- A standalone novel
- Focuses on the Astra Militarum
- Published by Black Library in November 2022
- Science Fantasy
- 293 pages
Only through service to the God-Emperor may a psyker earn redemption. But with a gun to their head, the madness of Chaos gnawing at their mind, and suspicion in the eyes of their former friends, that redemption may come at too high a price . . .
First comes the disclaimer. This is a richly written book that demands attention to fully appreciate it. It’s only a short book, but I took a week-long break in the middle of reading it to go on an extended holiday in which absolutely no reading was done. I’m not sure I ever fully got into this book, and it’s hard to pin down what was the book not working for me, and what was me just being distracted. My review must therefore be taken with a considerable pinch of salt. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, I like clear cut divisions when it comes to genre. I like my fantasy to be fantasy and my science fiction to be science fiction. Warhammer falls into the remaining one percent. It is science fantasy, with all that that entails. What is a psyker if not a space wizard? I admit, this usually wouldn’t have been a book I’d pick up. But I did pick it up, and I did read it. Partly because Steven B Fischer impressed me with his earlier short fiction (some of which is essentially a prequel to this novel), but also because of the Cadian connection. Psyker Aerand was formerly a member of a Cadian regiment, you see, and now has to return to work alongside former friends who now view her as an abomination. Not as much is done here as other recent books with regard to the general Cadian psychology, though we do get moments of examination. What we spend a lot more time on, and to good effect, is alienation.
As a psyker, Aerand is deemed as dangerous to her allies as to her enemies, and is kept as a prisoner. To an extent, she is stripped down to the most basic functions. Not so much a soldier anymore, as a weapon in human form. There’s a great sense of tension and suspicion as Aerand and her former colleagues adjust to the new reality of their situation. It’s also a stark reminder of just how brutal the grim dark future can be. In a way, all of humanity has been reduced to a mere weapon for the God-Emperor. The only difference between a psyker and a guardsman is that a psyker is not even permitted camaraderie to get them through the day.
The other thing Witchbringer does well is to bring out some of the more horror elements of the setting. The battlefields of Visage are thick with mist and ghost stories, some of which might even be true. Cutting down to the least-informed combatants, Fischer creates an air of dread that hangs over everything. And when it comes to a psyker’s abilities, things tilt into the fringes of cosmic horror. Because while the God-Emperor might not be watching over his psykers, something else most definitely is. It just isn’t as benevolent as the leader of humanity.
Overall, Witchfinder never quite came together for me, but the various elements are all very much worth a look, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for what Fischer writes next.
More psyker action from Black Library
Ahriman: The Omnibus, by John French