While fandoms end up demanding the change of a status quo sooner or later, few tend to be prepared to deal with the consequences. It's usually the demand for some huge change, or shift to keep things interesting, but without a deeper understanding of how this might impact the world at large. This was the case with Warhammer 40,000, where the fandom had long been demanding for the timeline to move forward, but few people seemed to ask "So what now?"
Most of the books tackling subjects of "How has this changed the setting?" have thus far focused upon the Adeptus Astartes or Craftworld Eldar (Well, Ynnari with some Craftworlders, anyway). This time a novel has taken the time to examine this on a much more human level, with the impact brought about by Cadia's fall. When the Gate fell, the Imperium didn't simply lose its main bulwark against the Traitor Legions; the Imperial Guard lost one of their greatest bastions and recruiting worlds. With Cadia gone, the question now is "How will this impact the Cadians? Do they even have a future?"
It's an interesting question, and the book thankfully delves into it in great detail.
Even in the wake of their homeworld's destruction, the Cadian Shock Troops continue to wage war in the Emperor's name. Fighting across one battlefield after the next, they push to solidify and stabilize the Imperium following the emergence of the Great Rift. Yet none can deny that the Cadians have seen better days. With their system destroyed, every casualty can no longer be replaced, and their dying nature is slowly sapping morale among troops.
The Cadian 101st is among those left in the wider galaxy. Now largely delegated to assisting more numerous groups with their ongoing wars, they continue to campaign in the Emperor's name in spite of growing indignities. The latest among these is assisting the religious fanatics known as the Brotherhood on the world of Potence, a seemingly peaceful world which does not require their presence. Yet the methods used by Chaos to corrupt others are often subtle, and soon Sergeant Minka Lesk is leading her unit into a warzone which is far more hostile than anyone could have imagined.
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first - This isn't Gaunt's Ghosts. Don't deny it, just about all of you thought of them at least briefly during that introduction due to the direction and style of Cadian Honour. While there are some general comparisons which can be drawn up between the two series, they more or less begin and end with "Regiments who have lost their homeworld and are dying out".
The Ghosts had barely been established at the time Tanith was put to the torch, and the world itself was fairly remote. By comparison, Cadia was known across the Imperium as a fortress, supplying multiple renowned regiments and millions if not billions of troops across various battlefields. That loss carries substantially more weight, and Hill does not ignore that. For one thing, the opening of the story reflects upon this by establishing how the loss of Cadia has influenced Imperial Guard (and yes, I am going to keep calling them that) politics among the more famous forces. Other Commanders are jostling to push the Cadians out of the limelight even as a new Gate is being established; some even go so far as to depict the Thirteenth Black Crusade as an outright failure which can be blamed purely upon the Cadians.
The entire narrative is aware of just how massive an impact the loss of a homeworld would be on a major Imperial army, and it does not let up on this point. Better yet, it shows this both in major and minor ways, and the nature of this influence varies from character to character. One of the more notable ones which quickly highlights this is how the aforementioned Brotherhood is deployed to a world ahead of the Cadians, breaking the tradition of the Cadians being the spearhead of most attacks. It's seemingly not due to their limited numbers in this case so much as political pressure, regulating the Cadians to a secondary role. Better yet, this is conveyed without spelling it out word by word.
Furthermore, this isn't a "woe is me" story which keeps beating you over the head with this point. Hill could have very easily overplayed this element given how prominent it is, but the delivery is careful to avoid becoming utterly tedious. It is constantly present - and it is certainly less than subtle - but we have seen far, far worse than this in many sources of media over the years. The very fact that it is used as a character building point and a means to introduce various soldiers quickly establish it as being treated as important but not overwhelming. It's more akin to the pre-Perturabo Iron Warriors having to endure indignities than, well, the Blood Angels in some of their worst stories.
So, what of the characters themselves? With an Imperial Guard novel authors are typically given the chance to offer a more varied number of figures than other races. The unenhanced human element certainly works in their favour, and Cadian Honour features an ensemble of varied and engaging characters throughout the ranks.
Minka Lesk herself is the most obvious among these, and it's easy to see why she was highlighted on the cover. Her role and general actions throughout the story leaves her at the forefront of the fighting, but it keeps her presence to a surprisingly realistic level. Yes, I am using that word with a Warhammer 40,000 novel, and it is deserved here. Even the best series have a habit of pushing their characters over into areas of near invulnerability when it comes to battles, but with Lesk it's much more evident that she truly could die at any moment. This makes her character arc in the book far more engaging, and it helps to offer a more human face to the Imperial Guard as a whole. General Bendikt - the very first character the book introduces - is another among these, and arguably the deuteragonist alongside Lesk. He offers a depiction of life at command level for the Cadians now and a broader view of the problems they face, but it veers away from the expected outcome to something more engaging in the final pages. That and it highlights the stupidity of a character trope which will not die, which is a definite bonus in its favour.
The combat is solidly written across the board, but it avoids the out-and-out murderfest and meatgrinder that you might expect. It takes some time to get into an outright firefight, and the first segments with any action are an honour duel and then an accident. It helps to set the tone for the book and is closer, in many regards, to what you would get from a Ciaphas Cain story than a typical Imperial Guard book. This makes it all the more interesting when it shifts gears and gets into outright firefights, and Hill's manner of writing makes for excellent skirmishes. He has a talent for conveying an extremely vast amount of information with implication or cutting away at the "fat" of certain descriptions. This works in various fights, and squad level battles, in particular, are something that Hill handles well.
Unfortunately, given how much praise is leveled at smaller scale combat, you can imagine what we're going to delve into with the next bit.
The single greatest flaw of Cadian Honour lies in its structure more than anything else. No, not its plot, nor even its prose, but how it divided up its chapters. Each one is incredibly short, which means you can be just getting into a scene when it draws to a close. This is only further highlighted by the way in which each segment of the book is further divided up into individual parts, and it means that each "chapter" in question can be as short as five pages long. In fact, most of them are about five pages long.
While Hill doesn't repeat the mistake of certain authors by having the narrative leap about so fast you can't keep track of it - and you can probably guess which exact one I am thinking of if you've been with us for a few years now - this is still a problem. It divides up the tale in a way which makes you feel as if you're constantly starting over, and doesn't hold on a scene long enough for it to fully stay in your mind. It will stick with certain characters for chapters at a time, but it is never given the room to breathe. There's never a scene long enough to build up the atmosphere found in other books like Talos meeting Abaddon or Eisenhorn rushing through an Imperial parade turned into a historic disaster.
Because of its short length, the book also abandons many of the descriptive strengths which can further help work toward the strengths of Warhammer as a setting. There are few descriptions of barren wastes, hives or gothic architecture, or elements which fully convey age. It starts promisingly enough with a moment featuring a star fortress being towed into orbit, but it never manages to successfully repeat that moment. This leaves it very reliant upon its characters to keep the story engaging. While it certainly gets that right, it doesn't get it completely on point. Oh, the core cast is fine, but it drops the ball with the villains.
While it would be a spoiler to delve into who the book's antagonists are, you might be able to guess who they will be very early on. The story tries to partially disguise it as a secret, but it doesn't quite work. In fact, the book seems to half reveal and half disguise who they are at the start, while also trying to establish their presence as a surprise. It never fully works because of this muddled state, in spite of a few genuinely good scenes which makes it look as if this will all come together in the final few chapters. However, even with this considered, they never appeared to be all that engaging. There's a definite logic as to why they were chosen, but even in chapters intended to flesh them out, I never regarded them as more than an obstacle. Unless they are a force of nature like the Tyranids or (in some cases) the Necrons, this rarely works. The few times it does offer their primary characters a chance to speak also doesn't do much to raise them beyond being a general archetype.
Furthermore, the enemy in question is one of those creations which is interesting in of itself, but doesn't quite work in a story. Were this a tale written in a codex format or basic segment written as a synopsis, it would be an interesting and very engaging creation. The problem is, as it is described here, it lacks the innate punch or more curious angles to help them stand out. As a result, their best moments come from small segments which impact the heroes, but they fail to be fully engaging in of themselves.
Cadian Honour is a solid book on the whole, with some very good ideas and it handles its core themes fairly well. However, there's no denying that I personally thought that the ideas it brought up were more enjoyable than the book itself, and it was lacking in a few key areas. The overall narrative structure is ultimately its greatest weakness, and with lengthier chunks between each chapter heading, this might be substantially more positive. As it is, it seemed to hold back a few fairly engaging and very interesting core concepts, and limit time spent delving into the minds of the core characters.
This is going to vary heavily from person to person and, as such, I do suggest giving this one look for yourself before making your mind up. If you're an Imperial Guard fan or someone who is hungering for something with a more human perspective following the fall of Cadia, add a few more points onto the final score. Even if you're not, it's still worth a look, but don't expect to read through it more than once or twice.
Verdict: 5.2 out of 10