In their first full non-Heresy outing, the Talons of the Emperor – i.e. the Adeptus Custodes and the Sisters of Silence – take centre stage in Chris Wraight’s novel Watchers of the Throne: The Emperor’s Legion. With word from Cadia looking bleak, and crises springing up throughout the Imperium, calls grow for the Custodes to end their self-enforced seclusion and fight once more at the forefront of the Imperium’s armies. Set predominantly on Terra it deals with the events leading up to the Gathering Storm, both military and political, from the perspective of the Custodes, the Sisters of Silence, and the High Lords.
Narrated entirely in the first person, this is split between three characters each representing one of those factions – Valerian, Shield Captain of the Custodes. Aleya, Sister of Silence (don’t let her hear you call her that, though). Tieron, Chancellor of the Senatorum Imperialis. Watching through their eyes and with their perspectives on the ensuing events, the three protagonists gradually come together through circumstance, or perhaps fate, interacting in ways they wouldn’t normally and forced to make unusually uncomfortable decisions. Along the way this book does three interesting things – it demonstrates what the Custodes and the Sisters had been doing up to that point, explores the politics and power structures of Terra, and ties in cleverly with the events of the Gathering Storm and Dark Imperium.
If that sounds like a lot for one book to do, don’t worry. Wraight gives each character room to develop and represent their own faction, but the first person perspective means they can also reflect upon the other characters to add extra depth. For example Tieron represents the political element of the story but that’s not all he sees, so we get to experience some of the more action-heavy aspects of the plot through his eyes as well as Valerian’s. He also connects the book with the wider 40k narrative, and if you’ve read the Gathering Storm background books you’ll enjoy the way he brings certain elements of them into this story. It’s all beautifully done, each character having a distinct voice that sets them apart from the others – to say more might spoil things, but suffice to say there’s a great balance between the characters, and between the political intrigue of Terra and the actions of two of the most powerful fighting forces in the Imperium.
That balance – between politics and action – is perhaps the most important element to the book, and where it really shines. This is Warhammer 40k after all, so the first novel to really focus on Custodes and Sisters absolutely needs to show them in action, something Wraight achieves both individually and collectively. When a certain specialised chapter of Marines gets involved as well, it’s a lot of fun to see the contrasting styles and strengths. Any book set on Terra also needs to highlight the complex web of political power in some way, and Tieron taps into a little of the Beast Arises-style intrigue while remaining a very different character to someone like Vangorich. Of course this is all wrapped up in the main narrative of the story, which rattles along at a nice pace to keep us turning the page and excited by the prospect of what’s to happen. As a standalone novel this is excellent, and should appeal to any fan of 40k. As an expansion of the background – both answering some questions about the Talons and filling in the detail of the Gathering Storm, it adds so much to the big picture as well. An absolute must-read.