The second of David Annandale’s Castellan Crowe novels, Castellan follows on from Warden of the Blade and brings the series right up to the current 40k timeline. Picking up immediately after the end of Warden, we catch up with Crowe and his fellow Grey Knights as they look to finish the job on Sandava III, which seems simple enough until the Cicatrix Maledictum splits reality apart and engulfs the Sandava system, all hell literally breaking loose. Meanwhile Canoness Setheno (remember her from Death of Antagonis?) hunts Emperor’s Children on Angriff, a world with powerful meaning to another Grey Knight – Justicar Styer.
Narratively it draws upon the suggestion of self-fulfilling prophecy set out in Sons of Titan, adding to the bleak, unrelenting tone and themes set out in Warden, while the emergence of the Cicatrix only escalates the scale of the whole thing. It’s bigger and louder this time around, while with Setheno, Styer and Inquisitor Furia (both from Sons of Titan, which it’s worth having read before tackling this) factored in, as well as the surviving characters from Warden of the Blade, it’s an extended cast as well. Of the additional characters, however, it’s only really Setheno who really shines. She gets plenty to do, both before and after meeting up with Crowe, but neither Gared and his squad nor Furia are as well used, and it feels like they’re included to tie in the self-fulfilling prophecy theme rather than really add much to the story.
Still, Setheno is a strong character who warrants further development, her fearsome nature linking in nicely with the overall grim tone of the story while adding a bit of useful variety as well. You don’t need to have read Death of Antagonis to enjoy her character, although it won’t hurt. Crowe himself continues to be an interesting protagonist, this time around both worn down a little further and rejuvenated by his previous success. You feel he maybe needs a different challenge to endless waves of daemons though, and in places that’s provided here, but only in places. The Blade of Antwyr is relegated to not-very-threatening mutterings for the most part, and the Emperor’s Children are a bit under-developed, so it’s often left to the untiring masses of daemons to provide an almost force of nature-esque opposition, which just feels a bit flat.
There’s no doubt that the central concept of the Grey Knights in the Cicatrix Maledictum is a cool one, and in places it’s chillingly dark and powerful. Too often that’s interspersed with repetitive action scenes which start to drag after a while; it could have done with livening up either through stronger arcs for the secondary characters or, at times, simply more for them to do. That being said, while it drags in the middle third it does pick up towards the end, developing into an explosive, really quite entertaining finale that gives pretty much all of the key characters some much-needed time in the spotlight. It’s clearly setting things up for the next instalment, so hopefully we’ll see that consolidate the best parts of this one and really kick on with a bit more variety. Overall this isn’t quite as effective as Warden of the Blade, but it’s got some great moments and is worth checking out if you’re a fan of the first book, or Grey Knights in general.