The Greater Good by Sandy Mitchell – Review [Lord of the Night]

A really great cover, shame that what it depicts never actually happens.

Lord of the Night reviews the funny-as-always latest entry in the Ciaphas Cain series, The Greater Good by Sandy Mitchell.

“An entertaining and amusing novel that is enjoyable but is disappointingly far from what was expected.” – The Founding Fields

Now I am of two minds about The Greater Good. The first is that while there is a very major complaint about it for me, if that complaint and the issue it is about are removed from the equation entirely then this is a good, if a little unimaginative, Ciaphas Cain novel that can stand up with the rest of the series, though admittedly not as one of the best. But while this novel was billed as Cain teaming up with the Tau to battle the Tyranids, the novel not only featured no Tau vs Tyranid action, it barely featured the Tau at all and instead focused on Cain surviving yet another Tyranid invasion, that makes 3 or 4 for anyone whose counting.

During a routine battle against the Tau Cain finds himself offered a surprising proposition. An alliance of convenience, between the Tau and the Imperium of Man. Cain, rightly so, is immediately suspicious, and grateful that he is no longer being shot at. But that gratitude quickly turns to dread as the reason for the ceasefire is made apparant. A Hive Fleet is on it’s way to devour the Damocles Gulf, and only Ciaphas Cain the Hero of the Imperium can save the Damocles Gulf, hold together the fragile alliance between human and alien, protect a vital Forge World from falling to the enemy, and do all that while maintaining his heroic reputation and making sure that he survives and is far away from the combat as much as possible. But alas, things just never seem to work out that way for Cain.

The story of the novel is a good one, despite the very obvious difference from what was expected and the blurb. Mitchell uses a mystery element this time around, Cain finding himself on a Forge World with secrets to protect, and the mystery does enhance the story a bit but ultimately I cannot really say that the story stands out amongst the rest of the Cain series. Cain finds himself in battle, often in the worst possible situations, must survive and maintain his heroic reputation and comes out with even more fame than when he began. Each Cain story has had something new to it, but The Greater Good doesn’t really stand out in it’s own way apart from the mystery of the Forge World. Alas if the Tau had been included more this could have been one of Cain’s most memorable adventures, but without them it doesn’t really stand out.

A really great cover, shame that what it depicts never actually happens.

A really great cover, shame that what it depicts never actually happens.

The characters are the same as ever, which unlike the story’s case is a good thing. Cain is the same dark-humoured and cowardly hero that we all know and love, and he is backed up by a good supporting cast including the unperturbable Ferik Jurgen, who gets plenty of good one-liners himself, Cain’s good friend General Zyvan who was surprisingly amusing himself this time around, and the return of Tau Water Caste Diplomat El’hassai who provided a nice link to the very first Cain story that plays it’s own role, albeit minor, in this novel. And as always Amberley Vail is present in the form of her annotations and sarcastic but informative commentary on Cain’s adventures. Mitchell’s characters don’t change, but they don’t need to.

The action is, again rather typical of the Cain series. It’s solidly written and I don’t have any complaints about it, but the book doesn’t have any stand out moments action-wise like The Last Stand or The Traitor’s Hand. So sadly while the action is solid, it isn’t a highlight of the novel. That said there’s still plenty of chainswords and lasguns, and of Jurgen’s trusty meltagun so while it may not be stand-out, it’s still enjoyable provided you aren’t expecting anything that will lodge in your memory.

The pacing of the story is good, this may not be a stand-out novel from Mitchell but it is written well and the book flows nicely from start to finish. The annotations are helpful as always, explaining terms that Cain understands but we do not and the extra additions by Amberley Vail to fill in the gaps that Cain’s narrative leaves are informative and at one point particularly entertaining in the form of a conversational transcript. The book is of course funny, filled with the grimdark humour that 40k does so well, but also the lighter humour that makes the Cain series unique in Black Library.

My favourite quote, most are long conversations but one or two short quotes do come to mind, this one in particular,

“You might almost say The Greater Good demands it.”

The ending is a decent one, though not at all surprising. Not that Cain lives, that we know going in, but the resolution to the battle and the wider events is not surprising and really it was obvious what would happen much earlier in the book. Not that it’s a bad ending because it isn’t, not really, but because the book didn’t really have anything beyond the battle it was clear how the book would end. If the book had featured the Tau more than perhaps the ending would have been better but ultimately the ending is simple, as the entire story was.

For a decent enough story and giving us more of the best Commissar in Warhammer 40k I give The Greater Good a score of 6.5/10. Sadly I cannot rate this novel higher than above average as without any real imaginative parts, the lack of any real Tau involvement in the novel and for ultimately not standing out from Cain’s previous adventures, I just can’t say that this is a great novel, or even a very good one. For fans of the Cain series it’s a good novel and I did enjoy it, but I didn’t get into it as much as I would have hoped. Hopefully the next book will be better, and Cain did mention a few new battles in his history that could definitely be future books.

That’s it for this review. Next will be Gotrek and Felix: Road of Skulls by Josh Reynolds. Until next time,


Lord of the Night

Lord of the Night is one of TFF’s original reviewers. He’s done quite a few for TFF and that number keeps expanding. You’ll enjoy his diverse mix of book reviews. Always a treat.