Set on the Imperial shrine world of Lubentina, CL Werner’s Cult of the Warmason is all about the clash of fanatics. With militia patrols going missing, Sister Superior Trishala of the Order of the Sombre Vow learns that the growing unrest is not caused by rioting workers but an infestation of genestealers. Despite her warnings, Lubentina’s government refuses to react accordingly…until it’s too late. When the insidious Cult of the Apocalypse rises up, the city’s defenders find themselves beset on all sides while their leaders bicker and procrastinate, risking the safety of the Warmason Vadok Singh’s priceless relics.
Just to be clear – that’s the guy who designed the Imperial Palace alongside Rogal Dorn! The Cult of the Warmason refers to the Imperials…sneaky title, there…
This is only Werner’s second 40k novel to date, but his dark and sinister style is well suited to depicting these two contrasting but equally fanatical cults. The leaders of the opposing forces, Trishala and the magus Bakasur, are each tightly bound to their causes, one through faith and the other through genetics and a shared psychic link. Both uncompromising and dedicated, they’re interestingly matched…if not quite as fleshed out as they could have been. The various members of Lubentina’s ruling council add an extra element of complexity to the story, while partway through Werner also introduces another character who will be familiar to anyone who’s read The Siege of Castellax.
There are all the ingredients here for a creepy, The Beast Arises-style tale full of political intrigue and twisty maneuvering, but it never quite manages to get that far. In the end it’s basically a Space Marine Battles book in all but name, the political elements proving a little one dimensional and the emphasis always returning to the various stages of what is essentially an unconventional siege. There are some great moments when Werner gets under the skin of his characters to sinister effect, but they’re outweighed by a rather straightforward plot bogged down in repetitive action sequences and predictable behaviours.
Also, while Trishala and the Sisters’ motivations are clear, just why the Warmason’s relics are so important to the genestealers and the late arrivals remains uncertain until really quite far along. At this point everything comes nicely to a head in an entertainingly bleak three-way finish to end on a high (and unexpected) note, but overall it feels like something of a missed opportunity. That’s not to say this is bad, far from it – there’s lots to like here, it just feels a touch confused as to what it wants to be. With a more streamlined plot and a little more balance between the politics and the action, this could have been fantastic. As it is, it’s solid…but a little disappointing.