BOOK REVIEW: The Deacon of Wounds, by David Annandale

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Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • A standalone novel in the Warhammer Horror range
  • Focuses on the Imperial clergy
  • Published by Black Library in 2021
  • A slow, psychological horror
  • 203 pages

Theotokos is a world on the brink of death. First comes the drought that wipes out all cities but one. Then comes the deadly sickness known as the Grey Tears. Between Theotokos and death stands Arch-Deacon Ambrose. But the clergyman’s faith is not as strong as the congregation believes . . .

If ever there was an author who could show the variety of styles in the Warhammer Horror range, it’s David Annandale. The House of Night and Chain, his previous novel-length offering, was a twisting and very gothic mystery, rich in prose but ultimately not to my taste. The Deacon of Wounds is a different creature altogether. The prose is stripped right back, the horror is as external as it is internal, and it’s much easier to follow. Really, the only similarity is that both deal with an individual cast hopelessly adrift in a horrific situation. It’s no surprise that The Deacon of Wounds is a much stronger novel.

The book that convinced me to keep reading David Annandale’s works was the magnificent Ephrael Stern (a part of Warhammer’s Character range). A lot of that book’s strengths are on display here, though put to rather more bleak a purpose. Whereas the tale of the Heretic Saint was about the power of faith in times of strife, The Deacon of Wounds is a book in which faith is far less certain, and in which unnatural things can creep in through the gaps left by our doubt. I honestly don’t think there’s another author who captures the duality of religion in the grim dark future as well as Annandale. On the one hand, the power of the Chaos Gods is plain for all to see, and the Imperium has literal saints fighting on their behalf. Yet at the same time, the billions who pray to the God-Emperor will never see any real manifestation of His supposed godhood. How could a person live in such a world and not have doubts?

It’s these doubts that drive the narrative. Faced with death on a staggering scale, Arch-Deacon Ambrose finds himself wondering if all his faith has been for nought. Annandale excels at this quiet, creeping sort of horror. The doubts and voices that niggle at the back of Ambrose’s mind. Voices that might not be his own. This is the sort of horror I can get behind, with its interrogation of what it means to be a man of the cloth of the forty-first millennium. Everything moves very slowly, mirroring the slow decline and baking heat of the story’s setting. Annandale’s use of repeated rhythms and motifs gives a sense of everything moving in patterns. A slow spiral decline into darkness.

So good is this slow horror, it’s almost a shame when the violence starts. Not because the second act is worse, but because this book deserved more pages. But once you’re into the violence and disgust of the book’s latter half, the creeping horror is almost forgotten. The implosion of society amid a devastating plague manages to be not too on-the-nose, especially with armed soldiers massacring the civilian population, and riots breaking out across the city. This being Warhammer, there is a slight predictability to the origin of the city’s conqueror – a problem that has best much of the Warhammer Horror range, but the journey getting to that inevitable climax is an interesting and thought-provoking one nonetheless.

If you want to dive into the theology of Warhammer, then The Deacon of Wounds is a book you won’t want to miss out on. And if you just want to be left unnerved, it’s got something for you as well.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also like:
The House of Night and Chain, by David Annandale
Ephrael Stern: The Heretic Saint, by David Annandale
The Bookkeeper’s Skull, 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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