Wednesday, June 7, 2017

REVIEW: Vaults of Terra - The Carrion Throne

I'm a big fan of Inquisition books, you can blame the Eisenhorn and Ravenor series for that, and when I saw this new book coming out by Chris Wraight I knew I wanted to read it right away. Exploring the Inquisition allows authors to bring to life all of the day to day smaller stuff about the Imperium that we know is there but often gets overlooked in giant war novels. This one even takes place on Terra itself at the close of the 41st millennium, giving us our first in depth look at the throne world. So, does The Carrion Throne live up to the reputation set by its predecessors?

I was lucky enough to have been sent a limited edition version by Black Library for review, and wow is it nice. Bound in a fake red leather with the Inquisitorial "I" emblazoned on both the front and the back picked out in gold edging it looks every bit the part of an important book within the 40k universe. I could definitely imagine a book like this being on an inquisitors bookshelf. The page edges are picked out in gold and you have both a red and a black ribbon to mark your place. Next to my limited edition Nagash book, I would have to say this is one of my nicest looking books I own.

The story itself opens on Terra, as Spinoza, an interrogator, is reassigned to Inquisitor Crowl after the death of her own master. The two are immediately at ends with each other, but not in a confrontational way. Spinoza is a by the book, straight up and down, hardcore inquisitorial agent who spent time serving alongside the Imperial Fists and traveling the stars. In fact, she is such a good fighter that the Imperial Fist Chaplain she had been serving alongside gifted her with his crozius, which she uses expertly in combat. Crowl on the other hand is an aging Inquisitor who has spent the vast majority of his life on Terra and has become somewhat jaded to a lot of it. His faith is thin and he is irreverent to most of it. Despite this, he is very accomplished and held in high esteem by those who know him. He is also a pretty nice guy for an Inquisitor, to his friends and coworkers at least, not the unfortunates he hunts down.

When Spinoza joins his group she is thrown right into an ongoing investigation into a cult in the underhives that worship a being know as the False Angel. We get to see Crowl and his team in action as they execute a surgical strike against a group of these cultists to try and find someone higher up to interrogate. Besides Spinoza, the rest of his retinue consists of stormtroopers, led by his trusted sergeant, Revus. They act with all of the precision that you would expect to see from an elite, highly trained military unit. It's really satisfying to read about the ways they go about stuff, whether that's advancing down cramped sewage tunnels, pursuing a fleeing enemy, or flying their exotic craft through the canyon like confines of Terra. Chris wrote them in a way that feels completely believable and makes me think he did a lot of research on how elite units like this would work.

Once Crowl and Spinoza start digging a little deeper into the cult's activities they stumble upon what may be a loose thread from an even larger conspiracy. From there the story spirals out as they pursue every lead they can find, leading them through upper hive levels, to a spaceship in orbit, to a martian enclave on Terra, in the company of the Custodians, and even within the walls of the Imperial Palace itself. I don't want to give much more away since so much of the joy of a novel like this is finding out where everything leads on its own. Every action scene is expertly handled though, and there wasn't a single moment where I was bored or uninterested in what was transpiring. There were plenty of slower moments too, some of which were just further exploring the fortress of Courvain, Crowl's base of operations, and the various people he has working there to keep it going. The finale is perfect and could lead to some big revelations right at the heart of the Imperium in the future. I would love to see the next novel in the series deal with Guilliman's return to Terra and how Crowl handles that.

The story in this is fantastic, in fact I would say it's one of the best I have read from Black Library, but the characters and setting are even better. Every single character in this, even ones only in it for a brief time, feel fully formed and unique. Crowl and Spinoza are definitely the stars of the show, and their character arcs are a perfect match for each other. One having to learn to "relax" a little and live a bit more in the grey area instead of black and white, while the other discovers that maybe they were a bit too cynical. Revus, Crowl's number one man, is also a favorite of mine. He's stoic and unrelenting, but has a comfortable familiarity with his master Crowl. Hegain, another one of Crowl's stormtrooper sergeants, is fantastic with his choppy speech patterns, seeming to jump from one thought to the next while always staying upbeat and chipper. Even Crowl's servo-skull Gorgias has a ton of personality, blurting out advice in a mix of High and Low Gothic such as "Heriticus, burn-burn". It's a nice little touch, and all of the characters interact with it as well. It reminds me a bit of R2-D2 from Star Wars, but with a distinctively dark 40k twist. Navradaran, the main Custodian Guard that Crowl interacts with embodies everything you think a Custodian should, but still has little moments of humanity that stick out. It's nice to see the Custodians making a reappearance in 40k, something I feel like we will be seeing more of with the new story line going forward. Here they are still myths though, and something that everyone is awed to see, even the stormtroopers who get beaten into submission by them. Hegain remarks at how wonderful it was to see a real Custodian for even the mere seconds he had before being pummeled into unconsciousness. There is also a character that pops up later in the story who I really love as well, but I can't really talk about them without giving away a surprise. Even the lower workers around Courvain have a ton of personality, from his mortician, to his archivist, to even a lowly serving girl that Spinoza befriends.

Perhaps the largest and most present character of all though is Terra itself. Chris does a fantastic job of making the planet wide city feel alive, in a horrible, horrible way. Terra is now an extremely overpopulated, over polluted, cluster of a city. Unless you are extremely wealthy or high in status. there is nothing pleasant about living on it. He does a good job at dividing the city up into smaller districts too, making them all feel real and unique. Perhaps the most awe inspiring moments are when we are within the Imperial Palace itself, both in the occupied levels, and in the slums below. This is the first time that Terra has really been explored in the 41st millennium, and it seems to be degrading fast. There are several mentions about nothing new having been built for thousands of years. You really get the sense of how what is supposed to be the shining heart of the Imperium, is anything but.

The Carrion Throne is definitely one of my favorite 40k books now and I can't wait to read more about Crowl and Spinoza. Like I said previously, I really hope any following books move along with the main story of 40k. I would love to see the ramifications of Guilliman returning to Terra from an eyes on the ground perspective like we get here. I cannot recommend this book enough. It truly is an amazing read, and the best thing to happen for the Inquisition since Eisenhorn. If you're on the fence about this book, pick it up! I would even recommend this to casual fans of 40k, or even people unfamiliar with the setting.

What are you doing still reading this? Go read The Carrion Throne!

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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