BOOK REVIEW: Cadian Blood, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

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  • A standalone novel
  • Focuses on the Imperial Guard
  • Published by Black Library in 2009
  • Military SF
  • 347 pages
  • ⭐⭐⭐

Cadians are the finest soldiers in the Imperium, and when a holy world is beset by trouble, it is they who answer the call. But this no ordinary war, for the forces of Chaos are afoot, and not all enemies are visible . . .

A massive and disastrous war amid a deadly pandemic. Yes, Cadian Blood was definitely ahead of its time. And to think people say science fiction is just escapism. I’m not going to go into the obvious parallels, but it is something that sits in the back of your mind while you’re reading.

One of the problems of being a Black Library reader is the small print runs. Warhammer 40,000 as a game has a large audience by genre standards. But only a fraction of those who play the game also read the literature. A small few such as myself read the books without having any real interest in the other aspects of the hobby, but this doesn’t add up to a terribly large readership. Black Library knows this, and doesn’t want to print too many copies of a book that will remain unsold. It’s the same as any publisher in that regard, but with far smaller margins for error. It seems to me that Black Library play it a little too safe, as hardbacks regularly sell out online within a day of release. Paperbacks are easier to get hold of, but even they don’t stick around forever, and it’s only a few favourites like Gaunt’s Ghosts and the Horus heresy that stay in print for multiple runs. What this means from a reader’s perspective is that if you miss your shot at getting a book, you may very well never lay eyes on it again. But there is a small silver lining. As well as the possibility of omnibus editions, Black Library have in recent years chosen one book from yesteryear to get a reprint. Technically, they choose a shortlist, and the final choice is made by the public. And so it is that, thirteen years after its initial release, Cadian Blood is back on shelves.

My main takeaway from reading this book now, is that Black Library have come a long way in the past decade and a half. The newer books are more varied in their plots, more diverse in their authorship, more thematically rich. Back in the murky past of 2009, it was all about the action. And not a whole lot more. Your tolerance for brainless destruction will determine your enjoyment of Cadian Blood.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good book. Dembski-Bowden knows how to write an action scene, and even if he has come a long way since this book, he was no slouch to start off with. The Cadians in this book might come across as stock characters from a hundred other war stories, but they’re a fun bunch to spend a few hundred times with. The jokes and banter between them keep things moving along nicely, and the death toll among our protagonists is satisfyingly high. On the flipside you have the villains. The servants of Nurgle are a truly disgusting bunch of miscreants and murderers. Properly horrific monsters, although they are perhaps a little cartoonish at times. And that’s the real feel of Cadian Blood. Everything is dialled up to eleven, be it heroics, scheming, or anything in between. It comes from a simpler time, and clearly deserves its place as a fan favourite. But it can’t quite stand alongside the best of the books being written and published today.

At the end of the day, this is a fun insight into the Black Library of the past, and even if it has flaws, they serve only to show how far we’ve come.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also like:
The Night Lords Omnibus, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
The Talon of Horus, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Cadian Honour, by Justin D Hill

Published by Alex Hormann

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

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