Adventures in Bookland: For the Emperor by Sandy Mitchell
In a galaxy where those creatures that don’t want to eat you desire to tear your soul from your body, there usually isn’t anything much to laugh about. Indeed, humour is notably absent from almost all the books set in the 40k universe – the setting is called ‘grimdark’ for a reason!
So it was with great joy and a certain amount of relief that I started reading Sandy Mitchell’s first book about Imperial Commissar Caiaphas Cain for the realisation comes quickly: this is 40k but with a twist via Flashman and Blackadder. Indeed, in a universe as mad as 40k, the only sane response is to laugh in the face of the thirsting gods – while doing one’s best to secure a safe billet in an out-of-the-way logistics camp a very, very, very long way from any front lines. In the tradition of Flashman and, in particular, the First World War edition of Edmund Blackadder, Caiaphas Cain, newly appointed enforcer for the Imperium, tries to do exactly that. But, also following firmly in Flashman’s footsteps, Cain gains himself a reputation for heroism that sees him being dispatched to all the most dangerous hotspots in the Galaxy where he attempts to survive by a mixture of cunning and cowardice. Of course, in the face of enemies, and if there’s no where to run, Cain actually proves quite a capable fighter and an even better motivator of others to do the fighting for him. What’s particularly entertaining is his sardonic attitude to everything in the Imperium, from the Imperial Creed to his fellow Commissars. My only complaint is that Mitchell got to do this first: I would have loved to have had the chance to try writing such a character within 40k.