Reviews: Ciaphas Cain

Dead In The Water - Good, But Seems Half-Sized

For those who are confused, "Dead In The Water" is the first Ciaphas Cain audio drama from Big Finish. It's essentially another Ciaphas Cain story, set prior to his joining the Valhallan 597th. It details his participation in what seemed like one of the easiest and most one-sided campaigns ever fought by the Imperium. As usual, it didn't turn out that way.

The writing itself is classic Cain. Notably absent, however, are Amberley Vail's footnotes, or any other documents. The footnotes are an obvious casualty of the audio format, and the other documents are not necessary. Toby Longworth does a good job of giving every character a distinct voice (though I still suspect that someone else voiced Amberley's intro).

The real issue I have is that the story seems to end halfway in. Its length does seem to hew closer to a short story, but I think there is enough material here for a full-length novel. The villain isn't revealed until near the end, and isn't even defeated by the end. It all feels rather anticlimactic.

Warhammer 40000 taken the way it was meant to be: humorously!

I must say, before I heard of Ciaphas Cain, the Warhammer 40000 universe was a bleak, serious and cynical one in my eyes. Indeed it is dark and scary as it is usually described as. In the background materials. Ciaphas Cain just so happens to capture the atmosphere of the tabletop itself as well as the backstory, and manages to throw in a fair deal of the black humour that makes the game so fun to play into the grim darkness of the story. Indeed, I was surprised that a book series such as this one existed in such a setting, and when I saw the added title of "hero of the Imperium" written in all caps every time it was mentioned on the wiki, it did not only set the message that it was obviously comedy, it itched my curiosity like hell. So I decided to check it out, and I did not regret it.

As it is already obvious, the Ciaphas Cain series goes for a more lighthearted and comedic take on the franchise rather than the deadly serious portrayal we see in other series. While there are still undertones of the grimdark we are used to in the setting, the Ciaphas Cain series takes these out of a first person perspective from a cynical, snarky, self-preserving and cowardly individual who just so happens to have the occupation of a commissar, and with a very huge streak of bad luck that winds him up with the title of Hero of the Imperium. This practically sums up the titular character Ciaphas Cain in a nutshell, and he constantly has to put up with a good image for the sake of his reputation which he personally believes he did not deserve. Always followed by his odourous but very loyal aide, Ferik Jurgen, the whole Valhallan 597th regiment under his command, it gets hilarious to see him get constantly thrown into dangerous situations simply because of his overblown reputation.

One thing I personally like in the books is the level of detail they go into more trivial things, usually through Amberley Vail's footnotes throughout the books, such as social aspects of the imperium, and certain insight into various events plus a fair amount of references to books by other Black Library authors, like Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts series. This indeed gives the series a whole lot of depth into the Imperium's social structure, showing that certain cultural aspects are not so different from ours even in the future.

A must read for any Warhammer 40000 fan.

The Lighter Side of 40k

Author Sandy Mitchell has created a fantastic series that, for once, doesn't focus on the Grim Dark aspects of 40k. Yes, it is present, but Cain's adventures take on an almost light-hearted tone at times. The books affectionately lampshade the universe they're set in quite a few times (One of the most disturbing races almost becomes comedic), while still remaining true to the 40k universe.

The stories are written as though they were Cain's Memoirs, another departure from typical 40k novels, and are in a mostly non-sequential order. The latest three have developed a loose story arc to them (Set over many years, of course), so they should probably be read in order.

As a character, Cain is another surprising departure from the typical 40k hero. He describes himself as cowardly, egotistical, and a general contradiction of what an Imperial Hero should be. With this in mind, he manages to perform more feats of heroism almost single-handedly than most regiments of Guardsmen do in their entire service records. Another interesting aspect is being a Commissar who isn't hated by his troops. In fact, many of them are quite friendly towards him. However, being a 40k character, he still kicks all manner of ass. From Xenos to Traitors, all are welcome.

One final aspect I'd like to look at is it's ease of reading for those who aren't familiar with 40k. Very little prior knowledge is required, and a good many things are explained via footnote, in story explanation, or by example. In fact, this is the series that finally sold 40k to me. For those of you out there who're looking for a good 40k, or even general sci-fi, you can't go wrong with Ciaphas Cain.

Ciaphas Cain, or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Laugh At 40k

All Warhammer 40000 novels are Grim and Dark. Until now. Sandy Mitchell has written a wonderful series set in this Grim and Dark future, which is far more humourous than any that have come before. The series follows Commissar Ciaphas Cain, who, on the surface, seems to be a heroic man, who goes above and beyond the call of duty. However, the novels, narrated from his point of view, paint a less-than-stellar picture of him. All of his heroics are accidental, all of his achievements occured while he was attempting to flee the field of battle, all of his charisma was used to get the troops to like him and not shoot him (he comments that traditional "shoot the cowards" commissars tend to die bravely facing the enemy, no matter how far away the enemy may be...).

Through all of his trials and tribulations, he truly achieves impressive things. Defeating several Tyranid invasions, assembling a group of refugees and making them a cohesive fighting force, defeating an Ork warboss, a Chaos Marine, and several demons using only his wits and his chainsword, and even escaping from Necrons several times. Since only the audience is privy to his real reasons, everyone else believes him to be truly heroic.

The novels, as I've mentioned, are told from his perpective. However, they have been editted by an old friend of his (and major character in the series), Inquisitor Amberley Vail, who adds enlightening footnotes and extracts from other works where Cain leaves out details. In these footnotes, she throws Cain's own self-deprecation into question, commenting on the many brave and selfless acts Cain has performed, leading us to question Cain's version of the truth, and throwing yet more doubt on whether he is truly a hero or an opportunistic fake.

Each of the books are well-written, and contain several references to other 40k novels, such as Gaunt's Ghosts, as well as to other media (soylens veridiens being just one example). While reading each book, you get drawn into the 40k universe, bit by bit. It's described in wonderful detail, and seems like a living organism, where life continues on, even when the heroes are nowhere nearby. The characters are believable and complex, and even many bit characters are fleshed out in some way.

Only a small amount of 40k knowledge is needed, unlike others. If you've ever laughed at Blackadder, I would recommend this.