BOOK REVIEW: Bloodlines, by Chris Wraight

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Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Crime/Grimdark

Pages: 311

Publication Date: 2020

Verdict: 4/5

In the sprawling city of Varangantua, lawman Agusto Zidarov is tasked with finding the missing son of a wealthy family. But this missing person case leads Zidarov into the murky world of organised crime, and not everyone wants him to solve the case . . .

With each book in the Warhammer Crime range, the city of Varangantua grows ever more vivid. The two books and one audio drama I’ve got to so far have each showcased a different part of the city. What makes it impressive, is that despite three locations, three sets of characters, and three authors, Varnagantua still feels like a single, continuous entity. I suspect there’s a lot of author correspondence and editorial guidance behind the scenes to carry it off so well, and everyone involved deserves the highest of praise.

Like Flesh and SteelBloodlines follows one of Varangantua’s probators on a case. But while Simeon Noctis was a rough around the edges hero (at least by Warhammer 40,000 standards) Agusto Zidarov is a far grimmer man. Zidarov is a man worn down by years on the job. He’s a Warhammer hero by way of BBC crime drama. Luther would be his best friend, and he’d fit right in on Line of Duty. It’s no secret that I’m not a great admirer of brooding loners, but here it works. There’s an almost noir styling to this book, and I can easily imagine it playing out in black and white. Because while Zidarov is a broken man, he’s a compelling character.

Probator Zidarov is shaped by his environs, and provides a human face for the infinite suffering of the grim, dark future. Though Varangantua is far from the front-line, Bloodlines hammers home what life is like in a Galaxy of perpetual war. Wraight brilliantly portrays the propaganda and soldier-worship of the Imperium. We see the role of the God-Emperor in the daily life of His citizens, and I particularly enjoyed the debate over whether the xenos are truly a threat, or even real at all. Even away from the battlefield, the Imperium is dedicated to warfare. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Zidarov’s tumultuous home life.

As with the other Warhammer Crime stories, Bloodlines doesn’t simply tell a crime story in the Warhammer universe, it tells a crime story that could only happen in the Warhammer universe. The science fiction elements are important throughout, from both general scenery to the crime itself. The tone ranges between bleak and horrifying, but never enough to overwhelm the senses. In this book more than the other offerings, the political structure of Varangantua plays a major role. Everything in the city is connected, from gangs and wealthy families, to the probators themselves. It’s a finely balanced house of cards, and one wrong move could spell disaster. Wraight brings in just enough of a larger awareness of the city to inform the story without drowning it in unnecessary details.

Bloodlines is another strong entry in a brand that is rapidly becoming my favourite part of the Warhammer 40,000 line. Whether it’s a sequel or something new, I can’t wait for the next outing from Warhammer Crime.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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