Publisher: Black Library
Genre: Grimdark SF
Publication Date: 2012
In the ancient and sprawling city of Queen Mab, a young woman named Alizabeth Bequin is about to be drawn into a conspiracy that could reshape the Imperium itself. But how can she navigate the tangled webs when she knows so little. Could even her own identity be hidden from her . . ?
First released in 2012 with the subheading Eisenhorn vs Ravenor, Dan Abnett’s legendary Pariah has now been re-released as the opening act of the Bequin trilogy, with the much anticipated Penitent also available and the promise of Pandemonium not too distant in the future. The Bequin trilogy forms a part of Abnett’s larger Inquisition set of novels, following on from the Eisenhorn novels and the Ravenor trilogy. If you haven’t read these prior works, then first of all you are missing out, but secondly you definitely should do the background reading before tackling Pariah.
In spite of what I have just said, for most of its pages Pariah functions as a standalone novel. The setting is a new one, and one that Abnett brings to grim life from the opening pages. Queen Mab is as mysterious to us readers as it it to those who inhabit its dark streets. between doll shops, palaces, cathedrals, and schools of secretive organisations, Queen Mab is easily one of the most vividly realised locations in Warhammer 40,000’s extensive lore. At first, the plot seems new too, a classic and gripping tale of a home destroyed and a life on the run. It’s only in the third act (the novel being divided into three ‘books’) that the tie-ins to the larger Inquisition cycle become apparent and we start to learn more about Bequin’s place in the story.
Alizabeth Bequin is a name that will be familiar to Abnett’s readers, and both is and is not the central protagonist here. Though our narrator shares the name, and indeed the face, of Eisenhorn’s trusted aide, it’s clear from the outset that this is not quite the same woman. In a way, this is an origin story for Bequin, but not the one you might be expecting, unless you’ve been paying particularly close attention. Though she is not always what she seems to be, Bequin makes for a compelling character. Abnett’s choice to return to the first person pays off in spades. The sense of voice was something I found lacking in the Ravenor trilogy, but Bequin’s narration makes up for that shortcoming and then some. This Bequin is far less worldly than Abnett’s previous protagonists, and by keeping the first person focused on her, Abnett is able to keep key information from the reader without having to resort to any trickery, while also offering a truly unique insight into the world he has wrought.
By the climax of the novel, the original subheading makes itself known, and everything is tied back into the larger narrative. The mystery of the King in Yellow is yet to be solved, but there is a sense that everything is now rushing headlong into the final fight. An impressive feat when there are still two books (at least) to go. This book really does feel like a shot in the arm from Abnett, and gives the series a kick that earlier volumes sometimes lacked, showing why Abnett is so well-regarded among his readers. Sticking through the rough patches was absolutely worth it to get this far.
Pariah is one of the strongest Black Library novels I have read, and deserves every piece of praise it is given. Penitence and Pandemonium cannot get here soon enough.