Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 8 August 2020)
Series: Warhammer Crime
Length: 8 hours and 30 minutes
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
After some of my recent awesome experiences with the Warhammer Crime series, I just had to check out the outstanding novel, Bloodlines by Chris Wraight, which has one of the best pure crime fiction stories in this entire epic franchise.
Regular readers may have noticed I have been having an absolutely amazing time getting through a ton of Warhammer 40,000 novels in recent weeks as everything about this extended franchise has been so damn fun. One of the more intriguing sub-series of Warhammer fiction I have been tearing through has been the Warhammer Crime books which, as the name suggests, blends cool crime fiction narratives with a Warhammer 40,000 settings. The entire series is set within the massive, corrupt city of Varangantua on the planet of Alecto, and several very talented writers have come up with some exceptional novels that perfectly showcase murder, mystery and death in the midst of this great setting. I have so far deeply enjoyed the epic entries, Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, Grim Repast by Marc Collins, and Flesh and Steel by Guy Haley, each of which have contained different, if equally exceptional stories. However, few have had the excellent central mystery of the very first full-length Warhammer Crime novel, Bloodlines from new-to-me author Chris Wraight, which took a veteran cop on an intensive investigation with fantastic results.
After a lifetime working for the Varangantua Enforcers, Probator Agusto Zidarov is well aware that the only certainties in the continent-spanning city are wealth, corruption and criminality. Tired of the games played between the warring gangs, trade combines, and nobles as they battle for control of the city’s resources, Zidarov is more concerned about his own life, family and secrets. However, when a simple missing person investigation gets unexpectantly complicated, Zidarov will find a terrible case that he can’t turn away from.
Called to the estate of wealthy business magnate Udmil Terashova, Zidarov is ordered to find her son and heir, who has gone missing. Forced to plumb the depths of Varangantua’s underbelly, Zidarov attempts to find any trace of the boy, who has likely just disappeared taking part in the rich’s hedonistic lifestyles. However, when an uncovered lead places him conflict with one the city’s most ruthless gangs, Zidarov soon begins to believe that there is more to this case than he initially believed.
Discovering that the gang is involved in the notorious crime of cell draining, Zidarov’s attempts to shut them down. However, his raid ends up being a bust, and the fallout results in a dead sanctioner, a wounded probator and a full-on war between the gang and the enforcers. Attempting to mitigate the consequences of his actions, Zidarov soon discovers that there is far more going on behind the scenes than he ever imagined as corporate interests work to influence the investigation. To find the truth about the city’s new crime ring and the missing noble, Zidarov is forced to probe both Varangantua’s lowest gangs and wealthiest citizens. But can Zidarov survive the encounter with his secrets and life intact?
Bloodlines is an incredible and deeply impressive Warhammer Crime novel that I had an excellent time reading, especially as Wraight perfectly blended his crime fiction story with the cool Warhammer setting. Featuring one of the more elaborate and intriguing cases in the Warhammer Crime books I have read so far, I absolutely powered through Bloodlines and this was truly an outstanding read.
At the heart of Bloodlines lies a pretty awesome and captivating narrative building on the basic crime fiction premise of a veteran cop attempting to solve a crime no one wants investigated. Taking its cues from classic noir entries (I was reminded a bit of Chinatown), Bloodlines follows Probator Agusto Zidarov, a family man with a cynical view of his job and his place in the city, as he gets dragged into a missing persons case. Initially starting off a little slow, the story quickly heats up as Zidarov attempts to find the missing heir to the wealthy Terashova family, a disappearance he assumes is a simple case of young rebellion. However, his routine investigation into the missing lad leads him to discover a cell draining operation being run by one of the major gangs, and he shifts his investigation in an attempt to shut it down. But when his plans go wrong and his colleagues end up injured or dead, Ziadarov finds himself on everyone’s firing line.
There are some interesting jumps in the case around halfway through as the protagonist soon realises there is far more going on than he initially believed and he is forced to simultaneously investigate both the gangs and some of the wealthiest families and businesses in the city. I loved this gradual escalation of the stakes of the crime as the book continues, as the original missing persons case is revealed to be far more complex and intriguing than initially believed when the protagonist discovers that he is being used by everyone. At the same time, Zidarov is forced to deal with some major personal issues, as his wife begins to resent his choices, his rebellious daughter has gone missing in a city full of predators, and certain dark secrets around Zidarov threaten to come into the light. The eventual reveal about who is responsible for the various crimes is very clever, and I liked the subtle and effective hints and clues leading up to it as the unique motivations and plots utilised intriguing aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Wraight ends Bloodlines on a great note as Zidarov gets justice through drastic means after a very intense and powerful confrontation with one of the book’s more intriguing and complex supporting characters. As such, you come away from Bloodlines feeling very satisfied, although you instantly want to see more of this great character, especially as the sinister connotations about Zidarov’s dark secret indicate that some tragic events are going to befall this character in the future.
The entirety of Bloodlines was laid out extremely well by Wraight, who uses a great style to tell a complex and captivating story. Told exclusively from Zidarov’s perspective, you are given a personal and close examination of the events of the book as Zidarov slowly and methodically investigates the various crimes. You are quickly drawn into the elaborate narrative Wraight lays out as the author does a good job of combining an excellent crime fiction storyline with intriguing character development, all set with Varangantua and the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe. The noir inspired elements of Varangantua really stand out in this book, especially as Zidarov is forced to simultaneously investigate both the criminal cartels and some of the city’s wealthiest residents. Bloodlines really recalls some classic noir tales, as it focuses on the experienced and dogged investigator fighting the entire system to get answers and justice, and I loved exploring even more of this enormous city and its many colourful residents. The whole concept of cell draining, which sees thousands of people literally drained of their essence to make life-extending products, was pretty damn horrifying, and I liked how the examination of this gave Bloodline’s crimes a distinctive feel. Wraight’s great writing style really lends itself to producing a particularly impactful and compelling crime narrative, and I loved how the entire storyline unfolded, especially with the effective twists and the well thought out foreshadowing. I ended up coming away from this book quite enthralled and happy and I am really excited to read more books from Wraight in the future.
One of the things that I have so far found with all the Warhammer Crime entries is that readers really need very little familiarity with the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe to appreciate these great books. Anyone interested in a compelling and intense crime fiction story set in a cool and grim futuristic city can easy dive into one of these novels, and all these books are an awesome introduction to the Warhammer fandom. Bloodlines is no exception to this, as Wraight writes a very accessible crime fiction thriller that anyone can enjoy while simultaneously enjoying the gothic setting. That being said, Wraight does make excellent use of several intriguing elements from the Warhammer 40,000 lore to enhance his story and there are hints and discussions about elements outside of Varangantua, such as the Imperial Guard or the wider wars of the Imperium, which fans of the franchise will deeply appreciate. Wraight does do an amazing job of explaining these elements so that newer readers will fully appreciate them, however, established readers will always get a little bit more out of it. For example, the full significance of Zidarov’s secret isn’t going to be too apparent to new readers, while in-the-know fans are going to get a blast out of the potential implications. I felt that Bloodlines has a lot to offer all readers, no matter their experiences with Warhammer, and you might find yourself falling for the franchise with this first book.
Another key aspect of the Warhammer Crime series that Wraight perfectly captured in Bloodlines was the excellent utilisation of a complex and likeable central character. Wraight’s protagonist and main point of view character, Probator Agusto Zidarov, is a deeply intriguing figure who stands out from the other protagonists in the Warhammer Crime series for being much less of a damaged outsider. Instead, he is a veteran probator who worked his way up to his position with a very realistic view of the world around him than most other characters, and I liked his no-nonsense approach to his job and his city which has been formed from years on the job staying alive. Despite this veteran presence and cynicism, Zidarov is still willing to do what is right, even if it endangers him, and his dogged approach to solving the case is extremely addictive, especially as Wraight puts in some deeper motivations behind them. I really enjoyed some of the scenes where Zidarov continuously ignores his friend’s advice and keeps going forward with the case, simply explaining to them and the reader that he is unable to let it go, and he just keeps moving forward despite the inherent weariness of the character. This determined and tired cop persona is well balanced by the family man aspect of Zidarov, which is another intriguing element that you don’t see in a lot of Warhammer fiction, as most protagonists don’t have wives or children. Watching him attempt to balance his family responsibilities with that of his job adds some intriguing drama to the story, and I enjoyed seeing this portrait a ‘normal’ Warhammer 40,000 family. Wraight perfectly weaves together these dual aspects of Zidarov’s personality with a certain darker, secretive thread that really shows the character in a whole new light when revealed, and which is going to have some intriguing impacts down the line. All of this, and more, helps to make Zidarov one of the more relatable and enjoyable protagonists I have ever enjoyed in Warhammer fiction, and I really hope that Wraight produces some additional Zidarov stories soon.
Once again, I chose to listen to this cool Warhammer novel in its audiobook format, which, as always, was an excellent and deeply fun experience. The Bloodlines audiobook did an amazing job of bringing this intense and powerful story to life in some very fun ways. In particular, the complex central setting of Varangantua is really shown in all its corrupt glory when you hear it being described, and I loved how the fast pacing of the audiobook kept the story rolling by. This format of Bloodlines was also greatly helped by veteran narrator Charles Armstrong, who has so far only lent his talented voice to a few Warhammer audiobooks. Armstrong provided an excellent performance in Bloodlines, really diving into the various complex characters and helping to showcase their unique personalities and emotions. I loved the tired and resigned voice that Armstrong came up with for the main character, which really sells the audience on Zidarov’s veteran status which is the result of an exhaustive and draining career. Other great voices include that fun Irish accent he gifted to supporting character Brecht, which added to his entertaining nature, as well as some excellent voices the various suspects in the main case had. All this makes the Bloodlines audiobook the very best way to enjoy this exceptional novel and with a runtime of eight and a half hours, you can power through it in no time at all.
Overall, Bloodlines was a particularly epic entry in the Warhammer Crime series, and it is one that author Chris Wraight should be extremely proud off. Wraight did a remarkable job of blending together an intense and clever crime fiction story with the dark and grim Warhammer 40,000 setting, and the result is a brilliantly twisted case that I couldn’t turn away from. Combined with instantly likeable character, Bloodlines proved to be extremely fun and deeply captivating, and I loved how the entire book unfolded. As such, Bloodlines comes extremely highly recommended and you are guaranteed to love every second of it. I look forward to seeing how Wraight continues this character in the future, and any future books featuring Zidarov are going to be something truly amazing.