Tuesday, 21 July 2009
‘Cadian Blood’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)
Without any warning, an Imperial Shrine World is blighted by Chaos and falls victim to the Curse of Unbelief; a plague that kills it’s victims but will not allow them to truly die. The massed ranks of the Imperial Guard are charged with reclaiming the Shrine World (Kathur) and scourging Chaos from its streets and temples but this campaign is set to become much more than a pitched battle against the undead. Captain Parmenion Thade is a veteran of many wars, in the Emperor’s name, but even his tactical knowledge won’t pinpoint the reason for Kathur’s fall until it is far too late. Understandable really, when it has been hidden out of site and mind for the last ten thousand years...
I’ve mentioned before that, when reading Warhammer 40,000 fiction, that I’ll take an Imperial Guard book over a Space Marine novel every time. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Space Marine books that I’ve read (I’m reading Nick Kyme’s ‘Salamander’ right now and it’s shaping up to be very good indeed) but the more vulnerable Imperial Guard make for more interesting reading than their practically invincible counterparts. War in the fortieth millennium gets a lot more up close and personal when you’re wearing a simple flak jacket instead of power armour!
Add zombies to the mix (courtesy of the Plague God Nurgle) and you’ve got a book that I was literally champing at the bit to read when I first heard about it. As it turned out, there weren’t as many zombies as I would like to have seen (there were a couple of billion of them on the planet and we got to meet maybe a few hundred of those, bring on all the zombies I say!) but I can’t hold this against ‘Cadian Blood’ as it turned out to be an amazing read...
Right from the very start, I was sucked into the graphic descriptions of a world in its death throes and the valiant efforts of the Imperial Guard to reclaim it. Dembski-Bowden keeps things tense by isolating the reader from the wider picture and focussing on either what’s right in front of a character or garbled bursts of static filled communication over the vox network. You don’t know what is round the corner until you make that step yourself.
Once you’ve made that step, Dembski-Bowden isn’t stingy in his descriptions of just what fighting your way through a plague racked city actually means. At the same time, he doesn’t stint on the amount of firepower that is brought to bear on the ranks of the undead and the end results are some truly epic battles where the courageous qualities of the Imperial Guard are in no doubt as they constantly fight against the odds. All of this isn’t just happening on the ground either; it’s also taking place on a far greater scale in space where Dembski-Bowden scatters individual tales of heroism amongst a conflict between two mighty fleets. It’s really stirring stuff!
On top of all this; the plot for ‘Cadian Blood’ is one that kept me hooked with its daring strikes, harrowing reverses and last ditch stands. The underlying mystery of the plague is also played out very well, especially when the stakes suddenly get a lot higher without any explanation. The uncertainty around this combines well with the hard reality of constantly fighting off zombies to drive the plot along at a decent rate.
I found some of the characters a little too one dimensional to be completely engaging (the Lord General who’s there to be ‘the guy who directs the war without getting his hands dirty’, he doesn’t understand his men and he doesn’t do a lot else) but Dembski-Bowden gets it spot on with the men who are right in the front line. They may be scared, they may well be borderline insane, but this is balanced out with the desire to get the job done and get back to where they feel they should be fighting. These are guys that I really found myself caring about and genuinely felt a little sad when the worst happened to them.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I really enjoyed ‘Cadian Blood’. If you’re a fan of military sci-fi or Warhammer 40K in general then I think you’ll enjoy this too. Check it out!
Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten