Some of Black Library’s earliest and best-loved books tackled the mysteries of the Inquisition, away from 40k’s usual battlefields, but for a while it seemed those sorts of stories had fallen out of favour. Chris Wraight’s Vaults of Terra: The Carrion Throne offers a welcome return, featuring Inquisitor Erasmus Crowl and Interrogator Luce Spinoza as they work to root out a dangerous cult deep within the heart of the throneworld, Terra itself. As the sacred festival of Sanguinala approaches and Terra swells with countless pilgrims, can Crowl and Spinoza cut to the heart of the unfolding events in time to prevent disaster?
It’s like a sign of a new golden age for Black Library – inquisitors exploring the Imperium away from the battlefield, on Holy Terra itself, and even – the cover rather gives it away – Custodians joining in the fun! Beneath all that good stuff this is also a smart, well-plotted, carefully paced story that does everything you want an Inquisition book to do in order to be satisfying and enjoyable. Normally that would be enough, but this goes even further, especially for long-term 40k fans, by delving deep (literally, at times) into the endlessly fascinating, powerfully grim heart of the Imperial throneworld. You may have heard Wraight’s depiction of Terra likened to a character in its own right, and it’s hard to argue with that – it’s wonderfully evocative and atmospheric, and leaves you keen to explore more of this most ancient and fascinating world.
Crowl is sufficiently different to inquisitors of previous books, while still clearly identifiable as such. Withdrawn and sardonic, worn down by age and experience, he’s nicely contrasted by the youthful, vigorous and straight-laced Spinoza, who’s the blunt-force hammer to his precision strike. She’s new to Terra and to Crowl’s service, and while Crowl provides the intellect behind the plot, Spinoza represents the heart as she throws herself into the fray whilst struggling to adjust to the overwhelming pressure of Terra as well as reconciling Crowl’s unorthodox attitudes with her training and experience to date. Along the way we also meet the Custodian, Navradaran, who provides yet another interesting aspect to the story – though to say more would risk spoiling things.
On the surface this is a simple story of inquisitors hunting bad guys, but over the course of the book – and, without spoiling anything, some of the most interesting ideas are reserved for the later stages – things gradually become bigger, more dangerous and more unexpectedly interesting. Wraight keeps us guessing throughout, slowly unveiling more players and their motivations, while hinting at so much more going on behind the scenes. The setting, Crowl and Spinoza’s backstories, the history behind his decisions and the few other members of his retinue that we meet…there’s clearly lots more to look forward to in the Vaults of Terra series to come.
Wraight’s writing, storytelling and plotting are all as good as you’d expect here, but it’s particularly good to see him maintain the pacing and sense of excitement whilst tackling something a little different and less action-heavy, something which is dark but not without a dry sense of humour. It’s not a book about the Inquisition, so don’t expect lots of detail about the nitty gritty of Inquisitorial factions, but that’s all there in the background if you look closely. It definitely continues the Eisenhorn legacy, and will appeal to anyone looking for a change of pace away from the more typical 40k stories. That pace might not be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re looking for a book that delves into some of the most iconic locations and concepts in 40k then this is for you.