The Emperor’s Finest by Sandy Mitchell Review [EJ Davies]


EJ Davies takes a look at the oft hilarious 40K Flashman, Commissar Ciaphas Cain, and the latest entry in his ever growing memoir and his seventh novel length adventure.

“A fairly standard story that is more than improved by cultural references, irreverent similes, and a dry wit” ~ The Founding Fields.

From Black Library:

“Commissar Cain is called to duty once more, saving a governor’s daughter from a planet over-run by rebels. The uprising hides something far more sinister however… The search for the source of the threat leads Cain to a drifting space hulk – a far safer place than beside the obsessed governor’s daughter. But when the Reclaimers Space Marines suffer devastating losses at the hands of the Great Devourer, Cain and his trusty aide Jurgen must go it alone. With the aliens waking and a group of stowaway orks on the loose, there are no safe places to run or hide, and Cain must use all his ingenuity and cunning to escape the space hulk alive.”

So, dear readers, it’s time for more antidote to the grimdark that is 40K.  Sandy Mitchell has carved himself out a wonderful slice of the universe in which to play, as not only does he bring humour and light to darkness; but also gives us an antihero-coward that we actually look up to.  His writing style has always seemed to have had one tongue firmly planted in a cheek in some of the drier narrative moments, and is always ready to shift up a gear when the action starts.

This tale is no different.  Picking up after the events of Echoes of the Tomb short story in the first Cain omnibus Hero of the Imperium we find Cain amongst the Reclaimers Chapter of the Space Marines en route to the Viridian system to quell a civil rebellion.  In the midst of this Cain finds himself up against the self-styled PDF commander Mira DuPanya in more ways than one.  Mira forms a nice foil to Cain, highly aspirational, political, and supremely devious; almost mirroring his less glorious traits, only she wears her colours a little more openly than he.  Throughout the piece they have a marvellous dynamic, and it is interesting to see another female in the series and how they compare to Inquisitor Amberley Vail.

Cain also shares much book time with the Space Marines of the Reclaimers, and it is refreshing to see a take on the Space Marines that isn’t all awe and majesty from a human perspective.  With Cain’s irreverent hindsight he paints a rather flattering, but not sycophantic, picture of the marines, in particular Techmarine Drumon – with whom he shares the majority of scenes between Cain and the Astartes.  Cogboy Techpriest Yaffel (Bagpuss reference possibly?) gets a vaguely derogatory view from Cain throughout the novel.  And without Jurgen, where would Cain be?  He is, as ever, aromatic and phlegmatic (a point of which is repeated all too often for my liking.)  It is also worth noting that Cain in this story is still very young, and we do get a level of his youth in how he acts, how he reacts, and how he speaks – this is a Cain as yet untempered by the decades of war that follow, yet he is still suffering shock at from the incident with the Necrons.  Sandy has made a wonderful job of dealing with Cain as a younger man, and differentiating the voice of the older memoir-writer and the youthful officer.

There are the Cain standards – as I like to call them – the peppering of 40K relevant similes abound, the proliferation of tanna, and Cain’s desire for a quiet life under any circumstances; and Jurgen’s innate ability for turning up at just the wrong/right moment.  Amberley’s footnotes, and including other materials to widen the story also have continually added a new dimension to the stories.  There are many, many, many footnotes throughout the piece and it is worth noting that on a Kindle (or other e-reader) you may have to link through to them rather than them being intrinsically part of the page (which they are in print.)

The stories are never all that enlightening to the 40K universe, nor would I say they show the same level of invention or dynamism that are present in other works; but you don’t necessarily read Cain for those reasons.  You read Cain because he makes you emote.  You laugh, you want him to win, you clench your jaw, you feel shock, you talk to Cain as you would to a TV character when you’re alone.  And the novel does that in spades.  There are Cain stories I have enjoyed less, and there are those I have enjoyed more.  The story is a little formulaic at times, and others a little too convoluted.

All in all it’s a good read.  I enjoyed it well enough, and will likely read again.  If you’re finding the review a little light on the details, this is intentional.  My job is to give you my opinion of the book, not give away the plot or else why would you read the book?

The Emperor’s Finest is available from all good retailers in print, or from Black Library as a download.  The anthologies Hero of the Imperium and Defender of the Imperium and the latest novel The Last Ditch are all available now.

EJ Davies

EJ Davies: reader, reviewer, writer; and an avid lover of Black LIbrary products since the release of the seminal Horus Rising. EJ is currently working through the massive back catalogue of Black Library titles, and plugging away at his own fiction-based efforts in the vain hope of cracking his way into the author pool.


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