts, the two most important to this story being Brother Captaun Gries and Techmarine Drumon. Cain is tasked with sticking with the Space Marines as they are sent on their vessel, the Revenant, to assist the world of Viridia in putting down a rebellion. It is while meeting with Viridia's governor that he meets Mira DuPanya, the Governor's daughter.  She is an officer in the PDF whose more interested in pomp and appearances than any true military merit but Cain has no choice but to have her tag along in the ground assault he leads against the rebels. 

However all does not go well. Cain figures out that the rebels are in fact a Genestealer insurgency.  And worse, the PDF troops accompanying him have already been infected by the brood. It looks like the end for Cain and Mira when, thankfully, the Reclaimers save the day rescuing them and killing off the Genestealers and their cultists. 

This would've been a better cover.
Trying to figure out where and how the Genestealers got there in the first place led to a brief investigation into abnormal sightings in the Viridia system which uncovered that the Spawn Of Damnation, a known space hulk of ill repute, had briefly made an appearance in this system. Invigorated, and with an Adeptus Mechanicus team accompanying them, the Reclaimers were determined to hunt down the Spawn of Damnation and end the Genestealer threat, and, true to their name, reclaim what archeotech they could with the Adeptus Mechanicus. Naturally, Commissar Cain was encouraged to tag along and assist with the hunt. During the brief time before they set of, Cain's aide, Jurgen, was able to rejoin him, and I just had to quote Cain's description of seeing Jurgen again after so long: 

He looked just as I remembered, as if a nurgling had somehow become entangled with a random collection of Guardsmen's kit, but I was delighted to see him nevertheless. 

I love it! 

And the back and forth between Jurgen and Mira was quite entertaining. During this period Mira and Cain have sparked up quite a romantic, and physical, relationship. And it's no surprise when she has herself attached to the mission to hunt down the Spawn of Damnation, but she is definitely more interested in hunting down Cain as a potential husband, although Cain doesn't realize this until it's almost too late. 

While tracking down the Spawn of Damnation they arrive in a system infested with orks, so much so they they materialize practically in the midst of an ork fleet. They are attacked and boarded, and although the marines (and our protagonists) defeat the ork boarders and make the next jump out of the system considerable damage is done to the Revenant. And it takes a good amount to time to repair the vessel and track down the Spawn of Damnation. They track  it to the Serendipity System, a lush Imperial world ripe and vulnerable to the Genestealer threat. 

It is here that the adventure changes gear, and goes from tame to crazy really quick. Cain and Jurgen are pressured to accompany the Terminator Space Marines along with a group of adeptus Mechanicus who are determined to retrieve a data core from this space hulk. Only for Cain, who is tasked to go determine why another one of the Cyber-Altered Task (CAT) units has gone offline. Things go side ways from here as they are ambushed by Genestealers whom they nearly escape but not  before the Terminator escorting them is slain. Realizing that the Genestealers are ambushing the main group, Cain and Jurgen attempt to circumvent the fight and make their way back to the Thunderhawk gunship waiting for them in the hanger but, space hulk being space hulk, they get lost. 

The 3rd Cain Omnibus. 
While cautiously attempting to navigate their way through the space hulk they discover a massive colony of orks who are massing and preparing for an invasuon. Clearly they are going to attempt a raid on Serendipita. With this knowledge he has to report to the Space Marines, he is evwn more eager to get back to the ha get only to stumble into a nest of Genestealers. Genestealers that have a few Ork Hybrids in their midst. Figuring out that the Genestealers master plan is to use the orks to wage war on Serendipity, while they themselves infiltrate things quietly, Cain makes the spontaneous decision to get the orks and Genestealers to fight each other. He is successful at pulling off this feat but only narrowly escapes when he and Jurgen find another active CAT. Using these coordinates, the Space Marines are able to teleport Cain and Jurgen back to the Revenant. Much to their relief and shock as the genestealers had them as good as dead. 

The story ends with Cain and Jurgen leaving the Revenant after a week of recovery to meet with the Governor of Serendipita. The war between the Genestealers and Orks is still ongoing and the Reclaimers have called in reinforcements to raid the Spawn of Damnation once the xenos numbers have been sufficiently reduced. Meeting with the governor he found out that Mira was quick to become engaged to him. "...what did you expect? You went gadding off to that drifting mausoleum and let everyone think you dead."  Cain was relieved at this outcome. Indeed, all seemed to be. And we're left with one of the rarest of things, a happy ending in a 40k novel! 

  • Did I like it? I did enjoy it, especially the last 3rd of the book when things really started to get dire. 
  • Was it hard to put down? Honestly, after they Cain left with the marines to go searching for the Spawn of Damnation I really did struggle to stay engaged with it. Less a fault with the story than what I had going on in the real world. However, being hospitalized encouraged me to re-engage and I was glad I did. The Space Hulk part of the story was quite thrilling. 
  • Could I care about the characters? Mitchell has always written these characters well, and the first person methond in which Cain's memoirs are recanted has always been appealing. However the character of Mira was a joy to read, particularly Cain's descriptions of her behavior and character. Mira's character was one I thought wouldn't survive the tale but I was pleased that she did survive and didn't lead to some sort of heart break for Cain. In fact, the relief he had when she got herself engaged to the Governor of Serendipita was very amusing. The Reclaimers Space Marines, whom this story was loosely centered around, were a curious chapter to learn about, but nothing too thrilling was revealed. Cain presented them from the perspective of an outsider looking in, but being part of military he wasn't as an awe of them as others might have been, and he was very respectful of their ways and practices. 
  • Does the writer understand how the 'world' of the 41st millennium works? Very much so, yes. Much of Cain's story was written prior to the 13th Black Crusade retcon and the return of the Primarch and warpstorm rifts of the current setting, and it's interesting to see how they now fit into the current paradigm. That said, Mitchell definitely gets the setting, and it's nice to read a 40k novel with a breath of levity about it. 
  • How predictable is this story? I couldn't predict this one! Not fully anyway, and that made this story very enjoyable. 
  • Do I recommend this book? Yes, But I wouldn't make this your first Cain book. They tend to be presented out of order but that doesn't matter as far as enjoyment goes. Mitchell does a good enough job filling in the back story so that you could make this your first Cain story but I would always recommend to the new reader to at least start with the 1st omnibus Hero of the Imperium. This story is the 3rd omnibus Saviour of the Imperium, but it takes place fairly early in Cain's career.


No comments: