It has been some time since I’ve read anything from Chris Wraight, whom I consider to be one of the most careful and intentioned world-builders within the ranks of Black Library’s authors. Over the years, he has given us some gems like Scars and Battle of the Fang among others. His latest for the M41 era is the first novel in the Vaults of Terra series, The Carrion Throne, which explores the machinations of the Inquisition on Terra itself and paints one of the most vivid pictures of the throneworld in the current era. An absolute joy from start to finish, the novel takes some big risks and justifies them in the end.
The novel starts off with something that helps establish the sombre mood of the rest of the story, Lord Inquisitor Crowl, a senior member of the Holy Ordos is in the midst of conducting an interrogation of a heretic, and the way that Chris writes out the scene, you can’t help but feel goosebumps up and down your arms. The threat of something sinister, some deep personal harm, is ever-present in this opening, and works as a superb introduction to one of the protagonists of the novel. If novels are defined by their opening chapters, then the one for The Carrion Throne is a superlative work that keeps you spell-bound all the way through.
Joining Inquisitor Crowl in his mission to keep Terra and the Imperium safe from the depredations of the minions of Chaos is Interrogator Spinoza, recently transferred to his retinue. A determined agent of the Holy Ordos, Spinoza is one of the highlights of the narrative and quite the contrarian as it turns out since she doesn’t always take Crowl at his word and always ready to challenge his views. This sets up a lot of tension between the master and the apprentice and it is fascinating to see played out. We have seen something like this before of course, in the Eisenhorn and Ravenor series by Dan Abnett, and Chris Wraight’s latest definitely brings to mind the best of those two, which are very much foundational works of Warhammer 40,000. And the best thing of course is that neither are typecast characters. They are portrayed as different from the norm, yes, but then such is the lot of the senior agents of the Holy Ordos. And as the primary actors of the narrative, they both have a deep sense of depth and urgency to them, which is part of what just keeps you reading and turning the pages, as it were.
The mystery that confronts our heroes is as diabolical and intricate as you might expect. Some possible taint within the Ordos itself, some collusion with traitors at the highest and lowest levels, a deep-seated heresy. The Carrion Throne has it all in spades. Chris uses the locale of the Imperial Throneworld as the perfect backdrop for his story for Terra has a life of its own, a life and rules and traditions that are inviolable. As you might notice from the cover of the novel, we also have a warrior of the mighty Adeptus Custodes here as well, one of the personal guardians of the God-Emperor himself. You combine the force of character that such a warrior is with agents of the Inquisition and you have the makings of a right explosive story. Chris doesn’t waste any of his narrative cachet in that regard.
The relationship between Crowl, Spinoza, and the Custodian Navradaran is fraught with mistrust and wariness, but it is also a solid element of the novel, much like everything else. Through various exotic locations on Terra, Chris takes the reader on a ride to discover some of the deepest secrets of the birth-place of Mankind, secrets that even go back to the days of the Horus Heresy. How each character tackles these mysteries is a plot all of its own, given that they each take them on from different angles, eventually coming to an unsettling truth by the end.
Perhaps one of the best highlights of the novel is that Terra is not just a location. It is a civilisation all on its own. Mighty fleets safeguard the jewel of the Imperium. Grand armies of clerks and savants keep it running day to day. The products of hundreds of worlds keep it fed. Its citizens number in the trillions. There’s a certain character to Terra all its own and Chris does well to explore that wherever possible. The mention of the festival of the Sanguinala, a celebration marking the sacrifice of the Holy Primarch Sanguinius of the Blood Angels, is one of these explorations. First mentioned in the early days in Matt Farrer’s Crossfire, the first in his Shira Calpurnia series, the approaching Sanguinala is what gives the central mystery of The Carrion Throne an urgency and a target. Through this we also learn much of the history of the Imperium from ten thousand years ago, the Heresy and the Crusade itself. Much has changed in these long millennia and the commentaries found within the novel are a marked departure from the realities that we as readers know of.
And that is what makes it all so fascinating. There’s so much Chris Wraight gets absolute right in the novel. If there are any drawbacks, they are rather minor such as the central mystery being slightly oblique and also a bit dragged-out. But all in all, The Carrion Throne is a great start to a new series, full of exciting new characters and situations that I’m very eager to learn more about. For any fan of Warhammer 40,000 who is looking for a defining, perhaps even iconic, example of this war-torn galactic arena, then The Carrion Throne is a perfect stop for it embodies the best and the worst of the Imperium. Again, if you’ve read Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn and Ravenor, or even Ben Counter’s Grey Knights, then this is the novel for you. Inquisitors, Adeptus Custodes, Terra, heretical mysteries. Mutants. The novel has it all. And this is just the beginning.
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