Now onto its ninth novel, Sandy Mitchell’s Ciaphas Cain series is one of Black Library’s longest running and most well loved ranges. Since the publication in 2003 of his first adventure, Cain’s memoirs have seen him fighting all sorts of menaces across the galaxy, from orks to tyranids, necrons and the forces of Chaos. In the latest novel, The Greater Good, we see him facing an old foe in the shape of the tau, as he bravely (sort of) defends the world of Quadravidia from the upstart aliens. The situation soon changes however, as the threat of a new tyranid hive fleet forces the Imperium and the tau into an uneasy alliance. Caught in the middle of this, Cain’s reputation as a Hero of the Imperium sees him called to act as intermediary between the Imperium, the Adeptus Mechanicus and the tau.
For anyone unfamiliar with the series, Cain himself is a commissar, a political officer charged with maintaining the motivation and discipline of the Imperial Guard regiment to which he is attached. Unlike most commissars who rule with an iron fist and don’t hesitate to execute any of their charges who show signs of cowardice, Cain prefers to maintain more cordial relationships with the soldiers he watches over, in order to keep his skin in one piece and avoid any ‘accidental’ friendly fire incidents. As a character he’s equal parts Flashman and Blackadder with a healthy sprinkling of 40k-style grimdark; a self-professed coward and liar who through accident and no little luck manages to come out of every misadventure smelling of roses. He’s less of a genuine crook than Flashman and less hapless than Blackadder, but it’s a combination that makes for a charismatic, delightfully witty and genuinely likeable character.
The Greater Good is essentially made up of the same components as the other eight novels – narrow escapes, frantic duels with dangerous aliens, unexpected saviours, Cain’s malodorous aide Jurgen with his dangerous driving and knack for scrounging – mixed together into the usual alien invasion/ridiculous odds plot. Despite it’s lack of originality though, reading this book is like settling down in a comfy chair for a long catch up with old friends. There’s just something innately fun and comfortable about Cain, Jurgen and their escapades, and regardless of which bad guys they’re fighting their adventures are always entertaining and satisfying. The style of the book follows the series, written in the form of excerpts from Cain’s memoirs as published by one of his old acquaintances along with occasional ‘factual’ interludes she adds to provide some context to his self-absorbed narrative. Her additional footnotes add an additional dash of dry humour, and you can practically hear Mitchell chuckling to himself as he writes them.
If you’re a fan of the series then you’ll probably have bought this already – if not, then why not? For those looking for a fun, easy read that errs on the lighter side of the 40k spectrum, you can’t go much wrong with this or indeed any of the series.