This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
So, previously we’ve discussed the first few Commissar Cain books by Sandy Mitchell – Warhammer 40,000 tie-in novels surrounding the adventures of a character who’s part spoof of the hero of the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, part Blackadder, and part Flashman. They’re entertaining enough, but I found the first three books a little formulaic and was hoping that the novels collected in the second Cain omnibus, Defender of the Imperium, would shake things up a little.
Mitchell, for his part, seems to have felt that the time had come to get a little bit more ambitious with the series. The three novels, whilst they more or less stand alone, have a plot arc running through them that extends for most of the length of Cain’s career. As you might remember from the last articles, the Cain novels are ostensibly reconstructed from the rambling autobiographical notes Cain cobbled together whilst he spent his twilight years as an instructor to the next generation of Imperial Guard Commissars, edited into something coherent and readable by Inquisitor Amberley Vail, who Cain had an occasional working (and a parallel romantic) relationship with over the years – mainly for the entertainment of other Inquisitors, since Cain’s irreverent depiction of the historical events he gets caught up in is decidedly not for public consumption. The conceit here is that Vail assembles these three particular books, each based on an incident at wildly different points in Cain’s career, because they each relate to a particular strand which only came to fruition at the very end of Cain’s career.
Question is, is this mild embellishment really enough to break the series out of the formula it’s had to date? Let’s find out.