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Literature: Ciaphas Cain

"If I had only known what was waiting for me, I would've [insert cowardly and/or self-deprecating action here]."

COMMISSAR CIAPHAS CAIN, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!! is the protagonist of a series of novels by Sandy Mitchell, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Where Gaunt's Ghosts is Sharpe meets 40K, Ciaphas Cain is something between Blackadder and Flashman in the gothic SF world of 40K. Taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to the normally absurdly Grim And Dark 40K universe, the series follows the exploits of a cowardly, self-hating Commissar, in charge of morale and discipline in the Imperium's army, who has managed to not only survive the front lines of the ultimate World Half Empty, but prosper. Over the course of the series, Cain becomes a massively acclaimed Hero of the Imperium, partly through opportunism, skill and minor heroism, but mostly through sheer blind luck. Sent to progressively more insanely dangerous warzones as his reputation grows, Cain actually wants nothing more than to find a quiet place to hide from the fighting.

In short, he's the type of person guys in his profession are supposed to shoot.

That is, if you believe him. The author himself has stated that even he doesn't know whether Cain is actually the Dirty Coward he presents himself as, or just doesn't give himself enough credit.

The novels are presented as sections of Cain's private memoirs, organized, edited, and footnoted by Inquisitor Amberley Vail, Cain's occasional liaison both professionally note  and personally.

Also has a shout out page.

Nine novels and five short stories have so far been published:

     The novels 
  • For The Emperor details Cain's adventures in creating a functional regiment, the 597th Valhallan, out of the remains of two former regiments that were savaged by Tyranids; his first deployment with that regiment, to the world of Gravalax which the Tau are attempting to steal; and his first association with Inquisitor Vail, who has discovered something very useful in Cain's aide, Jurgen, and wants to use the both of them against someone (Tyranid genestealers) who is playing the humans and the tau against each other...
  • Caves of Ice concerns the 597th's deployment to an iceworld under siege by Orks... and populated curiously by desert creatures. Cain has to lead a small squad into the planet's tunnels, finding something (Necrons) he is not exactly prepared for...
  • The Traitor's Hand takes place some years later, with the 597th deployed against a series of Chaos cults. With rebels and insurgents on every hand, Cain must figure out what the Ruinous Powers are planning, as well as deal with an Obstructive Bureaucrat who happens to be the one sort of person he can't simply pull rank on: a fellow commissar...
  • Death Or Glory is essentially a prequel, detailing Cain's first rise to prominence during the Ork invasion of Perlia. Shot down behind enemy lines, he begins gathering up survivors into a makeshift convoy and traveling towards safety. Though he stumbles upon a number of fortuitous circumstances (such as what looks like a clandestine research lab under a dam), he really has only one goal in mind: saving his own skin...
  • Duty Calls picks up with Cain still in the 597th, but carries on from where Death or Glory left off; it forms the middle book of a trilogy. Called to handle a genestealer infestation and associated tyranid hive fleet, Cain finds himself press-ganged by Amberley into helping her search for the people who ran that clandestine research lab. They have taken from it an artifact which could alter the very fate of the galaxy...
  • Cain's Last Stand takes place in the "present day" of Warhammer 40K, after Cain has already retired to Perlia and is teaching at a military academy. Of course, one of the events of WH40K's present day was the 13th Black Crusade, which catches the tiny planet up in its grasp. Abaddon knows about that universe-altering artifact, which has been returned to Perlia, and if Cain can't stop them from getting it, Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies.
  • The Emperor's Finest details Cain's experiences serving with a chapter of Space Marines (the Reclaimers) while clearing out a Space Hulk. It picks up immediately following the events of "Echoes of the Tomb", below.
  • The Last Ditch once again sees Cain fighting alongside the Valhallan 597th to defeat an Orkish uprising on Nusquam Fundamentibus, during the course of which he uncovers something (a long-buried Tyranid bioship) that casts new light on an old foe.
  • The Greater Good has Cain travel to the world of Quadravidia to stop a Tau invasion. But when the Tau call for a cease-fire, Cain gets nervous because he knows that means they need his help against something worse...

     The short stories 

  • "Fight or Flight" was the original story starring Cain, from which all other works sprouted. In it, Cain first joins the Valhallan 12th Field Artillery, a nice, safe assignment where he can hide away from anything more offensive than Jurgen's psoriasis. They successfully defeat an Ork infestation, but things go ploin-shaped when there turns out to be a Tyranid splinter fleet right behind them...
  • "Echoes of the Tomb" concerns an event Cain alludes to often: his first experience in a Necron tomb. He's a field adjutant helping agents of the Mechanicus investigate ancient ruins. Guess how it turns out.
  • "The Beguiling" takes place on the planet of Slawkenberg, where Cain runs into a priestess in service of the god Slaanesh. This priestess, Emeli, almost succeeds in seducing him, but Jurgen is able to intercede, and the story ends with the two of them fleeing and calling an artillery strike on their location.
  • "Sector Thirteen" involves Cain investigating a brothel where several of his men got into trouble. What he discovers is that it's actually the center of a genestealer infestation. He and Jurgen now have two priorities: wipe out the genestealer cult, and—more importantly—survive.
  • "Traitor's Gambit" finds Cain on a planetary inspection tour aboard the governor's luxurious yacht... which is immediately commandeered by a group of pro-Tau terrorists. He and Jurgen must find a way to stop the enemy from using it as a Suicide Attacker on the Imperial fleet—while somehow avoiding death themselves.
  • "A Mug of Recaff"/"The Smallest Detail": Trooper Jurgen has watched the heroic Commissar Cain defeat a heretical uprising and wants only to get him a nice mug of recaff. But the heretics aren't quite finished just yet...
  • "Old Soldiers Never Die": A limited release novella. Commissar Cain and the Valhallan 597th deploy to the planet Letonia to help quash a civil insurrection, and quickly find themselves in much more dire straits.
Finally, there is an audio drama, Dead in the Water.

As part of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the series involves a large number of the tropes on that page, as well as employing literary and narrative tropes of its own:

  • Abhorrent Admirer:
    • In a non-romantic example, Cain considers Sulla as this. She, of course, remains completely unaware of what he thinks, and sees him as a mentor.
    • Mira is a downplayed example. Cain is happy to sleep with her, but begins aggressively finding excuses to avoid her company when he realizes that she is hoping to make him her husband. It's not that he'd mind that either, the problem is that she thinks he's given his implicit consent already in no uncertain terms, and thus he'd have a very awkward time explaining to her the fact that it would be plain impossible for him to leave his position to marry.
  • Absolute Cleavage: When Mira introduces herself, she is wearing a stylized outfit resembling a garish military uniform that is cut a little too tight around the chest for her endowmentnote  which she resolves by leaving the top several buttons undone. According to Cain, other items of her wardrobe tend toward being low-cut, so this is something of a stylistic theme with her.
  • Absurdly Dedicated Worker: In Cain's Last Stand, after Warmaster Varan is killed by Cain, his shuttle pilot is found starved to death in his cockpit. Varan's main superpower is psionic brainwashing, and the investigators surmise that he ordered the pilot to wait for further orders and thanks to Cain, could never give him different ones.
  • Absurdly Sharp Claws: The tyranids' form the basis of a minor Running Gag/Noodle Incident where the first time in a book that the 'nids are mentioned, Cain invariably flashes back to a time he saw genestealers tear apart Space Marine Terminators like their armor wasn't there. We finally get to see it in The Emperor's Finest.
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Since most cities in Warhammer 40k are so old the undercities have undercities (and many of those have undercities of their own), this trope is somewhat justified.
    • Both Lampshaded and played straight in Death or Glory. When Cain is trapped in a building surrounded by Orks, he remarks that having sewers and storm drains as a convenient escape route whenever he's trapped is not nearly as common as he would have liked.
    • Played straight in For the Emperor when Cain and Vail go into the city sewers to hunt Genestealers.
    • Averted in The Emperor's Finest, when Cain points out to the Astartes Commander that the tunnels running below an enemy artillery unit aren't spacious enough to fit Space Marines.
  • Admiring the Abomination: This is a common failing of Techpriests when it comes to Necrons and their tombs, and the Cain novels are no exception:
    • While searching the mines below a processing plant his unit's guarding, Cain discovers a Necron tomb. The Techpriest who accompanies Cain can't understand why he wants to blow up the tomb's entrance and call in the navy to bomb the place into oblivion. He changes his mind after he's the only survivor of a group of "Cogboys" who entered the tomb; he eventually gleefully helps drown the tomb in promethium.
    • The short story Echoes of the Tomb chronicles Cain's first encounter with the Necrons after a group of Techpriests attempt to salvage what they believe is an inactive tombworld.
  • After-Action Patchup: Used, notably in The Traitor's Hand to stay out of the line of fire.
  • Air-Vent Passageway:
    • Both used and subverted in Cain's Last Stand, where the air vents are exactly the place genestealers like to hide, but Cain takes the fact it works as a sign that the Tyranids aren't the only threat.
    • He also readily uses maintenance hatches after learning of them in Death or Glory (he notes in the short story Traitor's Gambit that he tries to acquire their access codes in advance when possible).
  • Almost Dead Guy
  • Always a Bigger Fish: The resolution of Cain's Last Stand depends on this.
    • Most of the stories go this way- Cain and his unit are summoned to take care of one threat, but then an even BIGGER threat shows up.
      • For The Emperor starts out with tensions between humans and the Tau, with the real threat being genestealers.
      • Caves of Ice has the Orks at the start, with the Necrons as the real threat.
      • Emperor's Finest starts with Genestealers and Tyranids, but Orks also become a very prominent threat. Interestingly, the Tau and the Orks are frequently on the lower end of the threats that Cain faces, and are often used as the "Set-up" villains.
      • The Last Ditch starts with Orks, but shifts to Tyranids.
      • The Greater Good has Tau forces at first before shifting to Tyranids (again).
  • Anachronic Order: The first three books are in chronological order, the fourth is a prequel, the fifth takes place between books two and three, the sixth takes place in the WH40K universe's "present day" long after the events of the rest (although the last three all focus on his part in a single larger story), the seventh takes place between book four and book one, and the eighth (Which notably involves his second campaign on a specific world when the story of his first trip there has yet to be published) takes place after the third, but still half a century before the sixth, and the ninth taking place less than a decade before the sixth. The short stories are in equally random order, with two taking place before book four (Including Cain's first act of alleged heroism), one taking place somewhere between books four and seven, one taking place immediately before book seven, and one taking place roughly a decade before book six. In-story, the Cain Archive Amberley is editing the stories from is described by her as "consisting merely of a single dataslate, stuffed full of files arranged with a cavalier disregard for chronology, and to no scheme of indexing that I've been able to determine despite prolonged examination of the contents." Also, the editing and release of Cain's memoirs is done at Vail's sole discretion, such as expanding upon Plot Holes in previous books (Duty Calls was used to resolve a dangling plotline in Death or Glory).
  • Apocalypse Wow: Cain's Necron tomb-killing promethium bomb in Caves of Ice is powerful enough to launch debris into orbit, where it buffets his fleeing troop ship. That would probably manage to squeak onto the Class 0 minimum requirements were the planet reasonably civilized beyond the sole refinery (which was consumed in the blast entirely).
  • Armour Is Useless: Averted. Cain takes to wearing carapace armor under his coat from For The Emperor onwards, which helps on several occasions. Armor has also saved some others' lives.
    • Played straight with the Reclaimers and genestealers in The Emperor's Finest. It's a longstanding truth in the 40K universe that genestealer claws can punch through just about anything.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "When did you last have an augmetic upgrade?" turns out to be one for Magos Kildhar in The Greater Good. It makes her realize that she's been the Manchurian Agent all along.
  • Artistic License - Ships:
    • Cain describes the Indestructible as an Armageddon-class battlecruiser in the beginning of The Traitor's Hand; a different work quoted in the book calls it a cruiser. This could be for a number of reasons (Armageddons are typically converted Lunar-class cruisers, or Cain's professed lack of interest in the navy). Or "cruiser" could just be short for "battlecruiser".
    • Cain and a few other characters mistakenly thinking that any ship used by Space Marines is called a Battle Barge, as opposed to a distinct class.
    • Cain is amazed at the size of a Space Hulk based on how small the ships he recognizes are in comparison to the whole, comparing it to a small moon. Amberley states that the hulk in question is only 4 or 5 kilometers across in any direction, which she describes as "quite big enough", being so big that an entire fleet anticipates taking months to destroy it. The problem is that in this setting an escort ship is from .8 to 1.5 kilometers long, and a standard cruiser is more than 5 kilometers in length (though this varies by game edition and writer). The hulk is referred to as containing battleships, any one of which would be twice the size as that given for the entire object.
  • Ascended Meme: The cover of Traitor's Hand certainly seems familiar...
  • As the Good Book Says: Cain disdains "Emperor-botherers," but he does have some fondness for The Precepts of Saint Emelia and quotes it a few times throughout the series.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Cain survives three distinct assassination attempts in Duty Calls.
  • Asymmetric Dilemma: While fighting a Mawloc in The Last Ditch, Cain worries at length about the prospect of being digested to death, prompting a footnote from Amberley about how he'd die of physical trauma or suffocation first. She admits that it's not as reassuring as she'd meant it to be.
    • Later in the same book, Cain marvels at a pile of demo charges that could take down an Ork Gargant. Jurgen agrees if the Orks had a Gargant... and if the Tyranids hadn't eaten all the Orks.
  • The Atoner: The Battle Sisters in Duty Calls.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: The Battle Sisters in Duty Calls, until Cain reminds them of other duties. Also, orks, tyranids, necrons, and Khornates.
    • One of Cain's (and the Valhallan 597'th's) strengths is recognizing that while yes, the Imperium does encourage the guards to attack and never stop, it's usually more effective to use actual tactics against foes. This is pointed out in The Last Ditch, when another Commissar points out that the 597th isn't "doing their duty to the Emperor," by charging and attacking as hard as they can, officers of the 597th point out that by not following this trope, they've killed twice the enemies that the locals have and with a third of the casualties.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Exploited by Cain in Duty Calls when he realizes that the Battle Sisters are about to be overrun by Tyranids, which would have the effect of causing the entire defensive line to fold. He doesn't know who's in charge, so he picks the group of Sisters that have racked up the highest body count. He chooses correctly, as it turns out.
  • Back from the Dead: Emeli.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: The cover art of The Greater Good has Cain doing this with a Tau Fire Warrior Atop A Pile of Tyranid Corpses. Of course, as is usual for this series, nothing like this ever actually happens in the book.
  • Badass Army: The Valhallan 597th. There are only three thousand of them, and command frequently sends them as the only response to planetary invasions. In contrast with typical portrayals of Valhallans as employers of Zerg Rush tactics straight out of the worst months of the Great Patriotic War, the 597th are a highly experienced, highly trained, and highly modernized mechanized infantry fighting force.
  • Badass Back: At one point in The Traitor's Hand, Cain attempts to elbow a cultist behind him, then switches to stabbing his chainsword under his arm into the cultist's chest.
  • Badass Grandpa:
    • Cain himself in Cain's Last Stand. Even at more than a century of age and well into his ostensible retirement, Cain is still quite capable of handing asses back to their owners. It also helps that thanks to juvenat treatments, he is physically the equivalent of an extremely fit 50-something man, including in appearance.
    • Also Jurgen during the same time period. While his appearance hasn't been preserved as well as Cain's (it's one thing for a Hero of the Imperium to receive regular juvenat treatments, but Jurgen has to have his surreptitiously arranged by Amberley) he's still just as stoically dependable as he was on the day Cain first met him.
  • Badass Longcoat:
    • Like the sash and cap, this is a standard part of Cain's uniform.
    • The 597th Valhallan Regiment, since they're native iceworlders.
      • Cain Lampshades the irony of the Valhallans being known so well for their characteristic greatcoats, considering that many of them forgo wearing that part of their uniform most of the time in the field. While such a coat is essential in an arctic environment like their homeworld, most of their deployments are to warmer locations, where such a coat is unnecessary and very uncomfortably hot for the cold-adapted Valhallans.
  • Badass Normal:
    • Cain has faced down Chaos Space Marines; Genestealer Patriachs and Tyrants; and Ork Warbosses in single combat.
    • The Guard, and sometimes the PDF, even though Cain usually regards the latter as nothing more than a joke.
  • Bad Dreams: Cain is plagued by these; Amberley comments that Cain often awakens in the middle of the night from them.
  • Battle Chant: In The Traitor's Hand there's a parody of this with the Khornites' catchphrase by having someone (mainly Cain) snark back at them whenever they show up (e.g. "Harriers for the Cup!", "Well, he can't have mine" "I'm getting really sick of hearing that").
  • Battle Couple: Several examples:
    • Cain and Amberley.
    • Cain and Felicia to a lesser extent.
    • Cain and Mira.
    • Grifen and Magot.
    • Velade and Holenbi, Imperial Guardsmen from the first novel. This actually dooms them—the Genestealers infect them, specifically because they're in love. Any offspring would have eventually subverted the regiment and any places the regiment visited generations down, and when Ciaphas finds them showing signs of Genestealer infection, he puts a bolt in both their brains.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Cain says in The Emperor's Finest that the surest way to bluff your way through a conversation is to act like you already know what you're talking about and be just vague enough that the other person hears what he or she wants to hear. He demonstrates this spectacularly in Duty Calls by bluffing his way into a rogue Inquisitor's hideout.
    • The specific incident in The Emperor's Finest that Cain mentions this about involves, incredibly, marriage. To the heir to a planetary governor, of all people. It takes him days to figure out what he's agreed to.
  • Be All My Sins Remembered: Played with.
    • On the surface, the series is essentially one massive confession on Cain's part that he does not deserve the title of "Hero of the Imperium" with which he has been immortalized.
    • The trope becomes subverted when you read carefully; more than once, Cain has done something heroic without thinking about it. Through most of the series, he appears totally selfish, but if something needs to be done, then it needs to be done. A specific example is when he jumps to save Amberley in Pererimunda and later reasons that he only did it because the pilot wouldn't have left without her, but one can see that he jumped first and rationalized later. This not only happens with Amberley, but also on other occasions, such as the time he sets the explosives in Nusquam Fundumentibus. He's pretty much sacrificing his own life to take out the tyranid infestation, but he survives thanks to some fast reasoning and Jurgen's proper use of a Chimera to escape through tunnels previously dug by their enemies.
    • As noted above, Word of God tells us that not even the author has defined if Cain is really a hero or not. Sometimes he's written Cain as entirely worthy of the title of "Hero of the Imperium", sometimes not.
  • Bearer of Bad News
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Cain and Mira.
  • Beneath the Earth: Cain often ends up in these types of environments. He's also the perfect man for the job with his "tunnel senses," much to his discomfort. Amberley notes that while he often claims to be from a Hive World, she can't find any record of such a thing. Of course, this being the Imperium of "lose a planet because of rounding errors," that's not so far-fetched.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Commissar Donal.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Mira is described as having inherited a slight tendency toward plumpness from her father. She apparently carries that weight quite well.
  • Big Bulky Bomb: Multiple instances:
    • In typical 40K fashion, Cain improvises an over-the-top one of these using an entire refinery's worth of promethium to blow up a Necron tomb. The resulting explosion is felt from orbit.
    • He pulls another stunt like this on Nusquam Fundamentibus, where he essentially triggers a volcanic eruption to kill a buried Tyranid bioship before it can summon more of its kind.
  • Big Dam Plot: Cain destroys a dam to escape an Ork army in Death Or Glory. He later rigs another one (its replacement) in Cain's Last Stand, but it fails when Necrons arrive to claim the Shadowlight and jam the detonation signal.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Cain, Jurgen, and Amberley do this. A lot. Also, Captain Detoi and his troopers pull this off in Traitor's Hand, as do the surviving Reclaimers in The Emperor's Finest (sort of).
  • Black Comedy
  • Blasé Boast: Cain does this a lot. He makes sure to remind the reader that he only does it to seem like a Humble Hero.
  • Blind Obedience: Jurgen towards Cain, who thankfully doesn't abuse it.
  • Bling Bling Bang: Amberley's power armor is gilded so much it looks like it's made entirely of gold from distance.
  • Blood Knight: Lieutenant Sulla is either laudably eager to destroy the enemies of the Emperor, or a borderline Leeroy Jenkins, depending on whom you ask. Cain definitely leans toward the latter view, but her eventual promotion to general officer rank, and more significantly her troops' high morale and confidence in her abilities, suggests that the former is more accurate.
    • And the casualty rates in her units (which are the highest in the regiment) suggest the latter.
    • Magot, in one instance, led her subordinates into a melee charge at Khornate cultists. And slaughtered them, without taking any casualties.
  • Boarding Pod: In The Emperor's Finest Cain and Jurgen have to help repel ork boarders on the Reclaimers Strike Cruiser Revenant, who repeatedly Zerg Rush the ship with these. The Space Marines use their Thunderhawk dropships as a fighter screen but some get through.
  • Boarding School: Cain makes the Schola Progenium seem less like a badass Military School and more like Tom Browns Schooldays, complete with "scrumball practice".
    • The scrumball is Truth in Television; participation in sports is actually mandatory in many present-day military academies.
  • Boring, but Practical: Cain reflects in The Last Ditch that many commissars favor bolt pistols as sidearms for their well-known loud and messy effects, adding to their intimidation factor. Cain contrasts this with his humble laspistol, which while not as impressive, is something he rarely has to worry about running out of shots for at an inopportune moment, making it better suited for keeping him alive in the field than an ammunition-dependent projectile weapon might be.
    • Though it should be noted, the 597th's Colonel Regina Kasteen prefers a bolt pistol and is quite proficient with it.
  • Brains and Brawn: Played with. Cain is undoubtedly more clever than Jurgen, while Jurgen is much stronger than Cain. However, Cain's such an excellent swordsman that Jurgen can't even compare. Cain is able to best a Chaos Marine (well, more like "barely fend him off while making it look easy", mostly by taunting said marine) in melee, an Ork Warboss (by shooting him in the face) and loads of pureblood tyranid genestealers (still in a very probable way), which results in Cain actually doing all the melee fighting, while Jurgen dispatches distracted enemies with heavy weaponry. And while Jurgen may be Book Dumb, he's certainly a talented scrounger.
    • Also, Cain is an amazing shot with a laspistol from the hip, while Jurgen is a much better sniper.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Amberley's comment about marshmallows and meltaguns became a running gag that appeared in the first three books.
    • In Caves of Ice, Scrivener Quintus, in his idiosyncratic minutes of a meeting to assess the Ork threat on the refinery, offhandedly mentions that Broklaw fired his bolt pistol into the air to call the meeting to order. Later on, when Cain arrives after learning of the Necrons, he gets freaked out at the large blast hole in the ceiling, which Broklaw refers to like an inside joke.
  • The Brigadier: Lord General Zyvan.
  • Bring News Back
  • Bug War: For the Emperor, Duty Calls, The Last Ditch and the short stories Fight or Flight and Sector Thirteen are all campaigns against Tyranids and/or their Genestealer infiltrators. Cain's Last Stand starts with fighting against Tyranids. The Greater Good features them as a Bigger Bad.
  • Bullethole Door: Jurgen's melta (a weapon designed to shoot through armored tanks) comes in handy for these.
  • Bury Your Gays: Inverted. The implied lesbian couple in Caves of Ice are the only Red Shirts who survive nigh-certain death going through the titular caves as well as a Necron tomb. They do quite well afterward and are recurring minor characters in later books.
    • In fact, it's strongly suggested that it's specifically because of their love for each other that they make it through all of the various horrors they face.
  • Butt Monkey: Penlan, aka "Jinxie". It hasn't killed her yet. She's even been promoted. Additionally, she's rather popular with the regiment, as it's believed that all the bad luck in her squad gets attracted to her and leaves everyone else alone.
    Cain: But she's not nearly as accident prone as she's supposed to be. I'll grant you she fell down an ambull tunnel once, and there was that incident with the frag grenade and the latrine trench, but things tend to work out for her. The orks on Kastafore were as surprised as she was when the floor in the factory collapsed, and we'd have walked right into that hrud ambush on Skweki if she hadn't triggered the mine by chucking an empty food tin away...
    • When you think about it, this basically makes her the rank and file version of Cain, considering how often the latter manages to bumble into trouble just to bumble right out again through dumb luck. He just has better PR.
  • Buxom Is Better: Evidently, the Warhammer 40000 universe as told by Sandy Mitchell. Considering the main game has few women that aren't evil, monstrous succubi, or generally (facially) unattractive nuns, some might gain a new appreciation for the setting after reading his novels.
  • Call a Human a "Meatbag": At one point in Caves of Ice, the techpriest Logash (angry at being denied the chance to investigate a Necron tomb) bitterly refers to "Typical meatbag behavior". Given the massive Shout-Out quotient of the series, this is likely a callout to the Trope Codifier. Notably, throughout both the series and 40K in general, regular humans call techpriests "cogboys".
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp":
    • Inherited from the game's setting, mostly. See ShoutOut.Ciaphas Cain for the best examples.
    • A particularly interesting case occurs in regard to the alcoholic drink amasec, as there are two different "rabbits" in different parts of the galaxy. In the Cain series, it is fairly clearly whisky, explicitly mentioned as derived from grain. In the Calixis Sector, the word instead refers to a fruit-derived brandy. Although given that the galaxy is extremely large with literally tens of thousands of inhabited worlds, and how similar words can have wildly different meanings even on our own single world, some language drift is understandable.
  • Call Back: In Cain's Last Stand, Cain suspects that in addition to the ongoing Chaos invasion of Perlia, there are necrons floating around. Sister Julien doesn't quite get why this is a very bad thing until he refers to the 3rd Edition necron fluff where they killed the entirety of Adepta Sororitas Sanctuary 101.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • Cain is basically George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman IN SPACE!!!, except he never crosses the line from lovable scoundrel to outright villain like Flashman does. Cain may be a womanizer, but it's always consensual.
    • Gunner Jurgen is probably based on another George MacDonald Fraser character, Private McAuslan, AKA the Dirtiest Soldier in the British Army. Like McAuslan, Jurgen is ugly and exudes an aroma that causes revulsion in everyone he meets—unlike McAuslan, he is a highly competent soldier, though he isn't terribly bright (yet amazingly good at planning ahead).
    • Cain has also been compared to Blackadder (particularly the Blackadder Goes Forth iteration), with Jurgen likewise being compared to Baldrick. Albeit versions in which the latter is actually competent and the former actually successful.
    • Warmaster Varan is in many ways an Ersatz of Adolf Hitler, right down to the mustache, arm gestures, and speeches. Granted, he's an insecure, psychically-empowered mutant Ersatz, although this isn't revealed until late in the book. Amusingly, none of the Imperial forces are terribly impressed by his rhetoric, and Varan depends heavily upon his psychic ability to enthrall anyone he can speak with or has a line of sight to.
    • Ariott, a minor character in Death or Glory, is an Ersatz of James Herriott, of all people, being a veterinarian and later writing an autobiography called All Lifeforms Large and Small.
  • Captain Obvious: In The Beguiling
    Cain: No wonder they made [Mulenz] an observer, I thought, nothing gets past this guy.
  • Car Fu:
    • One of Jurgen's specialties.
    • Magot also once ran over a Tyranid Lictor with a Chimera.
      "Nice driving, Magot."
      "You're welcome, commissar," the familiar cheerful tones of one of my perennial discipline problems assured me, before taking on a faintly puzzled air. "How did you know it was me?"
      "Lucky guess," I told her.
  • Cassandra Truth: Cain does it to himself in Cain's Last Stand, continuously reassuring himself (despite recurring nightmares and overwhelming lack of evidence) that there are no Necrons on Perlia. Guess who shows up at the very end?
  • Casual Danger Dialog: Kolbe, the Arbites praetor of Adumbria in The Traitor's Hand, calls Cain's commbead in the middle of a Khornate cultist invasion to tell Cain something, then before he can say it, tells Cain to hold on a second.
    He was interrupted by a burst of incoherent screaming which sounded like the warcry of a Khornate fanatic and which terminated abruptly in a thud of a power maul on full charge and a gurgle that sounded distinctly unhealthy. "Well he's not getting mine ... Sorry commissar, where were we?"
  • The Cavalry: Multiple instances in multiple books, but special mention has to go to the Death Korps troopers who rescue Cain from Tyranids in The Greater Good — they're literal cavalry, complete with horses and lances.
  • Catch Phrase: Cain has a few.
    • He enough says that someone did something "neat as you please."
    • Due to his pessimism, he often says, "my earlier assessment of the situation turned out to be an exaggeration and was on the pessimistic side, but not by as much as I would have hoped."
    • He'll often say "the coin dropped" when he puts the pieces together and has a Eureka Moment.
    • If he thinks something is likely, his narration will say "It's credits to carrots."
  • Changing of the Guard: Subverted. Young Donal in Cain's Last Stand is in many ways a dead ringer for a younger Ciaphas, and Ciaphas knows himself well enough to be watching the young cadet. As Cain's essentially upon his last great adventure, the reader might expect Donal to survive and take up the reins as a Generation Xerox. Unfortunately, Donal is badly wounded and attempts a You Shall Not Pass moment, but is captured and mentally enslaved. Cain and Jurgen rescue him, but they are forced to test the extent of Warmaster Varan's mental domination, and when Donal feels himself slipping again he commits suicide.
  • The Chains of Commanding
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Jurgen's status as a "blank" is a significant factor at the end of For the Emperor, and throughout the rest of the books it often saves Cain's life in certain circumstances. In Duty Calls, it serves as a seal protecting Jurgen from being harmed by a Chaos Artifact of Doom when he picks it up—an artifact which ends up killing the rogue Inquisitor as he makes his getaway once he leaves Jurgen's area of effect. In Cain's Last Stand, Cain again uses it to his advantage when he confronts Warmaster Varan. Jurgen's presence nullifies the power of Varan's Compelling Voice, allowing Cain to wrong-foot and defeat him.
    • When Cain and a small squad go into the Necron tombs to destroy the warp portal in Caves Of Ice, they get confronted by Pariahs. Most Freak Out, but Cain and Jurgen are unaffected due to having an acquired immunity to the psychic effect used by the Pariahs, since it's essentially the same thing as Jurgen's ability.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Whenever Jurgen's melta is brought along, it will probably be needed. (Of course, a melta being a melta, there are plenty of times when it would have come in very handy. It's a very "opportunistic" weapon).
    • In "Traitor's Gambit", Cain finds a tau-made gun and keeps it as evidence of their involvement. It's still at hand when he needs a weapon quickly and his laspistol is not convenient to draw.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Inquisitor Vail, in the first book, is introduced to Cain incognito at the governor's palace. He doesn't discover her true identity until later in the book. The reader, however, should know who she is since her name and Ordos are revealed in the introduction.
    • Warmaster Varan is first mentioned in The Traitor's Hand in one of the chapter opening quotes, those being his last words. It isn't until Cain's Last Stand that those words are spoken by the man himself, although in a slightly different context than their original use would have the reader believe.
      • Gunmen in the case of the PVF fighters of Chilinvale in Cain's Last Stand. The village is mentioned to be the closest to the Valley of Daemons in the book. The book spends a long time on the volunteers there (which were Corporal Manrin, Ex-Imperial Trooper Jaq, 361st Coranian, and teenage girl Franka as well as other unnamed volunteers).note  The trope is seemly subverted when the town is brought up again when Inquisitor Makan pretends to be the man in charge of PVF in Chilinvale, note  only for Cain to indicate that neither him nor Makan seemed to want to call in those PVF. However, when the battle starts, Manrin just happens to lead the Chilinvale PVF to the battle and just so happens to meet Cain during a stealth mission which just so happens to be to the one transport carrying the now mind-controlled Donal. Which wrapped up not one, but TWO instances of Chekhov's gunmen with one event.
    • Inquisitor Malden is quoted on page 47 of the Omnibus: "You'll get more with a kind word and an excruciator than with just a kind word." A psyker named Malden shows up in Traitor's Hand to...extract information from a member of the council of claimants.
  • Children Are Innocent:
    • Even Cain is horrified in Duty Calls by the realization that Killian abandoned children to a Tyranid attack.
    • To a different degree of "innocent", given the setting: Amberley recalls a book from her childhood where she always liked the pictures of burning heretics, and children are taught songs like this:
      "The tracks on the Land Raider crush the heretics, crush the heretics, crush the heretics. The tracks on the Land Raider crush the heretics all day long..."
    • A more conventional example in the aftermath of the fighting in Fidelis in The Emperor's Finest. As Cain and Jurgen head to the starport they pass a group of kids playing in the rubble of a wrecked building, who only break from their game to wave and squee at their passing Salamander.
  • Clean Cut: In Duty Calls, Cain manages to score one of these on an assassin using his chainsword.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Ariott is pressed into service as the caravan's medic in Death or Glory. He's actually a vet.
  • Cold Sniper: Sorel, in For The Emperor.
  • Commissar Cap: Standard gear, though Amberley does note that Cain would probably prefer a helmet. It's humorously lampshaded near the beginning of Caves of Ice
    Captain Durant: The one in the fancy hat wants to know if you've wired up his gadgets.
    • Also:
      Cain: "It was a tough call for me to make, but unfortunately that goes with the hat."
  • Compelling Voice: Warmaster Varan can turn anyone to Chaos if they can see and hear him—even Battle Sisters.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: The ultra-religious Tallarns, or at least Asmar and Beije in The Traitor's Hand, call it blasphemy that Cain had his dropship land on part of a monastery because he was in a hurry to get there to save them. The part in question was the vegetable garden. Then they don't even help fix it, unlike Cain's troops.
  • Compromising Memoirs: Cain wrote a set, which we're now reading.
  • Conspicuous Gloves: Cain wears gloves. Technically they're part of his uniform, but they also serve to hide his prosthetic fingers.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Many of them found the death of the Governor of Adumbria dying of apparent natural causes with no named successor a year before the planet was attacked by Chaos forces to be extremely interesting. The fact that there was no evidence of any connection between those two events at the time of the war, and still no evidence of such twenty years later just proved the brilliance of the conspiracy in their eyes.
  • Continuity Drift: In For The Emperor it is mentioned that Cain has seen Astartes reclaim the geneseed after going back on the Space Hulk. However, in The Emperor's Finest he is far too sick from an emergency teleport to actually go back onto the ship, and in fact starts making efforts to get as far away from the hulk as possible.
    • In For the Emperor Cain mentions that he mopped up the Space Hulk with an Imperial Guard unit which also did not appear in The Emperor's Finest; perhaps he returned, however reluctantly, with some support.
    • Amberley does mention that the "Cain Archives" did need heavy editing, and was essentially a single very long document with events placed wildly out of order from one another. Such discrepencies could have their origins there.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • A small blink and you'll miss it one in Duty Calls. When riding in a limousine, Cain notices a small cabinet made of naalwood, and comments that it was probably worth more than the aircraft he rode in on. This is because naalwood only comes from the planet Tanith which was destroyed by Chaos, and so is very rare and very expensive.
      • There is an earlier nod to Gaunt in one of Vail's footnotes. In response to Cain making a comment about how he always gets command of ad hoc units on special duty, she comments that giving commissars command of special task forces is common practice, referencing one commissar who commanded a regiment for some years, though he was given the dual rank of Colonel to ease the paperwork.
    • Commissar Forres hastily retracts an accusation of cowardice in The Last Ditch after she learned that the last time a Commissar insulted Colonel Kasteen, Cain challenged said Commissar to a duel. This was Tomas Beije, towards the end of The Traitor's Hand.
  • Convection Schmonvection: Explicitly invoked and averted. Once Cain claims that a plasma bolt missed by a millimeter. Amberley points out that he would have suffered flash burns that close, so he must have been exaggerating.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Cain is a product of the Schola Progenum, schools which raise and educate the children of people who died serving in the Imperial forces.
  • Cool Teacher: Cain appears to have become one prior to the events of Cain's Last Stand (or at least he claims to be more relaxed, to the irritation of his colleagues).
    • By the time Cain's Last Stand was written though, the latter was forgotten; every named member of the faculty is ultimately shown to be a bit of a Cool Old Guy (or in one case, a Cool Old Nun), at least off duty.
    • Those awesome four are hardly the only teachers in the schola, and Cain does mention that he wouldn't really bother with the rest of the faculty. And even with the above three, he doesn't really give a picture of their teaching styles.
  • Cooperation Gambit: In "For the Emperor", Cain's unit is stationed on a planet that's on the verge of civil war thanks to the Tau attempting to annex it. Neither side wants it to break out (yet), leading to a lot of this. Early on, a Kroot mercenary saves Cain from being beaten to death by Tau sympathisers. Much later, Cain helps a Tau ambassador (who was shot by an assassin) get medical treatment and escorts him back to his compound (even having to order the guardsmen under his command to shoot some loyalist PDF who wanted to lynch the Tau).
  • Cosmic Plaything: Cain repeatedly comments that if the Emperor is actually watching him, He has a sick sense of humor.
  • Consummate Liar: Even before he knew about Jurgen, and afterward when he's not around, Cain was confident in his ability to fool mind readers—mostly by controlling stray thoughts. It is implied that he couldn't have defended himself from an actual investigation and is lucky that his memory has never been scanned before. But then again, Amberley is the first human being in his life whom he cannot fool no matter how he tried, and she's an Inquisitor.
  • Covers Always Lie: Boy, do they; the cover artist deliberately presents Cain in the overblown style of the propaganda posters the character so often ends up on. Thus, the laspistol-wielding, cover-seeking Cain is depicted boldly leading his men, and even dual-wielding bolt pistols while he stands on a pile of enemy dead. Also, none of the covers include the red sash Commissars wear as part of their uniform, and which is a minor plot point in Cain's Last Stand. Cain is also depicted as being hugely muscled, although given his daily chainsword practice regimen and feats with the weapon in-story that's not much of a stretch.
    • Hypotheses aside, one of the few things we do know for sure about Cain's physical appearance is his imposing height—Amberley in one book clearly states that Cain was just under two meters tall and invariably among the tallest in any group of people.
    • The Greater Good is a particularly strong example of this trope. The name and cover art imply that the Tau feature heavily. However, the conflict with the Tau is resolved amicably in the first few chapters due to the oncoming Tyranid threat. Then the Tau and the Imperium retreat their forces to fortify their respective worlds, and the Tau remain in the background for the rest of the novel. One would almost think them a Red Herring left by a Trolling Creator...
      • It does finally answer the question of why Cain always carries a bolt pistol on the covers rather than the las pistol he normally uses. Jurgen acquires a very nice bolt pistol from a dead tech priest and a footnote from Amberly mentions that Cain often used that pistol when posing for propaganda posters.
  • Crapsack World: Oddly enough, despite Cain's dry panic and his constant placement on the hellish frontlines of a hellish universe, his and others' commentary reveals that the Imperium is somewhat less crapsacky than it's normally portrayed: he leads Imperial Guard regiments that aren't used as cannon fodder, the Imperium is (wearily) able to work with FILTHY XENOS to avert civil wars, Cain notes that stereotypical "shoot everyone for heresy" Commissars and Inquisitors do not last very long, and it's stated that on many Imperial worlds, ordinary people do enjoy a standard of living comparable to their counterparts on modern Earth. So while there is the risk of dying horribly at the hands of an invader, it's unlikely.
    • Which makes sense when you realized that the events form the codexes (the main source of Grim Dark) are only the major ones and are often centuries apart.
  • Crazy-Prepared Jurgen always seems to have whatever is needed in those pouches of his.
  • Cricket: It shows up as "grasshopper", apparently named because of the huge leaps players have to take. Just like cricket, the rules are completely arcane to those not native to the world where it's born, and games last insanely long, especially if it's rainy.
  • Crushing Handshake: Cain's augmetic fingers have given him the upper hand (ha ha) at least once in regards to this trope.
  • Cult: There's the usual mess of Chaos cultists. Also, Vail reports a cult that worships Cain as the embodied will of the Emperor and quotes the Book of Cain. Fortunately, Cain never heard of it.
    • Almost certainly picked up from Flashman, where there is a (historically accurate and very funny) scene referencing John Nicholson, a British officer in India in the 1840s who was worshipped as a god by several frontier tribes known as the Nikkulseynites. His response was to flog anyone who mentioned them; Flashman suggests taking up a collection instead.
  • Cyborg: A huge amount of humans and orks have some sort of augmetics, purposes ranging from simply replacing a couple of lost organs and limbsnote  to full-on conversion into a machine (Mechanicus and servitors).
  • Dangerous Deserter: The first book gets some of its tension from whether the penal squad will decide they've got nothing left to lose and become these. Kelp does. No one follows, and he seals his fate when he attacks Cain.
  • Data Pad: The Guard in this series seem to prefer using "dataslates" to parchment. Jurgen's Porn Stash allegedly consists of several.
    • According to Amberley, the entire "Cain Archive" was him putting all his adventures onto a single data pad.
  • Deadly Dodging: Cain making combat servitors fire at each other in Cain's Last Stand.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Cain, in his comments on other characters.
    • Amberley frequently does this in her footnotes and in her comments about some of the non-Cain texts she inserts pages from.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Cain defuses an argument between the Ordo Xenos and the Adeptus Mechanicus over which side caused the security leak that allowed Chaos agents to learn of the Shadowlight by blaming it on the long-dead rogue Inquisitor Killian. While he claims this was just so he could stop the argument and get people working on solving the problem, the logic he uses in naming his scapegoat is fairly plausible.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Now and again, especially when Cain is up against the Tau. Apparently, egalitarianism and open-mindedness freak him out, as you would expect from an Imperial citizen.
      • From the same book, he also seems approving when the Arbites show up to beat the crap out of a handful of troublesome, but otherwise peaceful pro-Tau humans.
      • While subtle, there are a few casual lines thrown in that shows Cain has the typical xenophobic view of the Tau expected from most Imperials. Relatively speaking, he is still very tolerant of them, which can largely be attributed by the overall lack of instances where the Tau have actively tried to kill him. Granted as a well connected Commissar, he might also be privy to the knowledge that the Greater Good is not nice, which could also influence his views of them.
    • Another example in Cain's Last Stand: glancing around the Schola grounds, Cain notes a black-painted truck bearing a load of prisoners for interrogation, execution and live-fire exercises, decides all is well and gets back to work. There's also the line about looking forward to a brisk round of target practice against unarmed demonstrators, but that one was probably a joke.
      • He mentions organizing firing squads very casually as part of his duties in one of the short stories.
    • Cain also appears to believe wholeheartedly in machine spirits and the rituals of the Mechanicus, although he doesn't care much for individual techpriests most of the time. (Given the two Necron tombs they hacked off while he was around that we know of, it's hard to blame him.) Finding a stolen Imperial-made gun mounted on an orkish buggy, he wonders if it will still work now that its spirit "has been corrupted by being forced into servitude". When it does, he reckons it's because it remains loyal to the Emperor.
    • Amberley Vail usually comes across as a fairly reasonable, likeable person. And then she mentions, in Caves of Ice, how she can never hold back a smile when looking at the amusing expressions on the faces of heretics being burned alive in a book from her childhood.
      • She also seems quite pleased (enough to unsettle Cain) in For The Emperor when the Tau seem unaware that their wounded troopers they've just rescued are probably infected by genestealers, and shows no inclination to warn them.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Over the course of the books, Cain defeats several daemons and a few Chaos Space Marines in close combat...with the aid of others, of course. Cain's reputation has gotten such a boost from these feats that the Imperial Guard has even made a drinking song about him kicking Khorne in the balls.
  • Disney Villain Death: Cain kicking Warmaster Varan over a cliff in Cain's Last Stand.
  • Disposable Pilot: Warmaster Varan's (Brainwashed and Crazy, like all his minions) pilot is eventually revealed to have starved to death as he had been told to stay there until Varan's return. After Varan dies and Decapitated Army is noticeably averted, he continues to wait for orders that never come.
  • Divided We Fall: Often uses this argument to get multiple factions to work together, typically because if they fall, so will he.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Varan is a relatively short man with a huge ego, extraordinary charisma, astounding oratory ability, fanatical and twisted followers, and a tiny moustache? Subtle.
  • Door Stopper: These books aren't, unless you buy the omnibus editions, but there are references to books of this type in the stories, most notably the novel Waaaagh! and Peace: The Siege of Perlia and its Neighboring Systems, which was never completed due to the author's untimely death. The 37 volumes which he did complete are an incredibly detailed reference on the first nine weeks of the titular two-year campaign (Which would imply that the complete version that the author intended would have gone on to 428 volumes).
    • The reason for his untimely death? He was crushed under the weight of his own documents.
  • Dressing as the Enemy
  • Driven to Suicide: Shows up twice in Cain's Last Stand:
    • Donal shoots himself when he realizes that he can't overcome Varan's brainwashing.
    • When the brainwashed Battle Sisters acting as Varan's bodyguards have his control over them broken, they collapse into screaming hysterics, then throw themselves off a rooftop.
  • Due to the Dead: In Caves of Ice, when they have to burn a body to keep the orks from realizing they're there, even Cain seems perturbed by it.
  • Dungeon Bypass:
    • Cain is on the receiving end of one of these in The Caves of Ice.
    • Jurgen's melta is frequently used for this.
  • Dying as Yourself: Commissar Donal.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Although we recognize it also depends of his luck.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Actually saves Cain's life in Duty Calls. As he watches Colonel Kasteen walking up some stairs, he happens to see from the corner of his eye a set of servitor skulls flying down from the ceiling to kill him.
  • Egopolis: A town Cain saves in Death or Glory (or more accurately, blows up with an ork army inside) gets rebuilt as "Cainstead." Amberley notes that he found this hilarious.
  • Elite Mooks: The PDF in Cain's Last Stand.
  • Emergency Presidential Address: Played with, as the governor's speech is a complete failure (and not even rehearsed), demonstrating just how out-of-it the governor is (and with a name like Merkin W. Pismire the Younger, take a wild guess who he's supposed to be...).
  • Emotion Bomb: A psyker in Duty Calls uses despair, Slaaneshi cultists spread lust around wherever they are, and Necron pariahs are "shrouded in horror"... over and above the reasonable reaction to Necrons, that is.
  • The Empire
  • Enemy Mine:
    • In For The Emperor, Cain's recon team and a squad of Tau pathfinders briefly team up to scout out the terrorist base. Then they find a Bigger Fish and things get worse. Meanwhile on the surface, a Tau armored vehicle helps the Guard break through a rogue PDF position.
    • The Greater Good also sees the Imperium and the Tau team up, on a larger scale: with the approach of Tyranid hive fleets large enough to destroy multiple worlds from both sides, the two empires agree to stop fighting long enough to stop the bigger problem.
      • Kind of subverted, since Tau expected that the fight against Tyranids would deplete Imperial Fleet of the sector to the level where they will be able to capture dozens of systems without imperial interference.
  • Enemy Civil War: Done with the Tyranids of all things in The Greater Good.
  • Enemy Scan: In The Greater Good Cain is on the receiving end of one of these things. A squadron of Tau battlesuits keeps cornering him, shining a bright targeting light directly on him, which of course he tries to slip away from. In reality, it is not a scan to highlight weakness, but rather to get a clear picture of his face to confirm his identity against the Tau's files on him. They just wanted to talk to him specifically.
  • Ensign Newbie
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Parodied in Duty Calls, where Cain considers Periremundian fashion (and PDF uniforms) so garish that even Slaaneshi cultists would find them in bad taste.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good
  • Exact Words: At the end of Cain's Last Stand, Cain lures Varan to a meeting to discuss "terms of surrender". At the meeting, he announces that it's to discuss the terms on which Varan surrenders. He does it again a few pages later by fulfilling Commissar Donal's final request, killing Varan by putting the boot to his ass.
  • Explosive Decompression: Partially averted in Death or Glory. Lampshaded by Inquisitor Vail in a footnote. However, Cain is noted to be holding his breath. This is not the right thing to do if you wind up in hard vacuum, unless you like having severe lung injuries.
  • Expospeak:
    • Vail's footnotes frequently serve as this.
    • During a briefing in The Traitor's Hand, Cain gives a concise but informative discussion of the Chaos Gods, focusing on Khorne and Slaanesh as their minions are relevant to the story.
  • False Flag Operation
  • Famed in Story
  • Fantastic Racism: Both used and subverted to a degree. Cain says he has trouble thinking of the Tau in For The Emperor as people, and the short story Traitor's Gambit makes his dislike of the Tau even more evident. Equally, he's shocked by (comparatively) friendly Tau behavior, being confused when a kroot saves his life when he is set upon by dissidents who support the Tau presence. Despite this, and remaining suspicious of multiculturalism or alien values, he gets on well enough with two comparatively cooperative Tau soldiers (a Fire Warrior and the aforementioned kroot), doesn't seem to bear most aliens any specific animosity, and almost warns the Tau when they recover two possibly-Genestealer-contaminated soldiers. Note that even feeling any sympathy towards aliens puts him light years ahead of everyone else in the galaxy.
  • Femme Fatale:
    • Inquisitor Vail.
    • Colonel Kasteen to a lesser extent.
  • Fictional Document: The assorted outside sources Vail sources in her footnotes.
  • Field Promotion: Cain hands these out in The Traitor's Hand, Death or Glory, and Cain's Last Stand.
  • Fiery Redhead: Kasteen and Magot.
  • First Book Spoiler: For The Emperor runs on this. The 296/301 Valhallan is merged into the 597th (and are forged into a single force, instead of two mutually antagonistic units) and Kasteen and Broklaw become friends with each other and with Cain, genestealer cults are behind the trouble on Gravalax, Amberley Vail is the inquisitor, Jurgen is a blank...
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The entire Valhallan 597th in general. Kasteen and Broklaw in particular.
  • Fire Keeps It Dead: The series references the Imperial practice of burning ork corpses to prevent re-infestation several times. In ''Death or Glory", Cain is rather confused at how insistent Jurgen is that they burn the corpses of the orks they kill, and the accompanying footnote provides the trope's page quote.
  • First Name Basis
  • Five Rounds Rapid: Used word for word in The Traitor's Hand. Also said—by Cain himself—in For The Emperor when he thought Jurgen's melta would make too big a hole but two hellguns would be just right. Averted in the short story The Beguiling: faced with a daemon, he doesn't bother trying to use a normal gun, instead calling in a full artillery barrage on the location.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: In the novel "For The Emperor" a sniper accompanying the main character shoots the pack of a (already dead) genestealer cultist's flamethrower to create a barrier to cover their escape (although this is justified, since the sniper was armed with a LongLas, which would easily have been able to boil the fuel and make the tank explode). Averted in the novel "Caves of Ice" where a flamethrower equipped guardsman is killed by a bolter to the chest.
  • Flower in Her Hair: Amberley sports one briefly in Duty Calls.
  • Food End: To date, seven out of eight books have ended with a mention of food or drink. The exception is Cain's Last Stand.
  • Footnote Fever: Each book contains about one footnote per five pages. In the foreword to the first omnibus edition, Sandy Mitchell commented that the typesetters were very glad no other Black Library books had such footnotes. (Incidentally, this is another facet picked up from the Flashman books, which are themselves quite well annotated, although those notes are at the end of each book rather than the bottom of the page.)
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Cain alludes to the Bell of Lost Souls tolling for him. Vail assures the reader that it was just a soldier's figure of speech since he couldn't have expected it to ring for him—then.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Cain will live, to write his memoirs. Vail will live, to edit them. Jenit Sulla will live, to poorly write her memoirs (and rise to the highest ranks of the Imperial Guard). Lord General Zyvan will live (at least) long enough to transfer Cain from the 597th to his personal staff, where Cain stays until (at least) three years before his retirement.
    • In the prequel books, Jurgen becomes Cain's aide, he finds necrons in that tomb, Emeli is a Slaaneshi cultist attempting to sacrifice his soul and is promptly killed off, et cetera.
    • There are also minor characters in some of the books whose later memoirs are quoted by Amberley in the same volume, which makes it clear that they survive the book.
  • A Friend in Need: Kasteen and Broklaw, at the end of Traitor's Hand.
  • Friend or Foe
  • Funny Background Event: Amberley's psyker Rakel is present at a Guard briefing in For The Emperor, with the command staff informing Cain of the state of play while steadfastly ignoring her bizarre antics.
  • Gainaxing: A rare written example. On multiple occasions, Cain uses some variation of the word "undulating" to describe Mira in motion.
  • Genki Girl: Of all possible people, Magos Felicia Tayber, an Adeptus Mechanius tech-priestess. note  Whom Cain may or may not have slept with...
  • Geo Effects
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: Amberley confronting Governor Grice at the end of For The Emperor. She was wearing a ring concealing a lethal weapon on it at the time, so it's rather more serious than most examples of the trope.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Amberley Vail's disguise when Cain first met her. Cain desperately tries to insist that she wasn't his type.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Cain explain Chaos cults thusly in Cain's Last Stand:
    Cain: Cultists try to attract the attention of the Ruinous Powers. The lucky ones eventually reach high-end jobs through mundane means, so they can undermine the Imperium's proper working.
    Cadet: And the unlucky ones?
    Cain: They succeed.
  • Go Through Me: Invoked word for word in The Traitor's Hand by Magot, as she moves into a Commissar's line of fire to shield Grifen.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: The heroic exploits of Gunner Jurgen, acknowledged by few and told by none besides Cain himself.
  • Happy Fun Ball: The Shadowlight. The core of it is naught but a slab of dark stone roughly the size of an Imperial data-slate. It's really a psychic power-boosting Artifact of Doom.
  • Hand Cannon: Cain deconstructs the usefulness of the Bolt pistol in The Last Ditch, noting that it uses physical rounds which can be eaten up fairly quickly, while the laspistol he favors can be recharged and by pretty much any means. In addition, he points out that its appeal among Commissars is mostly due to it being loud and flashy. In a footnote, Amberley says that this partly why Orks are attracted to Bolters, but she also notes that a Commissar would take offense to being compared to an Ork.
  • Hard Head: Subverted in Duty Calls, where a minor concussion puts Cain out of commission for three days and enlivens his life with nausea and dizziness after. He plays it up and down according to what looks useful, and other character are anxious to remind him that he does not in fact have a Hard Head.
  • Has a Type: Cain prefers blondes (as he explains to Emeli as he shoots her, before she can mind control and sacrifice him).
  • Heal It With Booze: In Death Or Glory, Cain has a tracker who's helping guide their convoy to safety give his stash of whisky to the vet they've got working as a doctor (both because he's probably running out of antiseptic and because he wants to keep their tracker sober).
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Averted. Cain tells Emeli that he prefers blondes before he shoots her, and later falls for the blonde Amberley. He does admit that he finds Colonel Kasteen, the red-haired colonel of the Valhallan 597th, to be quite attractive, but never follows up on it because of how that would complicate their working relationship. Finally, in The Traitor's Hand, Commissar Tomas Beije seems to be assuming that Cain is having an inappropriate relationship with Corporal Magot, who is also a redhead. He's very wrong; Magot's "preferences ran in an entirely different direction", and Cain "only has room for one lethally dangerous woman in [his] life."
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Techpriest Killian saving Cain in Echoes of the Tomb.
    • Cain clearly views the destruction of his escape pod during a landing where the passengers survived as this, gushing about the autopilot's great valor.
  • Heroic Willpower: What Cain calls his 'survival instinct' looks uncommonly like this when it enables him to throw off Chaos influences or brings him to his feet chainsword humming when death seems inevitable.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jurgen becomes Cain's aide right at the start of his commissarial career and is still his aide over a century later in his retirement. Cain considers Jurgen the only person he's ever truly trusted.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Beije brings in a squad of Tallarns to bring Cain in on charges of treason, incompetence and cowardice. All it does is let the Tallarns see firsthand exactly why Commissar Ciaphas Cain is a HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: Frequent references to things "going ploin-shaped" (as opposed to "pear-shaped," a British idiom interchangeable with "going to hell in a handbasket," "brown trousers time,", and most importantly, "OH SHI—"). Amusingly, he also uses "Emperor's bowels" for that last one.
  • Hollywood History: A rare in-universe example, in Cain's Last Stand we find out that the way Cain's first fight on Perlia is remembered sixty years later is a heavily romanticized account. The main element of this is the idea that his force was mostly armed civilians, when they were actually a small group among many more professional soldiers. Another example from Perlia involves the new governor heroically defending her hunting cabin from an attack, ignoring the squad of stormtroopers that were assigned to guard her and did all the fighting. And of course, Jurgen is not mentioned in any of the histories Cain is featured in. (Amberley notes that, with the best will in the world, Jurgen isn't the sort of person you want to include in a heroic legend.)
  • Hollywood Tactics: The fresh-out-of-the-schola Commissar Forres seems more concerned with driving troops to show their valor and be willing to sacrifice themselves for the Emperor than actual efficient strategy. Kasteen calls her out on this, pointing out that using actual tactics tends to result in higher damage inflicted on the enemy while incurring fewer casualties, which in the long run counts more than just trying to show off one's courage.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: So common among the Imperium's holographic projectors that Cain rarely bothers to mention it, assuming that the reader already expects that. When he goes to a briefing hosted by the Tau in The Greater Good, he points out that they avert this fairly strongly. He actually finds the high visual fidelity of Tau holograms a little distracting.
  • Human Shield: Cain's professed motive for saving many people is that they will be between him and the guns. This is subverted in Cain's Last Stand, where he thinks that everyone between him and Varan is one more person for Varan to turn against him.
  • Humiliation Conga: Poor, poor Commissar Beije. First, he comes to arrest Cain for cowardice and desertion, only to find out Cain has his hands trying to prevent a daemonic summoning. Then a (male) cultist kisses him as he tries to interrogate him. Then it turns out Cain was right, and is perfectly willing to talk back to a Greater Daemon. Then Cain defeats the daemon (Beije getting attacked in the process), earning the admiration and respect of the Emperor-botherers Beije had brought with him, undermining his authority further. Then, once Cain is put on trial, the jury not only clears Cain of all charges, but starts looking into charges of incompetence for Beije. And when they're out of the courtroom, Cain reminds Beije that they still have a duel to fight (Beije having referred to Kasteen as a "petticoat colonel"), so Beije is forced to hastily apologize to her. And finally (assuming he wasn't executed or transferred elsewhere), the Tallarns he was with have started a splinter cult worshipping Cain as the Emperor's will made manifest.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Anything Beije says, ever.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: In The Emperor's Finest Cain manages to get permission to use an Astartes training chapel to practice his weapon drills in (mostly to get away from a very socially awkward situation) and the tech-marine practicing there volunteers to spar with Cain. Cain senses that the tech-marine is just humoring him after easily deflecting a few of his strikes, so Cain starts downplaying his own abilities, and intentionally fighting poorly. He then steps up his game suddenly, bypassing the tech-marine's defenses and taking a chip out of his armor with the teeth of his chainsword. The tech-marine is both surprised and impressed, and decides to not repair the chip in his armor so as to leave it as a reminder not to underestimate his opponents.
  • I Can Still Fight: Used by Cain after he suffers any apparent injury. Though subverted, because he knows that it will trigger admiration and sympathy in others, who will encourage him to take it easy for a while, which he will grudgingly go along with while inwardly reflecting that he just manipulated them into letting him stay out of danger without losing face. Of course, these novels being what they are, the universe contrives to put him in even more danger anyway.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: In The Last Ditch, "Jinxie" Penlan accidentally discharges her lasgun while using its buttstock to try to unjam another weapon. Fortunately it hits an ork (which then crashes its flier into the middle of a swarm of orks), so it works out for her in her typical fashion.
  • "I Know What We Can Do" Cut: At the climax of Cain's Last Stand. Cain tells them what they can do, tells us that they opposed it, but does not tell the reader until he actually does it: he calls up Varan and proposes a meeting to discuss surrender terms. Specifically, terms for Varan's surrender.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Between Cain and Drumon, a Reclaimers Techmarine.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Between the Valhallans and the Tallarns in The Traitor's Hand, of which Cain's rivalry with Commissar Beije is partly a microcosm. The Tallarns are Holier Than Thou male chauvinists from a desert world, the Valhallans are a pragmatic mixed regiment from an ice world. Yeah, they don't get along.
  • Invisibility Flicker: Saves Cain's life in Duty Calls.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: In For The Emperor, Cain needs to win over the members of a tribunal in a case, and goes over how to do so.
    Ciaphas Cain: Bribery and threats are always popular, but generally to be avoided, especially if you're likely to attract inquisitorial attention as they're better at both and tend to resent other people resorting to their methods.
    Editor's Note: This is, of course, entirely untrue. As His Divine Majesty's most faithful servants, we're most definitely above such petty emotions as resentment.
  • I Thought Everyone Could Do That: Cain briefly forgets that not everyone has his tunnel instincts in an early book.
  • I Meant to Do That:
    • Most notably in Fight or Flight.
    • The melee fight at the end of Death or Glory.
    • A number of Cain's achievements involve things turning out better than expected for him, and then not correcting people who believe that he planned it that way.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: The Big Bad of Duty Calls says so to Cain.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: Mira owned a dress that was only held up by static cling. In Amberley's footnotes, she said that she used to own one of those, but it was wrecked in a firefight. She never bothered to replace it, because the few places you could hide a gun in a dress like that were rather uncomfortable.
  • Impossible Task: as others have pointed out, Cain's Last Stand shows that Cain has reached a state almost mythically impossible in the 40K universe: he reaches retirement. Cain will have you know that this has been his objective all these years.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Lampshaded and subverted in the first novel, where Vail accuses Cain of "showing off" when he scores a headshot on an enemy Mook with his laspistol. He goes on to reveal that he was aiming for a torso shot and fired right when his target had ducked. However, Vail reveals in a footnote that Cain does possess an uncanny accuracy with a laspistol when firing at long-distance targets. He often attributes this to his augmetic fingers, but no other character with augmetics seems to share this skill.
    • Amberley further addresses Cain's attribution of this to his augmetic fingers in a footnote, pointing out that the shaking is caused by heartbeat rather than the fingers themselves. She conjectures that his belief that his augmetic fingers give him better weapon handling is more psychological than physical. Of course, shortly after getting those fingers he did most of his laspistol practicing in an Astartes training chapel, a rare honor which had a strong positive effect on his self-confidence.
    • In The Emperor's Finest he has Jurgen take a shot at a fuel tank which was too far for him to hit himself. Jurgen has to try a few times, but then it's revealed he actually aimed for (and hit!) the much smaller release valve, having assumed that was what Cain meant.
  • Indestructible Edible: Imperial ration bars: unknown composition, palatable only to the desperately starving, capable of surviving some forms of Exterminatus, and "tasting reassuringly like nothing that you could identify."
  • Indy Ploy: Cain pretty much makes everything up as he goes along, though he does try to plan to avoid getting into firefights and occasionally actually has a plan beyond "Get out alive", even if it rarely actually works out that way.
  • Inherently Funny Words: Plays a few Ork words for laughs, like "zogoff". Amberley occasionally provides translations that give a much more sophisticated explanation to the words than the Orks probably could articulate:
    "An orkish word, which translates roughly as 'go away', but which may also mean, 'leave it alone', or 'I doubt your veracity', according to context."
    • She also translates an Ork ship named "'Ard 'Nuff" as "Battle-Ready." A more literal translation would simply be "Hard Enough."
  • In Its Hour of Need
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Rakel the psyker is too crazy for ideas like modesty, and her attire is repeatedly described as inappropriately revealing. Most characters find the crazy too disturbing to appreciate it.
  • Insult Backfire: The Guardsmen characters constantly use Cogboy as a mildly derogatory term for Tech Priests. In Death or Glory we find out that the Tech Priests themselves use "cog" as a compliment for someone who is essential to the the smooth running of things but frequently not acknowledged.
  • In the Back
  • Irony/Unreliable Narrator : For all his claims to be an abject coward and fraud, Cain actually is very good at his job, if for the wrong reasons. At one point Vail notes that his unorthodox swordsmanship is some of the best in the entire subsector(presumably among regular humans, the books make it quite clear that 'among the finest in the entire Imperium' is still not in the same league as Astartes or heavily augmented humans or aliens). While he was no match for a Space Marine in training, he has defeated Ork Warbosses and Chaos Marines in personal combat as well as holding his own against Tyranid leader organisms of various types. In the tabletop game a Lord Commissar, which he explicitly is even if he refuses the title, has a better weapon skill than any other regular human and most Space Marines.
    • He is equal in skill with the Space Marines, but doesn't share their strength and endurance. Not to mention power armor.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: A variation in Cain's Last Stand.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate: Nearly every important plot event stems from Cain looking for a quiet, routine assignment away from the front line. All it does is allow him to run into the secret cult/the backdoor entrance into their base/ the unseen flanking attack which only leads him into greater danger as a result.
  • It's All About Me
    • A repeated gripe about Cain's memoirs from Amberley.
    • Cain is of the opinion that this is the case with Mira. Amberley lampshades the irony of that sentiment.
  • It's The Only Way To Be Sure
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Subverted in The Traitor's Hand, where the captured Slaaneshi cultists seem to actually be enjoying the treatment.
  • Kid Hero: In Cain's Last Stand, the students at the schola provide support.
  • Kill 'em All: While Cain has an outstanding track record of coming back from missions almost unscathed, very rarely do many of his squad survive.
    • Actually, it happened like four times in all the books. Usually a unit with Cain attached will take no or minor casualties. Hell, even the squad that passed through ambull tunnels, a necron tomb, and got into ork ambushes twice lost only half of its members. Such a mortality rate is very low by 40K standards.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Salamander Cain often travels in is frequently equipped with a flamer, and it gets used frequently. Also, at the end of Caves of Ice, several million gallons of promethium are ignited to stop a Necron assault.
  • Kill It with Water: In Death or Glory, he takes out a large Ork army by destroying a dam.
    • Averted with Cain referencing a belief that witches have a problem with water. Amberley then notes that this is merely a folktale and has no basis in reality.
  • Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand: In The Traitor's Hand, how he stopped Beije from trying to arrest him.
  • Knight Templar: The Inquisitor in Duty Calls is willing to stage a massacre and hand over humans to be massacred by aliens on the ground that what he is protecting is too valuable for the information to get out.
    • Played with in the same book. Certain Battle Sisters refuse to retreat to the line of their defenses because they must serve the Emperor; Cain finally points out that if the Tyranids outflank them, they will be responsible for the massacre of civilians in the Emperor's Temple. This not only persuades them to retreat, it causes one of them to thank him later, for reminding them of their duty, and admit that their zeal had led them astray. Later, this takes on a grimmer note. The sisters realize they have sheltered a renegade inquisitor. Even his deception does not ease their guilt; they realized their zeal had blinded them from seeing the facts. In atonement, they sacrifice their lives to ensure the escape of the Inquisitor who had told them the truth and her party.
  • The Klutz: Penlan, aka "Jinxie."
  • Lady Land: According to Vail, women are considered superior on Nusquam Fundamentibus. Indeed, the command echelon of its first Imperial Guard regiment, the planetary governor, and the past few generations of planetary governor are all female. The senior Magos from the Adeptus Mechanicus is one of the few males to hold a position of authority on the planet, as it's a part of the Imperial government.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Most of Inquisitor Vail's commentary is either this or additional backstory. Things brought up by fans are sometimes directly referenced in the introductions as being from her "Inquisitorial colleagues".
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Most of the covers have Cain's Commissar Cap obscure the top half of his head, leaving only his Judge Dredd-esque chin to inspire the masses.
  • Last Stand: Cain's gotten at least two of them in the same location... and he seems a bit annoyed that people keep calling them that.
    • It's the title of one of the books: Cain's Last Stand. It describes the second "Last Stand" mentioned above.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • One of Amberley's comments in The Last Ditch basically boils down to saying you should use the Lord Commissar rules to represent Cain on the tabletop.
    • In The Emperor's Finest a decidedly meta footnote in Chapter 7: The irony of this statement seems to have eluded Cain entirely, though not, I suspect, most of my readers. In-universe this refers to fellow inquisitors but the passage this footnote refers to fits the most common complaint in RL about the Cain series.
  • Leeroy Jenkins:
    • Cain considers Lt. Sulla to be one, worried that in her eagerness to smite the enemies of the God Emperor she is going to get herself and (more importantly) Cain killed. He also holds this opinion about Sisters of Battle, considering them so fanatical as to be unreliable at holding to a plan, saying the best you can do is point at the enemy, yell "Heretic!", and let them do their thing.
      • In Duty Calls, Amberley's footnote to one such remark notes that though Sulla's platoons tend to have slightly higher casualty rates, they have even higher morale, because they get results.
    • The Nusquam 1st (and the PDF they recruited from) were a entire regiment of these. This green regiment and their equally green Commissar considered the more effective tactics used by the Valhallan 597th to be acts of cowardice, ignoring Col. Kasteen's pointing out that the Valhallans were doing twice as much damage as the Nusquams while taking only a third as many casualties. They wised up eventually.
  • Left It In: A Dubya-parodying character in one of the novels ends an atrociously bad speech with something like "You'll edit that out anyway... what do you mean it was live?"
  • Legally Dead: Cain had been declared legally dead many times (most prominently in Death or Glory) to the point where it was inverted—there is a specific edict that prevents bureaucrats from calling him legally dead, so now he forever remains in active service even after being buried with military honours.
  • Legendary in the Sequel: "Fight or Flight," the original short story, features Cain's very first adventure as a newly-minted commissar. The work which followed it, For the Emperor, features Cain as an established HERO OF THE IMPERIUM. Due to the series's Anachronic Order, subsequent works play up and down the scale.
  • Life or Limb Decision: Cain nearly has to do this in The Greater Good, when a tyranid has his foot in its grasp. He'd lifted his sword to make the cut when the creature is killed in a well timed intervention by Space Marines.
  • Lighter and Softer: This is a comedy set in the Warhammer 40000 universe. On top of which, Cain himself is a Lighter and Softer version of Harry Flashman IN SPACE!. Whereas Flashman really is a Dirty Coward and all around Jerkass (he raped a woman in the first book), Cain generally comes across much more sympathetically. It's not at all clear that Cain is the craven he bills himself as.

    On the other hand, Sandy Mitchell is also quite adept using GRIMDARK subtly rather than beating you over the head with it and running into A Million is a Statistic like certain other 40k authors. As noted here and here (search on "page 111"), in Death or Glory for instance we see the aftermath of an ork attack where civilians were gunned down as they fled. Let no one say that Ciaphas Cain isn't serious or dark. (See also some of the points under Deliberate Values Dissonance above for further support.)
  • Like a Badass out of Hell: Daemonized Emeli.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The series is presented as a group of extracts from Cain's memoirs edited by Inquisitor Vail. As such, he downplays his reputation for heroism, while she notes that he's being too modest. Vail also notes places where Cain seems to have mis-remembered the times of events, adds context and hindsight and edits out anything too specific about their relationship.
  • Little Did I Know: Practically Cain's catchphrase. Every book starts with a variation and he repeats it regularly, as well as his commenting that he'd be "gibbering in terror" if he only knew... It's greatly toned down in the 4th and 5th books, and is worded a lot better.
  • Living Gasbag: An offhand remark in Death or Glorynote  mentions skywhales, which the accompanying footnote explains as a creature from Blease's World that lives on airborne pollen and produces hydrogen gas as a byproduct of its metabolism. The creatures are quite placid and the planet's human inhabitants have domesticated several subspecies to turn them into Zeppelins from Another World.
  • Living Legend: Cain really wishes he weren't (at least not the "legend" bit).
  • The Load: Zig zagged in Caves of Ice with the tech-priest Logash, whose sole contribution is to tell them a little bit about ambulls before just hanging around. Some 70% of Cain's narration about him amounts to "What an annoying man he was" and/or "The mission would have gone smoother if I had thrown him to the orks/ambulls/necrons". However, he survived alone far better then any of the soldiers. In fact without him they wouldn't have escaped near the end, or been able to blow up the facility stopping the Necrons and saving millions of lives.
  • Lord Error-Prone:
    • Toren Divas, whose well-meaning enthusiasm gets Cain nearly killed at least three times that we know of.
    • Cain sees Sulla as this; she's really not that bad, just way too gung-ho for Cain's tastes.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: Vail invokes it to explain why Cain would be a logical assassination target; Cain himself is oblivious to his effects on morale.
  • Love at First Sight: Cain explicitly denies believing it before admitting that he can, decades later, remember every detail of the first time he saw Amberley Vail.
  • Mad Bomber: Captain Federer, commander of the 597th's sappers, has quite a thing for big booms. Rumour has it that he was ejected from an Adeptus Mechanicus seminary because of it.
  • Made a Slave
  • Magic Feather: Cain credits his synthetic fingers for his excellent pistol aim, but Inquisitor Vail points out that most people with them lose ability with their hands. She suspects the real reason is all the time he spent training with a Space Marine right after getting them.
  • Malicious Slander: Stupid Beije.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Cain, in the best possible way.
  • Matter of Life and Death
  • Mauve Shirt: Several, most notably Sergeant Lustig, Penlan and Magot.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Ciaphas and Cain are the names of well-known villains from The Bible. One possible translation of "Caiaphas", according to The Other Wiki, is "rock that hollows itself out".
    • The Single-Issue Wonk who wrote that Fictional Document in For The Emperor is named Stententious Logar, a slight misspelling of a word meaning "addicted to pompous moralizing".
    • Inquisitor Vail's name could also be one; she is, after all, concealing ("veiling") Cain's true nature from the world at large.
    • Mira means "Look at that!"note  in Latin. Cain certainly does, and then some.
    • It gets downright silly with some of the merely mentioned minor characters, such as the fencing instructor "Miyamoto de Bergerac" note  and the author of a book about the fungus-like features of orks "Migo Yuggoth" note . See also the Shout Outs page for more examples of this sort.
    • Emeli DuBoir's last name is a bastardization of the word "boudoir", which is a lady's bedroom. Given Ms. DuBoir's actions in the stories in which she appears, this seems fitting.
  • Mêlée à Trois: As might be expected from him, Cain takes full advantage of this trope in The Traitor's Hand when he needs to get past a barricaded group of Slaaneshi cultists guarding a Daemon-summoning ritual. By chance a group of Chaos Space Marines in service to Khorne have the same goal and choose this exact moment to show up. Cain decides to hang back and let them break the barricade for him and distract the cultists. Unsurprisingly, Bejie calls him out on this and calls him a coward, to which he calmly suggests Bejie lead the way. Beije doesn't take him up on this offer.
  • The Men First: Cain does this to inspire loyalty, which may extend his lifespan in battle.
  • Merciful Minion: In the first novel, a riot breaks out on the ship he's assigned to. In the aftermath he can't have anyone executed (since it would destroy morale, and more importantly make him likely to suffer an "accident" on the battlefield) but the captain wants blood (he was in a relationship with one of the military police killed in the riot). So Cain lets the captain hold a tribunal (the defendants of which are found guilty) and sentences them to "death" by transferring them to a penal legion to die in battle.
    • FYI? They die to a man.
  • Methuselah Syndrome: Cain (and Jurgen) are well over 100 years old by the time of the events of Cain's Last Stand
  • Mildly Military: To various extents. Most of Cain's actual job description as a commissar consists of maintaining regimental discipline, but he's relatively laid-back about it since he's a decent guy who favors results over ironclad adherence to rules and regs. This especially includes Jurgen, a perpetually stinky and disheveled artilleryman whose surprising competence, literal-mindedness, and being a blank have saved Cain's ass many times. In Cain's Last Stand, though, even Cain rolls his eyes at some PDF fighter pilots who get a little carried away in a target-rich environment and have to be reminded what part of the enemy fleet they're supposed to be attacking.
  • Military Moonshiner: On his first assignment Cain jokes that the first thing most Guardsmen do when they hear their regiment is getting a new Commissar is dismantle the stills and get stores to tally with inventory for the first time ever.
  • Million to One Chance: Cain, and his reputation, practically live on this. It's not always good examples either—in Caves of Ice, though it's not quite a million to one shot, the chance of Cain and his squad stumbling across a Necron tomb are pretty damn low. This is justified later on when Cain determines that the Adeptus Mechanicus deliberately positioned the mining facility over the Necron tomb, so finding it was just a matter of time.
  • Misaimed Fandom: invoked In-universe example—while Amberley is pleasantly surprised to find her publications of Cain's stories are unexpectedly popular among her fellow Inquisitors, she's slightly put out that many of them prefer to treat them as light entertainment rather than the "serious food for thought" she'd intended them to serve as.
  • Mission Briefing: General Zyvan gives a few of these, as do Colonel Kasteen and other officers.
  • Mistaken for an Imposter: Played for Laughs—one of the few instances in Cain's later career where his name doesn't immediately evoke awe in the person he's introducing himself to is a moment when the other person thinks he's joking.
  • More Dakka: Cain insists on having a pintel-mounted heavy bolter put on any Salamander that he uses, replacing the usual storm bolter. They tend to get used a lot.
  • More Expendable Than You: Cain's professed motivation in his very first adventure. Also inverted in that Cain's true intentions were exactly the opposite.
    • Brought up in The Traitor's Hand, when Cain claims that the Imperium needs its generals but can always get another commissar. Zyvan disagrees: "Not like you, Ciaphas," a comment which genuinely surprises Cain.
      • Similarly, in Duty Calls Cain expresses surprise that a psyker tried to assassinate him rather than Zyvan or the planetary Arbites chief. Amberley notes he doesn't seem to realize he's so popular with the Imperial Guard that his death would seriously damage morale.
    • Another example is partially acknowledged by Amberley. Cain is extremely useful as an asset to the Imperium as a whole but competent heroes (whether or not their reputation is deserved) aren't especially rare. Ironically, Jurgen, as a blank, is far more rare and valuable (at least, to the Inquisition).
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: Cain's Fake Ultimate Hero reputation causes him to regularly apply this to himself in his narration.
    Cain: This was a job for Zyvan's tame psykers, and no business of honest men. Or me.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The brainwashed Battle Sisters have a terminal instance of this; see Driven to Suicide above.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The Emperor's Finest hangs a lampshade on this when the space hulk that brought a genestealer brood to the planet Viridia is identified as the Spawn of Damnation.
    Cain (narration): Who chose it, and why they can't call these things something a little more cheerful, is beyond me.
    Amberly (footnote): Traditionally space hulks are given their names by the Inquisition conclave responsible for the sector in which they first appear, and, as Cain points out, they do tend towards the melodramatic.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: A variation. The pornographic tapestries in a Slaaneshi brothel in The Traitor's Hand are left undescribed, other than one Guardsman wondering aloud if a scene depicted is even anatomically possible. Cain says it isn't and that even if it was, it would be against regulations.
  • New Meat: Referred to as "fungs", for FNGs (Frakking New Guys).
  • The Neidermeyer: Assidiously averted by Cain to avoid Unfriendly Fire; played to the hilt by Beije.
  • Never Found the Body: Cain was declared KIA at the beginning of Death or Glory as the result of a space battle (in which not finding a body would be perfectly understandable). His record wasn't corrected to MIA (due to his radioing in a month after being declared dead) until around the time he managed to fight his way through the Ork army back to Imperial lines, and the revision to declare him alive didn't happen until after the campaign ended. According to Amberley's footnotes, this happened to him so many times over the course of his career that eventually the Munitorium stopped trying to keep track and declared that he would be listed as alive and on active duty at all times—even after his death from natural causes and burial with full military honors.
  • Nice Hat: As a commissar, he gets a one as part of his uniform.
  • Nightmare Fuel: invoked Cain has three literal sources: Necrons, his time as a prisoner of the Dark Eldar, and Emeli.
  • No Blood for Phlebotinum: Caves of Ice sees the 597th deployed to protect a valuable promethium refinery from an Ork attack.
  • No, Except Yes: Cain doesn't "charge the enemy". He "retreats forwards".
  • No Hero to His Valet: Inverted; Cain actually is a hero to Jurgen, the closest thing to a valet he has. Amberley Vail's association with Cain has let her see the accuracy of his accounts, even though she thinks he may be too hard on himself.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Done to Cain by the Big Bad of Duty Calls.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Averted, and specifically discussed in Cain's Last Stand. The people Varan controlled remain warped even after his death. Cain observes it would have been easier if they had been freed—"but this wasn't some comforting fairy tale...". In one rather extreme case, Varan's personal shuttle pilot was found dead after the final battle. He had been ordered by (the now deceased) Varan to wait for his return. The pilot took these orders literally and starved to death waiting for Varan.
  • No Time To Think: During the Wire Dilemma, he is forced to guess because all the wires are the same color.
  • The Nondescript: Malden in The Traitor's Hand.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Cain makes frequent cryptic references to his earlier adventures; some have been explored in short stories, others it is assumed the reader would have heard about. Cain's Last Stand has a ton of these due to being written well into the future of the series.
    • Cain also tries to convince Kasteen and Broklaw that "Jinxie" isn't really cursed, like the time she fell into a tunnel that led to finding necrons, or the incident with the grenade and the latrine, or... He trails off once he realizes just how deep he's digging himself.
  • Not Quite Dead: A footnote in one of the books reveals that Cain has been listed as "killed in action" so many times that the Munitorum eventually gave up trying to keep track and decided to keep him on the payroll regardless—even long past his confirmed death and burial with full military honors. And even then they aren't sure he's actually dead. Of course, Vail isn't speaking...
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Governor Grice in For the Emperor; everyone thinks that he's merely a puppet being controlled by the Tau, but he's really a member of the Genestealer cult that thrives in Gravalax's underground, which is trying to play the Tau and the Imperium against each other to soften them up for the coming wave of Tyranid invasions.
    • Inquisitor Vail when she first appears.
  • Oblivious to Love: Cain takes nearly half the book to figure out Mira's true objective in tagging along with him. And even when he figures it out, he still thinks she's trying to bag a Space Marine. When the full realization hits him, he wastes no time in trying to get rid of her.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat:
    • Both played straight and subverted in The Caves of Ice.
    • Averted by Scrivener Norbert from Death Or Glory, who is actually helpful and never even acts obstructive.
    • Amusingly subverted in The Traitor's Hand, where the Council of Claimants unwittingly votes itself out of the loop.
    • Also subverted in Cain's Last Stand with Bursar Brasker, who's also been using Obfuscating Stupidity "to conform to other people's expectations" and turns out to be something of a kindred spirit to Cain.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Several of Cain's noodle incidents, like the time he was fighting a Chaos Dreadnought, or charged a daemon with nothing but a rusty bayonet and a vial of holy water, since he obviously survived all of them.
  • Oh Crap: Cain gets into this situation early in The Greater Good when on the losing side of a conflict with the Tau, separated from friendly forces, his salamander wrecked, Jurgen wounded, and surrounded by a team of closing Crisis Battlesuits with only his laspistol and no cover to hide behind, and he realizes that there is no way he is getting out of this one. Turns out that the Tau just wanted to ask him specifically to use his influence to get the beleaguered Imperial forces to agree to a cease-fire.
  • Oh My Gods!:
    • Cain occasionally uses "Emperor's Bowels!"; the modern equivalent should be obvious.
    • And Felicia Tayber is fond of "Omnissiah's cogs!"
  • Old Retainer
  • One-Wheeled Wonder: One of the techpriests in Emperor's Finest and Caves of Ice had his lower body replaced with a single wheel. Made even worse by the fact that techpriests have huge metal dendrites attached to their backs and like to replace as much of their body with metal as possible, though Ciaphas mentions that he must have very good gyroscopes to work.
  • Orbital Bombardment: Not a surprise, as it's a standard tactic of many factions in The Verse at large.
    • Duty Calls has the Imperial fleet supporting the Imperial Guard's ground operations against a tyranid invasion by blasting any 'nid-held locations they find out about. The planet's weather patterns make finding out about them difficult, unfortunately.
    • In Cain's Last Stand Warmaster Varan's forces flatten the Perlian PDF headquarters with a battleship's lance batteries. The for-once-not-incompetent brass had already evacuated but we don't know the casualties.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: They can still talk and think and shoot lasguns, though they believe that loyalists are only following the False-Emperor rather than the "True-Emperor"...
  • Out-of-Character Moment/OOC Is Serious Business: A seemly minor event, but when Jurgen and Cain find the brain-washed Donal, Jurgen blank abilities start to free him from his mind-control. Jurgen hesitates and sheepishly ask Cain what's going on. He almost never does this even when he is fighting Chaos Space Marines, is in a Necron Tomb, or even when facing daemons. Actually, anyone mind-controlled by Varan is completely changed from Emperor loving citizens to chaos worshiping fanatics in seconds. It's really quite disturbing.
  • The Pardon: Amberley offers one to troopers sentenced to a penal legion in the first book, by dint of accompanying the esteemed Ciaphas Cain on an Inquisitorial recon mission to the maze-like depths of the city sewers. That may or may not be swarming with a rebel faction who has the upper hand and something horriblebadevil. Cain doesn't like it, since he'd rather not have to go onto the field accompanying five guardsmen who might still hold a grudge over the sentence (and of several he personally saw stab people to death, and one of which scared him deeply), but can't object—mostly because when an Inquisitor wants you to accompany them, you accompany them.
  • Painting the Medium: The shadowlight from Duty Calls is so ominous, it's never referred to with a capital letter and always in italics. This changes in Cain's Last Stand, where they actually use Caps as Shadowlight (might be ShadowLight).
  • Percussive Maintenance: Apparently the most reliable way to fix the resolution on a hololith. If you're particularly good at it, it may mean you have a religious (i.e., techpriest) vocation.
    • The Greater Good flat out states that there's a "Litany of Percussive Maintenance" used to get recalcitrant devices to work.
  • Phobia: Not a phobia, per se, but Cain is utterly terrified of Necrons, and absolutely will not confront them unless there is no other choice available (see Badass Decay in the YMMV tab). He also fears the Dark Eldar, often cringing from remembering the time he spent as a prisoner in a Reaver.
  • Pillow Pistol: Amberley says he does this everywhere.
  • Ping Pong Naïveté: When investigating a Slaaneshi hideout, Cain finds a room with a big pile of cushions in the middle, its purpose unclear. Amberley lampshades that Cain, a man of the galaxy, seems a little hypocritical here.
    • Cain also takes a while to figure out Mira's reason for going with him on a campaign.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Subverted. Cain is so different from the stereotypical commissar (leading by example [so to speak] rather than fear and intimidation, not being trigger-happy, etc.) that it would seem that he's ineffective at his job, but both Amberley's comments and the actual memoirs indicate that this is anything but true.
    • Justified in-text by Cain, who mentions that commissars who do lead via fear and shooting their own men tend to die "Gloriously in battle miles from the front lines" or "Are victims of "Friendly Fire" more often then not."
  • Plague of Good Fortune: Cain's entire career can pretty much be summed up as a repeating cycle of "Be thrust into danger" --> "Find greater danger while trying to escape first danger" --> "Become praised as a hero for defeating new danger." Naturally, as his fame increases, so do others' expectations of him, much to his chagrin.
  • Playing Possum: Cain uses a variation (with himself as the bait) in Caves of Ice in order to ambush an Ork advance party and keep them from reporting the Valhallans' landing to the main horde.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Beije is a textbook case of a secondary character who goes from a minor obstacle for the heroes to deeply unlikeable after spouting off at the mouth.
  • Pop The Tires: Happens by freak accident in one novel: a frag grenade goes off near one of his tank's treads, jamming it completely.
  • Porn Stash: Jurgen is almost never without at least one "porno slate".
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The regiment, when he first joins it.
  • Power of Trust: In general, Cain seems to be pretty Genre Savvy about this: he tries to build up trust with his subordinates because he knows that the more they appreciate him, the less likely they are to leave him hanging in a firefight.
  • Precision F-Strike: Lord General Zyvan telling the Administratum people that if they aren't happy with his decisions they can bitch about it to the Tyranids.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Replete with them, usually right before Cain kills someone with his laspistol.
    • "Sorry. I prefer blondes."
    • "Blood for the Blood God!" "Harriers for the cup!"
    • "Impersonating an inquisitor is a capital offense."
    • "Commissar Donal sends his regards."
      • Especially appropriate in that, as he said it, he was doing exactly what Donal had, as his last request, asked Cain to do. "Kick his arse for me." Let us reiterate: Cain killed a man by kicking him in the arse... with the help of a large drop. Not just any man either, but a Chaos warmaster.
    • Subverted in Duty Calls.
      "Enjoy your trip."
  • Psycho Lesbian: Magot, but in a good way as long as you don't threaten Grifen.
  • Punny Name: All over the place. Several planets, including the ice worlds Simia Orichalchae and Nusquam Fundumentibus—respectively, pseudo-Latin for "brass monkey" note  and "arse end of nowhere"note —as well as Sodallagain, a planet with apparently nothing of interest. In Cain's Last Stand, there's Orelius's ship, the Lucre Foedus... quite appropriate for a Rogue Trader. The Planetary Governor of Deepwater is named Landon Hoy. A lot of the Shout Outs also feature these; see the entry below.
  • Purple Prose: The excerpts from Sulla's books. Vail apologizes each time she has to add them, and makes rude comments about her writing ability. While they are somewhat florid, they aren't much worse than the writing of Cain himself, or something like Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood: His Odyssey. Vail's contempt presumably has absolutely nothing to do with Sulla's (professional) admiration of Cain.
    • Stententious Logar's works are actually rather worse and with no apology. Perhaps Mitchell toned it down because, after all, he wanted the stuff read.
  • Quote Mine: In-Universe example. In Duty Calls a rogue Ordo Hereticus inquisitor shrugs off shooting desperate civilians who tried to escape a tyranid attack on his shuttle with the line "The path of duty is often a stony one." Cain is apparently quite fond of that text and recognizes the Quote Mine, and Amberley's footnote reveals that the back half of the sentence changes the meaning completely:
    "The full quotation ... runs 'The path of duty is often a stony one, made easier by thought for others.'"
  • Rabble Rouser:
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The penal squad in the first book. Not to mention the rest of the 597th Valhallan, at least at first. As well as Cain's Liberators from Death or Glory, who start out as just a squad of PDF and a few dozen civilians and end up with a few hundred troops and everything a mobile army needs but air support. Perhaps the most impressive is Vail's retinue in Duty Calls. Faced with a food vendor who had stumbled into some knowledge of the Inquisition—and picked up a gun when cornered by a Chaos cult—Vail hires her. Others include a former commissar/member of a penal regiment, and a former arbite who had, while undercover, imploded a criminal organization with a judicious murder and frame.
  • Raised by Tau: Gue'vessa Au'lys Devrae, Facilitator of External Relations, who shows it by shaving her hair into a scalp-lock. She is from the world of Ka'ley'ath, or "Downholm" to use its Imperial name, a world annexed by the Tau prior to the Damocles Crusade. Her entire family line is understandably completely assimilated into the Tau way of life, having been there for generations.
  • Ramming Always Works:
    • Attempted by an ork in Death or Glory, didn't work because he's an ork and Felicia just stepped out of his way (on a mecha, that is).
    • Attempted by one of the other Schola teachers in Cain's Last Stand. It works, destroying the ram and the ship it hit, but it didn't destroy the ship they had hoped to.
    • Attempted by tau infiltrators in "Traitor's Gambit," who try to ram an Imperial warship with a planetary governor's yacht. The Imperials spot it well ahead of time and blast it.
  • Rare Guns: An in universe example in that twin-linked heavy bolters are not the standard turret armament on Chimera armoured transports, multilasers are. However as forge worlds churn out billions of both, not that rare.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: For times when Amberley was there in person, she'll note when she remembers things differently than Cain has written them. The extracts from other people's accounts diverge even more, as Jenit Sulla never sees Cain as less than a mighty hero and a personal mentor (after he's spent a while griping about her, her gung-ho tactics and her horse-like face). Tayber from Death Or Glory is probably the biggest example of this, as Cain describes fighting off hordes of orks until he and Jurgen believe they're cornered and their luck has finally run out, only to be relieved in the nick of time by a PDF unit, while Tayber's account has Cain roll into town, kick orkish arse, forge the PDF and civilians into an army and go on to liberate the planet exactly as he planned.
  • Realpolitik: The Tau justification for partially occupying the planet in For The Emperor is the protection of their trading interests. Cain doesn't buy it, as the Imperium has used a similar justification to gain a foothold before taking over. Of course, it's his job to shoot anyone rude enough to point this out.
    • Also, he's told that the Imperium are desperately keen to avoid having to defend Gravalax from outright invasion by the tau, as it would be a drawn-out war of attrition for a largely insignificant backwater, and a drain on resources needed to fight the tyranids and necrons, in contrast to the rhetoric that the Emperor's mighty forces will defend his territory anywhere in the galaxy.
    • The broader background behind The Greater Good is basically the fact that the Imperium and the Tau have realized they need to work together to defeat the Tyranid hive fleets, but at the same time each is trying to arrange things so that the other power shoulders the brunt of the effort so that they themselves can more easily sweep up whatever's left in the aftermath.
  • Reassignment Backfire:
    • Inverted repeatedly throughout the books, as Cain tries to get himself assigned to a nice, quiet job where he doesn't have to be shot at all the time, but always winds up in the worst possible situations—which gets him a reputation for being a thrill-seeker, causing him to end up in even more of these!
      • The one time he does get a relatively quiet job? He goes on a routine patrol, and Hilarity Ensues.
    • Played straight in the original short story Fight or Flight, which ends with Colonel Mostrue assigning the odorous Gunner Jurgen to Cain as his personal aide, obviously intended as a practical joke at Cain's expense. Jurgen goes on to not only be a more than able aide to Cain, but also turns out to be a blank whose powers save Cain's life countless times. Cain himself mentions that even heroes of the Imperium like himself are a dime a dozen compared to a blank like Jurgen.
  • Recurring Dreams: Flashbacks, even. One of them is actually a plot point, though turns out it wasn't a normal kind of dream.
  • Redshirt Army: Played with: the books seem to take delight in never having the escorts' survival—or their total wipeout—taken for granted. Played straight and lampshaded in the short story Echoes of the Tomb where the redshirts were troopers of the Adeptus Mechanicus—and they wore red uniforms. They're even called redshirts by Cain. And, despite cybernetic augmentations and hellguns, they are all slaughtered when the Necrons wake up.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Cain uses this sort of logic to justify some of his more apparently "heroic" actions—confronting dangerous threats, while seemingly suicidal at the time, has a much better chance (he claims) of ensuring his survival in the long term than running away and allowing them to grow even more dangerous, not to mention adding to his reputation for heroism.
    • For instance, the time in Death or Glory when he wanted transportation for the PDF squad he intended to use as bodyguards. He had them sneak into the enemy motor park quietly, while he barged in the front gate and started singlehandedly shooting the place up as a distraction (Jurgen was busy starting up the vehicles they'd take).
    • Cain's plan for taking out the big bad in Cain's Last Stand runs on this and I Surrender, Suckers.
  • Retcon: in the first story Cain implied Jurgen had died sometime between his adventures and the writing of the memoirs. In later books, Jurgen was there for Cain's funeral.
  • Revealing Coverup: In Duty Calls.
  • Robo Speak: Lampshaded in Cain's Last Stand, where he actually uses a trio of combat servitors' tendency to repeat their directives out loud to track their locations.
  • Royally Screwed Up: Cain assumes that this applies to all planetary governors until proven wrong. In at least two cases (One evil due to inherited Genestealer DNA and one just inbred to the point of imbecility), he's right to do so.
  • Running Gag: Many.
    • Holograms flicker and require Percussive Maintenance.
    • Jurgen smells and looks dirty.
    • Jurgen randomly offering Cain food and drinks. Also, Cain's obsession with tanna.
    • Everybody loves Cain and makes sculptures and whatnot dedicated to him, always wildly inaccurate. Cain hates the very existence of such art.
    • Cain has to do something brave to maintain his heroic reputation.
    • Cain chooses between two missions—one investigative, one on the active battlefield. He chooses the former. It doesn't end well and he mentions that in hindsight he would have gladly chosen the latter if he had any idea.
    • The artwork usually depicts Cain with a bolt pistol instead of his preferred laspistol. This can be justified both in and out of universe by the bolter being the signature human weapon, and it just plain looks cooler than a laspistol.
      • The Greater Good actually reveals the origin of the specific bolt pistol on the cover and its eventual fate.
    • In The Traitor's Hand in particular, people mocking the Khornates' "Blood for the Blood God!" Battle Cry.
  • Scrumball Is Slaughter: Cain was a keen Scrumball player at the Schola Progenium and states that the only team that could regularly beat the Commissarial cadets was the Sisters of Battle cadets—not because they were better players, but because they seemed to be under the impression that the aim of the game was to hospitalise the entire opposing team.
    • Beije never did well at it, possibly because he was enthusiastically tackled by everybody whether or not he had the ball.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Adeptus Mechanicus is bad at it.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Inquisitor Vail gets to pull one on Cain in Duty Calls.
  • Saved by Canon: Inevitable due to the fact the stories are written out of order and have recurring characters. Inquisitor Vail and Ciaphas Cain are the most notable, since the very beginning of the first novel basically establishes that the novels could not exist without Cain surviving to write them and Vail surviving to edit them. Occasional one book characters (And Sulla) also get this, as Vail could not possibly include excerpts from their memoirs if they didn't survive to write them.
  • See the Whites of Their Eyes: Averted, and mocked in Death or Glory:
    Contrary to what you might see in an episode of Attack Runfootnote: , starships in combat seldom approach to within point blank range of one another, exchanging fire at distances of hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres.
  • Seeking Sanctuary
  • Series Continuity Error: In the earlier stories an auspex operator sees a large amount of warp portals opening, but is puzzled by the lack of metal, which alerts Cain to the Tyranid presence, since bioships contain no metal. Thing is, Tyranids can't enter the Warp at all (and thank the Emperor for that, otherwise they'd have already eaten the galaxy instead of moving at sub-light speed).
  • Half right, the Tyranids don't use the warp, but instead create mass effect style gravity corridors via narvhals. Slower but far more reliable and consistent.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Mira, with whom Cain has spent the last few weeks being very close with, brings up with Cain how she is considering returning to her homeworld with a consort who is a heroic champion of the Imperium, discussing how this would be advantageous for her for succession and political reasons. Cain agrees with this assessment, showing support for the idea while completely ignorant that she was talking about him (he thought she was looking to bag a Space Marine), when this is otherwise transparent to the audience. Amberley lampshades Cain's missing this, saying that his experience with women to that point had been more "broad than deep", and he did not yet have much experience with the dynastic considerations of Imperial nobility.
    • That, and he knows he can't simply resign his commission with the Commissariat. If he were to attempt it, they would shoot him, and not even a planetary governor would be able to stop them.
  • Sensor Suspense
    • The fourth book has this, when he's in an escape shuttle that's being attacked by an Orkish fighter (since it most likely has very close ranged weapons its appearance on the pod's radar is the same as it would be for a missile).
    • Also present in The Emperor's Finest, which sees Cain boarding a space hulk alongside a chapter of Space Marines.
  • Serious Business: Among the Valhallans; snow-sculpting, snow forts, Snowball Fights... pretty much anything involving snow and/or the killing of Orks.
  • Shadow Archetype: Lady General Jenit Sulla, to a certain extent. In battle, she's everything Cain is: decisive, (presumably) a deft hand with weapons and charismatic enough to get people to follow her into certain death. Both of them achieve high position and a fair amount of fame. Personally, she's everything Cain is not: selfless, dutiful and loyal. She does from selflessness what Cain does for manipulation. And the best part? He created her. It's just after their first conversation in For The Emperor that she begins her climb towards glory, spurred on by his (fake) confidence in her. And she does it by imitating him.
    Sulla: "I just asked myself what the commissar would have done."
    Cain: "And then did the opposite, I hope." [beat] "That was a joke, lieutenant."
    • And her rise through the rise through the ranks began when he made an offhand comment that unlike all the platoon leaders of fifth company, she hadn't dropped the ball when forced to take over for her wounded company commander. Colonel Kasteen interpreted this as a recommendation and breveted her to captain.
    • She's also a terrible writer compared to Cain, often going on in excessive prose. Amberley often comments about this to her chagrin.
  • Ship Tease: Some of the later interactions between Kasteen and Broklaw seem to indicate that they've taken a liking to each other. Cain Josses any such implication between himself and Kasteen... assuming that he's telling the truth and Cain was the one who actually wrote that bit.
  • Shout-Out: Enough that it has its own page.
  • Shrug of God: Sandy Mitchell says he doesn't know whether Cain is the Dirty Coward he claims to be, or is selling himself short.
  • Single-Biome Planet: The Valhallans are ice-worlders and have a habit of setting their air-conditioning to levels that makes breath visible. Being assigned to Simia Orichalcae, the iceworld in Caves of Ice, brings them evident joy.
    • It's mentioned in Cain's Last Stand, though that Valhalla is a justified case; All of the inhabitants live near the equator, and "Gone North" (their equivalent of "Gone South" or, "Gone ploin-shaped") arises from the fact that the Northern part of the planet (and the southern part, Amberley is quick to point out) is a place you really do not want to go.
    • Adumbria is a three-biome planet, as it doesn't rotate on itself: one side is eternally dark Slippy Slidey Iceworld, the other a permanently-lit Shifting Sand Land, and a thin band of habitable terrain all around. Fortunately, the forces being sent there are Space Russians and Space Arabs.
  • Single-Issue Wonk: In For The Emperor, Amberley adds a wider view of the situation on Gravalax with excepts from a writer whose main failing is to blame everything on a conspiracy of rogue traders.
    "Perhaps one owed him money..."
  • Shaggy Search Technique: Most of Cain's most pivotal discoveries are made when he tries to run away from something else. Another notable practitioner of this is "Jinxie" Penlan, who discovered an ambull tunnel in The Caves of Ice by falling through the floor into it and once triggered a landmine by throwing away an empty food tin.
  • Slave to PR: (Supposedly) one of the few reasons why Cain doesn't chicken out at the first opportunity is that doing so would cause him to lose his reputation as a Hero of the Imperium, with all the benefits that brings.
  • Sliding Scale of Continuity: The novels are a fusion of level 4 (Arc-Based Episodic) and Anachronic Order, numbered thematically rather than chronologically. The first trilogy tells the story of how Cain became attached to the Valhallan 597th Regiment and their early campaigns. The second covers much more ground time-wise but is tangentially related to the shadowlight, a mysterious pre-humanity artifact discovered on Perlia. "Echoes of the Tomb" and The Emperor's Finest cover his time as Imperial Guard liaison to the Reclaimers chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, and shed light on a Noodle Incident repeatedly alluded to in previous books and why Cain is so terrified of necrons.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Cain is an expert player of 'Regicide' the 40k version of chess.
  • Sniping the Cockpit: Noted as an effective tactic against Ork flyers in The Last Ditch, especially since said fliers had no canopies to protect the pilots.
  • Snowball Fight: With an Ork WAAAGH! due in a day or so, the Valhallans decide to spend their down-time having one. You can't really blame them, since its been a long while since the ice-world soldiers have found themselves in natural snow.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Maxim Sorel, who ends up stabbing a man to death in a brawl simply "because he didn't see any reason not to". Following the court-martial for the above infraction he is sentenced to death by taking on a suicide mission alongside Cain. This does not stop Sorel saving Cain's life and makes him one of two convicts out of the original five who do not go rogue or get subverted by the enemy. Which doesn't leave a lt of options.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: Cain wants to be this, he's overtaken by events.
  • So Proud of You
  • Sour Supporter: Kolfax in Death or Glory.
  • Space Cadet Academy: Cain was taught how to be a commissar at the Schola Progenium, and later goes on to teach at one on Perlia (where he has a rather understandable 100% Heroism Rating after single handedly breaking the back of an Orc invasion there) after retiring.
  • Spanner in the Works: Cain is practically a walking one. For the rare situations where he himself isn't enough, there's Jurgen and his peculiar talents. Between the two of them there is practically nothing they don't bring to a gear-grinding halt. The trope is even mentioned by name.
  • Spider-Sense: Cain's palms itch when his subconscious is realizing something's amiss but it hasn't hit the rest of his brain yet.
  • Spot of Tea: Valhallans really love their tanna, and so does Cain. Amberley tried it once, and was diplomatic about loathing it.
    • To those interested, Tanna is exactly chifir—a Russian beverage that is basically really, really strong overboiled tea. Pitch black. Very bitter. Acquired taste. A psychostimulant drug. Really addictive after prolonged use. The only difference is that chifir is typically consumed by prisoners because alcohol, nicotine and other drugs are strictly forbidden in Russian prisons.
  • The Squadette: The Valhallan 597th regiment Cain finds himself working with in the novels contains remnants from the all-female Valhallan 296th.
  • Stealth Pun: The author absolutely loves making these. See the Shout Out page for more details.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Cain manages to successfully convince others he has this. (See also Pre-Mortem One-Liner.)
  • The Stoic: Jurgen. When Cain writes an emotive scene where they're stuck in a corner, about to torn apart by ravening hordes of tyranids, Jurgen will placidly comment "Bit of a mess", as if he's offering Cain a sandwich. This also makes Cain keep his cool, as the commissar can hardly appear less composed than his aide. Also, Malden the Psyker, from the third book.
  • Stop Worshipping Me: Averted. Cain never finds out about the Tallarn fringe cult that worships him as the embodiment of the Emperor's Divine Will.
  • Stranded With Edison: In Death or Glory, their makeshift convoy/militia (made up from the rescued survivors/slaves from a town looted by orks) has just enough specialists to survive (a tracker to help them find water and supply dumps, a vet to serve as an impromtu doctor, a technopriest to keep their vehicles running and enough former police, gang members and PDF troops to form a militia and a former not-so-Obstructive Bureaucrat to manage their supplies).
  • Strictly Formula: Said formula being old Victorian and early 20th-century juvenile adventures such as the Tom Swift series. Not that that's a bad thing.
  • Strictly Professional Relationship: Ciaphas Cain mentions that at the end of his first assignment working with Colonel Kasteen, they exchanged a look that could have led to more than just friends, but neither pursues it because they don't want to deteriorate their working relationship. Besides, he prefers blondes. And more to the point, Amberley Vail would kill him.
  • Stylistic Suck: This pops up in multiple ways:
    • Much to Amberley's chagrin, she sometimes has to fill in background information with extracts from the memoirs of Jenit Sulla (and always makes comments sniping at her "one-woman assault on the defenceless Gothic language"). Where Cain's are erudite and well-written, Sulla lacks any literary talent and fills her own with dreadful nonsense and Purple Prose.
    • For The Emperor also features extracts from Purge the Heretics, most notable for its author's overwhelming hatred of rogue traders (he blames them for everything, and every excerpt is cut off just before he launches into another rant).
    Vail: Perhaps one of them owed him money.
    • For Death and Glory, set before Cain joined Sulla's regiment, we have the memoirs of Sergeant Tayber, which are nearly as unreadable.
      • Which is funny, because Cain's official autobiography To Serve the Emperor: A Commissar's Life is supposedly as equally unreadable (much like Flashman's) because they are less candid. He would most certainly not admit to the public about how he views himself as a selfish man. We never get to read passages from this book, however.
      Vail: Perhaps it's something about the idea of setting their (veteran's) experiences down for posterity, which induces a kind of mental constipation in warriors used to solving problems in a rather more straightforward fashion.
  • Succession Crisis: One is happening in the background during The Traitor's Hand, but Cain doesn't pay much attention to it (And given how little attention he pays to his briefing slates, may not have even known it was going on).
  • Supreme Chef: Zyvan employs one, and Cain often justifies accepting suicide missions because the alternative would leave him no longer invited to dinner by the general.
  • Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder: The superiors in this case may be completely innocent, but Colonel Mostrue often seems a bit too quick to call in artillery strikes close to where Cain is stationed during Cain's time with the artillery unit, and also frequently gets Cain sent off into dangerous situations. Cain suspects that Mostrue is aware of the fact that his first great triumph was really just a desperate attempt to get to safety and abandon the battery to its fate, but whatever Mostrue's intentions, his repeated survival of adverse circumstances only adds to the double-edged sword which is his reputation. Of course everyone else in high command does this too, they're just not aware of the fact Cain really would rather they didn't.
  • Sword and Gun: Laspistol and a chainsword.
  • Tactful Translation: "Frak this, for my faith is a shield proof against your blandishments!" is a bit more inspiring than "Frak this! My soul's my own, and I'm keeping it!"
  • Take That:
    • Governor Merkin W. Pismire the younger's address.
    • Also internally: Vail can't seem to resist taking the occasional stab at the other Inquisitorial Ordos (especially the Ordo Malleus) in the footnotes.
    • In Traitor's Hand, an overeager young soldier cries "Come on, men! Do you want to live forever?" before charging a tank. Cain, upon hearing this, groans about what a vapid and totally unrealistic cliché it is. He's also amazed when it seems to inspire his companions rather than causing them to run the frak away.
    • The Last Ditch makes fun of the Tyranid Pyrovore aka the worst unit in the game.
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome / Tall, Dark and Snarky: Cain passes himself off as the former in public but is at heart the latter, as his memoirs amply demonstrate.
  • Talking in Your Dreams
  • Talking Is a Free Action: A tau diplomat instructs Cain on how to use one of the tau's grappling and rappelling lines, which spool wire into the handle and can form a molecular bond from the handle to any surface it is placed on via a few buttons embedded into it. It is a simple devices, and this would not normally take much time to explain. However, he explains it to Cain (at Cain's request) while Cain is desperately trying to fend off the attacks of a combat servator with over-sensitive Friend or Foe programming.
  • Tanks, But No Tanks: In Duty Calls, A news report claims Cain used a tank to stop what was essentially the Hindenburg carrying an awful lot of promethium from crashing into a city. In reality, he used a Chimera (an APC).
  • Tarot Motifs
  • Tempting Fate: Repeatedly, for example In Caves of Ice:
    Cain: "Nothing to worry about, that's small-arms fire. The chances of anything actually hitting us at this range are astronomical."
    Narration: One day I'm going to learn to stop saying things like that.

  • Textile Work Is Feminine: One insult from the 301st was that the women of the 296th were doing needlework in the rear echelons.
  • Thank the Maker: An unnamed Tech-priest in The Greater Good sees Cain do something impressive and makes the mark of the Cogwheel while exclaiming, "The Omnissiah truly processes your data!"
  • That Came Out Wrong: In "For the Emperor" Cain concludes a pre-battle briefing with the line "The harder and faster you go in, the better." This causes Sulla (of all people) to whisper something inaudible to her neighbor (presumably something along the lines of "That's What She Said") and giggle, prompting Cain to glare at her.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: At one point in The Traitor's Hand, a World Eater Chaos Marine gets killed "with satisfying thoroughness" by two krak missiles and a lascannon blast, any individual one of which would be enough on its ownnote .
  • Think Nothing of It: Cain disclaims his own heroism, frequently, being aware that it will add the charm of modesty to his legend, and occasionally in an unsuccessful attempt to let him get by them and do something else. Sometimes, he is actually annoyed that Jurgen gets none of the credit he deserves, with all of it going to Cain.
  • Tidally Locked Planet: Adumbria in The Traitor's Hand is mostly inhabited in the twilight zone, and its inhabitants have 37 different words for degrees of twilight. (Amberley Vail cites a Fictional Document titled Sablist in Skitterfall whose title derives from this. Witty wordplay to an Adumbrian, nonsensical to an offworlder.) Cain's Valhallan 597th, being ice-worlders, are assigned to the perpetual winter of the night side, while the Tallarn 229th, from a desert world, cover the sunward side.
  • Title Drop:
    • "Cain's Last Stand" is used several times, as it's the name of one of the battles of his early career, the site of which he returns to in order to make another stand. Another character remarks on this, saying most people only get one of those.
    • The Traitor's Hand, once as a quotation, once by Beije—see Malicious Slander.
  • Tomboyish Ponytail: Jenit.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Lampshaded in The Traitor's Hand, where Cain observes (to himself) that "torturing a masochist is singularly unproductive." Beije attempts it anyway, with humorous results.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: The plot of Death Or Glory.
  • Tsundere: Sulla, in For The Emperor, goes from showing oposition and dislikement of Cain's decisions on the regiment in front of other officials to eventually ask privately him in a rather nervous and shy way for a chance to show her value as a soldier. Cain of course takes the oportunity to act magnanimously, and get one more person disposed to cover his back, which make Sulla all the happier.
    • Mira in The Emperor's Finest is definitely a Type A.
  • Unequal Pairing: Cain and Amberley clearly care deeply about each other, but Cain is very aware of just where his place is in relation to her.
    I'm sure most of the men in the galaxy are familiar with the sinking feeling that accompanies the words 'Do you think you could do me a little favour, darling?', but when the woman doing the asking is an inquisitor it's even less wise than usual to say, 'No.'
    • On the other hand, two of the most frequently recurring themes in Amberley's footnotes are Cain's self-centered nature and his unawareness of the effect his reputation has on others. While Amberley is plainly not starstruck in the way that, say, Sulla is, Cain never seems to have considered the possibility that she found it just as difficult to refuse him as he did her, albeit for different reasons.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Cain's main justification for treating the troopers well is avoiding this. He also suspects Colonel Mostrue, his first commander, of attempting The Uriah Gambit from time to time. In Duty Calls, he comes to suspect that some of the PDF did try this. He's right—and they had orders.
  • Unreliable Narrator: It's a series of works about a man's adventures well over a century after the events happened, in what is openly described as an extremely jumbled account, by a man who is a known pathological liar and which was edited by someone who works for a black-ops division of the government.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Subverted. While it's never said outright, statements peppered throughout the books, both in the text and in Vail's footnotes, all but confirm that the sexual tension between Cain and Vail is very much resolved. This is outright confirmed in the short story "The Little Things", in which Cain arrives at Vail's hotel suite for a romantic rendezvous, only for unwelcome guests (read, incompetent hitmen) to make an appearance.
  • Unwanted False Faith: Cain never found out, but one of the Tallarn witnesses to a battle where he beat down a Greater Daemon wrote a book about the experience and started a minor branch of the Imperial faith that worships him as a physical manifestation of the Emperor's will.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Cain's opinion of nobility in general and planetary governors in particular. It's played with throughout the series, but especially with Mira in The Emperor's Finest; while she's certainly arrogant, pushy, dense, and condescending, she's also capable of handling herself in a firefight, among other things.
  • Upper-Class Wit: However much Cain dislikes the aristocracy, he makes it abundantly clear he likes their homes, wine cellars, daughters and general lifestyle. Cain acts like an Upper-Class Wit whenever he can and would love to spend his life doing nothing except lazing around occasionally playing a game of regicide and drinking a glass of amsec. The Imperium of Man has other ideas.
  • Vader Breath: Valhallan Janni Drere, who has a set of augmetic lungs that make an audible hiss! click! noise when she speaks.
  • The Vamp: Emeli.
  • Verbal Judo: In For the Emperor, Cain defuses a riot in progress, when everyone's attention happens to focus on him so that he can't just sneak out, by confusing the participants by suddenly starting to give orders to clean up the mess.
  • We Do the Impossible: Because of his reputation, Cain always gets the most important or dangerous tasks to accomplish, forcing him to triumph in suicide mission after suicide mission... which is exactly what he wants to avoid (the suicide missions, not survival).
  • Weapon of Choice:
    • Jurgen's meltagun.
    • Cain's chainsword and laspistol. In the first book, Cain declines to replace it with a more powerful hellpistol because he's afraid that the extra weight would throw off his aim. See Covers Always Lie above for what the general Imperial population believes is the case.
      • Although this is justified as to why they think he carries around a bolt pistol- a) because the Bolt Pistol is quite often associated with commissars, who do use the weapons often (though Cain explains why he prefers the laspistol in "The Last Ditch,"), and b) because in "The Greater Good," it's explained that Jurgen found a very, very nice bolt pistol, and Ciaphas uses this when posing for posters instead of his normal laspistol.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Cain gets one of these moments at the end of For The Emperor, when he executes two Guard troopers—the only survivors of a "special mission" other than himself and Inquisitor Vail—without forewarning or explanation. As the rest soon discover—and confirming Cain's unvoiced hunch—the two executed troopers turn out to be carrying Genestealer implants. Cain, despite claiming he's only acting concerned so that the guardsmen don't shoot him dead, is not pleased at this.
  • Where It All Began: The plot of Cain's Last Stand, sort of. Perlia isn't his home, but it is where his reputation was first solidified and seems to be his favorite planet of all the ones he's visited in his long career.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Ciaphas wonders who comes up with space hulk names on learning he'll help clear out the Spawn of Damnation. Veil clarifies that usually it's the first Inquisitor to find it, and that yes, they do have a touch of the melodramatic when doing so.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Necrons?: Necrons are to Cain what snakes are to Indiana Jones, and with good reason, detailed in the omnibus-exclusive short Echoes of the Tomb. They're the reason for his augmetic fingers
  • Wire Dilemma: In The Traitor's Hand.
    - They are both purple!
  • Woman Scorned: Taken to extremes in a manner only the 40K universe could in the third novel.
  • The Worf Effect: Whenever Cain ends up facing Tyranids or their Genestealer agents, he will always make a reference to the time he was on the space hulk Spawn of Damnation and saw Space Marines in Terminator armour get shredded by a bunch of purestrains, as a shorthand of reminding himself and the readers of how dangerous they are. note 
    • Subverted in other Warhammer media- Space Marine Terminators are the strongest of all standard Space Marines, with many documents going on and on about how they are the Emperor's will, how they have chunks of the Emperor's own armor in them, how they are capable of subduing entire armies on their own... So unlike other "Worfs" (Worf, Wolverine, etc.) the Terminators actually do have a history of getting things done and being utter badasses. Seeing them get taken down is something to be really concerned about, rather than the other examples, which tend to act tough only to get taken down in about five minutes to show how bad things are.
  • Worthy Opponent: From the first line in The Greater Good:
    Say what you like about the tau, and I've said plenty myself over the years, they know how to put on a good war.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: The Tallarns in The Traitor's Hand, who refused to participate in an inter-Regimental hand-to-hand combat tournament because the 597th's team had women on it.
    • To the surprise of exactly no one but the Tallarns and their commissar, the girl goes after their champion at the first opportunity. To the surprise of no one, Magot easily beats the warp out of the Tallarns' best fighter. He then gets in trouble because Magot has a higher rank than he does.
  • You Are in Command Now
  • You Killed My Father: Cain, to the kroot. Only an allusion, not leading to Revenge. This also may have simply been a lie as well, strengthened by the following footnote mentioning that Amberley still couldn't find any confirmation of Cain's actual past and that he is exceptionally skilled at manipulating people. The Kroot shrugs it off and says he's sure they died well. Mind you, Cain doesn't care much for his parents.
  • Your Favorite: At the end of Caves of Ice, Cain has spent the last several days helping Amberley deal with the aftermath of his discovery, and destruction, of the Necron tomb. The last night before he leaves, he takes the liberty of ordering food, because she's been busy; he gets her ackenberry sorbet, which he indicated "hadn't been hard to remember" was one of her favorite foods. (Amberley, editing as usual, puts an abrupt end to Cain's narrative at this point, because though she admits that Cain continues for several more paragraphs, "it only covers personal matters of no interest to anyone else.")
  • "You're Not My Type": In "The Beguiling," Cain uses this as a Bond One-Liner when he shoots a chaos cultist who tried to seduce (and allow a demon to possess) him.
    Cain: "I prefer blondes." (Headshot)
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: Cain notes one cadet is not this in Cain's Last Stand.

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alternative title(s): Ciaphas Cain
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