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Literature / Shira Calpurnia

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Shira Calpurnia is the central character in a trilogy of Warhammer 40,000 novels by Matthew Farrer. An Arbitor Senioris of the Adeptus Arbites, the trilogy follows her as she takes up the office on the Imperial Hive World of Hydraphur and is almost immediately embroiled in troubles both criminal and political. The first novel, Crossfire, sees her working to solve the mystery behind apparent attempts to disrupt one of Hydraphur's most important religious holidays. The second, Legacy, involves the arbitration of the transfer of a Rogue Trader charter which becomes far more complicated than originally planned. The third, Blind, sees Calpurnia attempting to solve the murder of a high-ranking Astropath.

The novels were collected in an omnibus edition titled Enforcer.

These novels provide examples of the following:

  • Beware the Nice Ones: Magos Sanja of the Adeptus Mechanicus shrine in the Augustaem is mostly a mild-mannered scholar and devotee of the Machine God, with a focus on matters biological. Nonetheless, he utterly shreds Magos Dyobann of the Phrax Flotilla when he uncovers how Petronas had been altered into a false Phrax heir. The combination of xenos biology (probably Kroot, a "mercenary breed" known for having mutable genetics) and Space Marine gene-seed was blasphemous enough, but Sanja is also affronted by the deceit itself as an insult to the Machine God and His quest for knowledge.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Blind, and the trilogy as a whole. Many plot threads are concluded, but others are left open, and Calpurnia is not much better off than when she was at the start of Blind, but is more emotionally grounded and more willing than ever to see her fate through to the end.
  • Blue Blood: Much of Crossfire in particular is driven by Calpurnia acclimating to her new role on a new world and running into difficulties getting the local nobility to cooperate with her investigation when the kind of difference, protocol, and implicit messaging they abide by is so literally alien to her way of approaching problems. Another character points out the irony of her struggling so much in dealing with nobles considering that the Calpurnias are a prestigious noble family on Ultramar. She counters that the Calpurnia family has a very long and very strong tradition of noblesse oblige to the Imperium before all other considerations and she has trouble understanding those whose loyalty to family and whose loyalty to the Imperium might be divergent things.
  • Body Horror: The attempt to retool Petronas into a fake heir of Hoyyon Phrax grotesquely ravages and distorts his body before he dies.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Simova's legal strategy to acquire the Phrax charter hinges on the drop of the Emperor's blood that He signed it with, but that drop is also its undoing. While this does qualify the charter as a relic of the most sacred nature, it also makes the contents of the charter a divine command direct from the Emperor's hand, which no lesser authority can amend or overrule. Calpurnia's legal research reveals that this has been litigated before: The clauses that govern the charter's transmission override the entire body of law relating to Ecclesiarchal acquisition of relics.
  • Downer Ending: Legacy ends with all sides that were trying to lay claim to Hoyyon Phrax's charter stymied (and two of those essentially annihilated), the charter itself apparently lost in space, and Calpurnia disgraced and facing the end of her career (if not worse) over the spectacular brouhaha the whole thing culminated in, the last of which is left vague but made clear in the opening chapters of Blind.
  • Duel to the Death: In Crossfire, a Navy officer who feels that Calpurnia has overstepped her authority and given him grave insult challenges her to an honor duel that could very well kill one or both of them. However, due to legal precedents, she can't accept the challenge, but someone else can take her place—namely, a commissar who eventually wins the duel with only serious injuries being caused.
  • Epigraph: An exaggerated case in Crossfire, as each chapter's opening page(s) note the "[X]th Day of Sepista", a world-wide religious festival for the world Calpurnia's on, and feature instructions on how to observe certain religious rites and ceremonies leading up to the Mass of Saint Balronas.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Varro Phrax, inconsolable with grief over the murder of his wife and infant son, has his badly-damaged ship attempt a Warp transit deep in-system, weeks away from a safe transit point. The Warp engines fail, as does the Geller Field; a daemonic incursion follows, with the ship lost in the Warp.
  • Famous Ancestor: The Calpurnia family hails from Ultramar and is noted as having a long history of members with distinguished careers in many different areas of Imperial government and military, even two who became Ultramarines. Shira is commended at one point for seeing this as something to strive to build on and not a badge of honor to use to lord over others.
  • Gambit Pileup: Legacy's plot revolves around three separate parties trying to lay claim to an ancient Rogue Trader charter. The associates of the deceased Trader want to keep it away from his known blood heir and try to create a fake heir to usurp him. Said blood heir doesn't really want the charter but is being essentially railroaded into claiming it by his own associates. On top of that, the Ecclesiarchy considers the charter a holy relic and wants to seize it, as it was signed by the Emperor and sealed with a drop of his blood. Unbeknownst to all of them, the man turned into the fake heir wants revenge on the Trader's associates for the murder of his mother. Calpurnia, for her part, has to preside over the trial that is supposed to determine who gets the charter. Said trial turns into an all-out battle that gets a lot of people killed and essentially puts a bolter shell between the eyes of Calpurnia's career.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Shira spends most of the first book trying to navigate through a tangle of these so she can actually investigate the case. The Cathedral's Battle Sisters are enforcing religious strictures related to an ongoing Vigil, the Inquisition is investigating the rogue psyker who attempted to assassinate Shira, Lord Hallyan Kalfus-Medell is exerting his (temporary) authority as Master of the Vigil, and the Navy jealously enforces its rights off-planet. The Monocrat (the civilian governor of Hydraphur) is about the only authority not seen acting directly in this case.
  • Macguffin: Hoyyon Phrax's Rogue Trader charter, as it is the linchpin to everything that's going on in Legacy. Its ultimate fate is unknown, although it's presumably lost in space.
  • Mercy Kill: Every astropath in the Witchroost is accompanied by someone with a psychically warded gun who will shoot the astropath without hesitation if their warp power gets out of control or it's clear that they are about to have a complete breakdown from burnout.
  • Of the People: The members of the Rogue Trader fleet, due to the prestige of being in such a job and its associated grandeur, are arrogantly contemptuous of planet-bound people and anyone else outside their company, referring to such people as "tikks".
  • Oh, Crap!: Magos Dyobann has two major moments in Legacy after delivering doctored blood samples allegedly showing Petronas's Phrax heritage to the Augustaeum Mechanicus shrine:
    • First, when the Helispex uncovers just what had been done to the sample, forcing him to flee the shrine.
    • Second, when he realizes Magos Sanga had hacked his servitor to deliver a "The Reason You Suck" Speech and that his opponent is no soft ivory tower dweller.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Magos Sanja delivers one to Magos Dyobann after uncovering his deception, calling him, "A scavenger-rat in a red robe, a smuggler and thief[,] a murderer and a consorter with murderers[,] a friend of the xenos, the alien whose form mocks the pure genetics of the human template[.] One whose contempt for what is sacred leads him to poison a sacred engine of the Mechanicus with lies and betray the trust its keeper placed in him[.]"
  • Rugged Scar: Calpurnia has three scars running from her left eye up her brow into her hair, which she rubs unconsciously when she's deep in thought or mentally distressed. Their origin isn't revealed until the memory of the injury is dredged out of her mind in Blind.
  • Shout-Out: And a very meta one, at that. At one point, Calpurnia compares an outlandish power fantasy being psychically hammered into her head to a Ciaphas Cain propaganda poster.
  • State Sec:
    • Naturally, the Adeptus Arbites and its workings are explored in-depth throughout the trilogy; the books essentially serve as A Day in the Limelight for them as very few other Black Library works go into them in this much detail, such as showing what happens when an Arbites squad is called to quell civil unrest or doing casework in a hive city with potentially millions of suspects.
    • The Inquisition also features prominently, as Calpurnia must work alongside Inquisitor Zhow in Crossfire and a hidden Ordo Hereticus Inquisitor pops up in Blind.
  • Strange Cop in a Strange Land: A point that comes up repeatedly in Crossfire is that none of Calpurnia's previous posts have prepared her for the environment of Hydraphurian politics, nor the legions of social mores and cues that she needs to learn to fully function in her role without looking like an uncultured moron. Her superior Leandro is an adroit teacher, but Calpurnia often finds herself driven to frustration over having to juggle these etiquette lessons and actual police work.
  • Unwitting Test Subject: Petronas and his friends were all given the same cocktail of introductory drugs and gene traces to find who would survive to be remade into the fake heir of Hoyyon Phrax. Those who didn't died horribly, and Petronas uses this knowledge as fuel to survive long enough to get revenge on his tormentors.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: This is revealed to be the key to the murder of Otranto, and a few other events in Blind: if a psyker can blast a strong enough mental image of an attack into another psyker's head, the target's mind can cause the wounds to manifest in his/her body.