Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ciaphas Cain: HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!, by Sandy Mitchell

So as my two readers are well aware by this point, I am something of a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise and occasionally enjoy the odd omnibus or two from this ridiculously awesome universe. Recently I decided to go back to my good friends, the Imperial Guard, and read about the adventures of Commissar Ciaphas Cain in the first omnibus, Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium, which collects the novels, For the Emperor, Caves of Ice, and The Traitor's Hand into one volume, as well as three short stories.

Overall I liked this book, but I had a few problems which I want to talk about. First and foremost, I would not recommend this book for the beginner 40k fan. You really have to know how a commissar is supposed to act ("The first man who retreats will be shot!" and so on.) to really understand why a lot of the humor surrounding Cain works. Granted, the books provide plenty of exposition for other subjects in the 40k universe, but I feel like you have to meet some of the trigger-happy bastard commissars before getting a full appreciation for Cain.

My second big issue was that the jokes started wearing thin about halfway through the book because Mitchell seemed to rely on the same three jokes: Cain runs away even though he's not supposed to, Jurgen is phlegmatic, and General Sulla's memoirs, according to Inquisitor Amberley Vail, are an assault on the Gothic language. They were funny the first couple of times but it started getting old after about the fifth time. Fortunately, by the end of The Traitor's Hand Mitchell had introduced some fresh jokes and pretty cool action scenes so I was left with an overall pleased feeling.

My final big problem was that I noticed Cain is constantly excusing his concern for the soldiers under his command as him just keeping up his war hero facade rather than any actual interest in the troopers. Honestly, I didn't buy it because Cain has fought alongside these soldiers for five or six years by the final novel and there have been plenty of examples in history of that sort of experience building a bond as strong as family. Furthermore, even if Cain was one of the utter bastard commissars who sees troops as expendable, he'd probably still need to know how many men he had left before attacking an enemy position. It just seemed to me that asking if other people were okay was such a basic human reaction that Cain discredits himself too much saying he's doing it for his own selfish purposes.

A smaller, less important complaint about this book was that in the beginning Cain suffers a lot from "show, don't tell". When we first meet Cain in For the Emperor he's already a huge war hero and whose face is on recruiting posters across the sector. I really found myself wishing I could hear about these early adventures and how Cain developed his reputation before he becomes the Hero of the Imperium we all know and love. You kind of get that in the short stories between the novels, but I really wish there was at least one novel detailing more of Cain's early exploits. Fortunately, much of my "show, don't tell" problem was resolved by the end of For the Emperor because we get to see Cain be the big hero and defeat the enemies of the Imperium, save the day, and get the girl.

Overall, despite my issues with this book series, I ended up at least enjoying Cain's adventures. We get to see a far more human commissar and see his foibles and emotions; I would definitely call Cain more human in a respect than the famous Ibram Gaunt because at the end of the day, Gaunt's still a soldier, while Cain's looking for the nearest bar, gambling den, or house of ill repute. Cain is a man unashamed of pursuing the more carnal pleasures and in a way it makes his small acts of heroism seem all the greater as a result. The action is downright epic at times and although some jokes wear out their welcome, there's plenty of fresh humor to keep the book going.

I'm definitely interested in reading Ciaphas Cain: Defender of the Imperium, the next collection of Cain's adventures, and hope that Cain and Jurgen have plenty of awesome adventures across the galaxy. As I mentioned, this book probably isn't for beginners because you really have to know about Imperial commissars before you dive in, but if you're a 40k veteran you should definitely check them out.

- Kalpar

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