Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 1 February 2004)
Series: Ciaphas Cain – Book Two
Length: 6 hours and 46 minutes
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read. For this latest Throwback Thursday I look at another highly entertaining entry in the hilarious Ciaphas Cain Warhammer 40,000 series with the second book, Caves of Ice.
Even after my many recent reviews of Warhammer 40,000 fiction, my obsession with this franchise is far from over, so when I had a spare second, I quickly listened to Caves of Ice. Caves of Ice is the second novel in Sandy Mitchell’s (a pseudonym for author Alex Stewart) iconic Ciaphas Cain series, which follows the outrageous life of Commissar Ciaphas Cain, legendary hero of the Imperium of Man, who in reality is a pragmatic survivor whose heroic reputation is the result of chance and coincidence. I had a wonderful time reading the first book earlier in the year, For the Emperor, and not only was it an extremely funny book but it also ended up being one of the absolute best Warhammer 40,000 novels I have had the pleasure of reading. As such, I have been looking for an opportunity to continue this series and I worked hard to slip it into my reading cycle. This was well worth the effort as Caves of Ice is another fun and awesome read that takes the protagonist to a whole new dangerous battlefield in deadly circumstances.
After unravelling a diabolical conspiracy on Gravalax, the legendary Commissar Ciaphas Cain and the troops of the Valhallan 597th have been redeployed to a new battlefront, the ice planet of Simia Orichalcae. Empty except for a vital promethium refinery, Simia Orichalcae has recently received a group of unwelcome guests, a warband of orks who crash landed on the planet and are making their destructive way towards the refinery with ill intent.
Happy to be facing a more conventional enemy on their preferred icy terrain, the Valhallan men and women eagerly prepare for battle. However, Cain, in his usual pragmatic approach to life and war, is less enthusiastic about the violent battle to come and searches for any way to avoid the fighting. Several mysterious disappearances in the tunnels beneath the refinery offer a potential escape for Cain as he leads a small squad underground to map the tunnels and discover the reasons behind the missing miners.
Cain, with his typical bad luck, finds far more than he bargained for beneath the ice. Not only are several ferocious monsters lurking in the vast underground labyrinth, but a far more sinister foe lies there undisturbed, one that Cain has good reason to fear. When the war and Cain’s explorations awaken this enemy, the entire planet is put at risk as this new, unrelenting danger attempts to destroy both the orks and the humans. It once again falls to the reluctant Cain to face impossible odds and try to find a way to save his men. But can even this legendary hero of the Imperium stop the flood of evil that is to come?
Sandy Mitchell continues his fantastic Ciaphas Cain series in a very fun way with Caves of Ice, which features another excellent story that strongly focuses on Mitchell’s reluctant hero. Caves of Ice was a wild ride from start to finish, with a fantastic and captivating mixture of action, adventure, humour and intriguing character moments. Taking place after the events of For the Emperor, Caves of Ice is another self-contained novel that any new reader can easily jump into. This was a much shorter novel than the previous Ciaphas Cain book, and Mitchell provides a more direct narrative as a result. Initially focusing on the ork invasion of Simia Orichalcae, the story is soon primarily set in the labyrinth of mines and tunnels laying underneath the refinery, where several miners have gone missing. Attempting to avoid the fighting on the surface, Cain leads his aide Jurgen and squads of soldiers on several missions into he depths to explore the tunnels and find whatever is behind the disappearances. What follows is an Aliens-esque series of adventures, as Cain discovers a variety of different and steadily more terrifying dangers down in the tunnels. Each discovery forces Cain to go even deeper into danger, thanks to his heroic reputation and hidden skills, and the resultant action is pretty epic, especially when combined with Cain’s cynical and self-serving narration of events. Everything leads up to a very explosive conclusion as the protagonist and his comrades are faced with the absolute worst their enemy has to offer them, and the resulting mess really brings everything together. This ended up being a pretty strong sequel to For the Emperor, and I had an incredible time seeing Cain dragged into another deadly adventure.
I love the way that Mitchell portrays the various adventures of Cain in these novels, especially as it allows him to express a great range of different writing styles. Just like with For the Emperor, Caves of Ice is primarily told from Cain’s perspective as entries from his personal memoirs. However, this chronicle is cut through with notes and inclusions from his unintended editor, Inquisitor Vail, who provides some added context to the story through her own introductions, footnotes, inclusions of in-universe texts, and quotes from other notable characters. These inclusions from Vail not only allow for a much wider story than the one Cain is telling (especially when it comes to the battle on the surface), but it also increases the humour of the novel by implying Cain is an unreliable narrator. This, combined with the cynical and less-than-heroic observations and actions of the protagonist, gives the entire Ciaphas Cain series a much more comedic edge than many other Warhammer 40,000 books out there, and indeed there were several times I was cracking up laughing throughout this book. However, Mitchell perfectly balances this lighter tone with some dark and bloody moments as the protagonist encounters all manner of deadly foes. The action and lethal battles are recorded in exquisite detail, and you can feel the terror and fear that the protagonist feels as he constantly fights for his life. This great blend of styles and tones really helps to make Caves of Ice stick in the mind, and I find the entire setup extremely compelling and very easy to fall in love with.
In addition to being a great Ciaphas Cain novel, I felt that Caves of Ice was a great entry in the wider Warhammer 40,000 canon. The clever, humorous writing, and the fact the book could easily stand on its own, makes Caves of Ice an ideal place for someone to start their Warhammer 40,000 adventure, even if they are very new to the franchise. The book provides some interesting insights into life in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, both through Cain’s insights and through the humorous or satirical texts that Inquisitor Vail adds to the book. I really enjoy the solider-focused observations of the primary narrator and some of the supporting characters, and it is always quite compelling to see the common soldier’s reactions to the aliens and monsters they encounter. Cain’s observations are always very sharp and funny, and his own range of experiences adds some amazing colour to the events unfolding in Caves of Ice. Mitchell also takes the time to explore several iconic Warhammer 40,000 factions and races throughout the book and its quite interesting to see Cain’s opinions and insights into them, especially as he has a much more realistic views towards them than some of his cohorts. Combine that with some fun insights into the day-to-day lives of soldiers in the Imperial Guard and their Commissar, and Caves of Ices proves to be quite an interesting Warhammer 40,000 novel. I love seeing the range of different experiences that the protagonist has in this universe, and it will be fascinating to see what deadly danger he encounters in the next book.
Without a doubt, the major highlight of this series and Caves of Ice is the fantastic and compelling characters, particularly Commissar Ciaphas Cain. Cain is one of the more entertaining figures in Warhammer 40,000 lore as he is a somewhat cowardly man who, in his mind, has accidently gained a reputation as a great hero and legendary fighter. Just like in his previous adventure, Cain is still obsessed with staying alive and avoiding battle, often manipulating events to ensure he’s far away from the action. Nearly all his thoughts revolve around how he can stay alive or in control, and it is often very entertaining to see his very selfish thought process in action. At the same time, he is conscious of his image as a hero, which he also tries to maintain as dearly as his life, and this forces him into so many situations and fights he would honestly rather avoid. His honest observations and hilarious internal reactions when events don’t go his way (which happens often), are some of the main drivers behind the book’s outrageous humour, and it is hard not to fall in love with this cheeky rogue. While a lot of this book does focus on Cain’s attempts at survival and avoiding combat, Mitchell does take the time to focus on Cain’s good qualities. Despite his own narration constantly trying to talk down his own abilities out of modesty (or self-loathing), Cain is shown to be a very competent fighter, explorer and commander, effectively leading his troops into battle and facing down a series of outrageous threats. His keen insights, vast history fighting the enemies of the Imperium, and his own uncanny survival skills, actually make him an ideal champion who often succeeds against all the odds. Indeed, with each adventure it is becoming more and more apparent that Cain is in denial about his own abilities and is suffering some form of imposter syndrome. Whatever the case is, Cain remains a particularly entertaining and surprisingly likeable figure, and I cannot wait to see what crazy adventures he has in his next book.
Aside from Cain, Caves of Ice contains an intriguing range of characters who add to the story in several different and unique ways. This second novel contains a fascinating range of supporting figures, including several who previously appeared in For the Emperor, as well as a few new characters as well. The always entertaining Inquisitor Vail, despite not appearing in person, continues to have a major impact on Caves of Ice as she is the one presenting Cain’s manuscripts to the reader, often editing it to make it more reliable and cohesive. Her insights into Cain’s adventures, mindset and unreliable narrations are very amusing, while also simultaneously impacting the reader’s perception of the protagonist and his various actions. As such, she is a vital part of Caves of Ice, and I am glad Mitchell continues to utilise her as a narrator. Another major character in the book is Jurgen, Cain’s aide and bodyguard who accompanies him on most of his adventures. Portrayed as a slightly dim, relentlessly straightforward, and somewhat smelly, Jurgen is essentially the Baldrick to Cain’s Blackadder, and at times he serves as a good additional comic relief, especially in some of the more serious scenes where Cain is scared. Despite his portrayal as a simple man, Jurgen is a very effective fighter and companion to Cain, and his love of the meltagun heavy weapon gets them out a jam plenty of times. I liked how Mitchell also strongly hints that Jurgen is a lot smarter than anyone realises, especially when it comes to Cain’s nature, and it will be interesting to see how their friendship develops in the future. Other great characters include Lieutenant Sulla, an exceedingly keen and annoying solider who offers some entertaining insights into the wider events of the story. This is primarily due to the fact that Vail quotes Sulla’s memoirs throughout the book, although Mitchell writes them as pompously and badly as possible to really highlight Sulla’s character deficits. Throw in some additional soldiers, arrogant bureaucrats, and a fanatical Adeptus Mechanicus priest who brings nothing but trouble for Cain, and you have an outstanding cast that I had a great time following.
Unsurprisingly, I chose to listen to the Caves of Ice audiobook rather than grab a physical copy, and I once again had an epic time with the fantastic audio format. Coming in at just under seven hours, this was a relatively short Warhammer audiobook entry, and I was able to power through extremely quickly. The audiobook format really made Caves of Ice a joy to listen to, and the entire story was beautifully portrayed throughout, especially the action scenes in the tunnels. I was particularly happy that this production once again featured the three narrators who were utilised in For the Emperor, with the excellent team of Stephen Perring, Penelope Rawlins and Emma Gregory once again making a major impact. All three give excellent performances in Caves of Ice, and I had a good chuckle listening to their fun and clever takes on the characters.
Perring is once again the central narrator as he voices everything in Caves of Ice shown from Cain’s perspective. Perring has an outstanding voice, and he really brings all the characters to life in a colourful way, especially when it comes to showcasing the slippery and jaded Cain. I also love his take on most of the supporting characters, especially Cain’s aid Jurgen, who Perring gives a very Baldrick-esque voice to. In addition to Perring, Penelope Rawlins serves a very vital role as Inquisitor Vail in the outside narration, who is compiling Cain’s memoirs for the reader. Rawlins voices all the extra notes that Vail adds to the proceedings, including the footnotes, several chapter introductions, and the descriptions of several in-universe texts, all of which Vail adds to give extra context to the story. Rawlins gives Vail an awesome voice steeped in knowledge, command and a light sense of humour, and it is always very fun to see her add some honesty and truth to Cain’s version of events, especially when the footnote appears in the immediate aftermath of Cain’s false information or ignorance. The final voice actor, Emma Gregory, is primarily used to narrate one of the major in-universe texts that is quoted throughout, the chronicles of supporting character Lieutenant Sulla (Like a Phoenix From the Flames), written many years after the events of Cave of Ice. Gregory voices all the excerpts of Like a Phoenix From the Flames in a particularly pompous manner to match the tone of these poorly written memoirs, and you really get a sense of the self-importance Sulla must feel in the future. This brilliant combination of narrators ensures that Caves of Ice, and indeed all the Ciaphas Cain audiobooks, really stands out, while also effectively increasing the humour of the entire production. For that, and more, audiobooks are easily the best way to enjoy the Ciaphas Cain series and I cannot recommend it enough.
The second entry in the outstanding Ciaphas Cain series, Caves of Ice, was another exceptional novel from Sandy Mitchell that I had an awesome time reading. Featuring an outstanding and hilarious protagonist, Caves of Ice is a great addition to one of the funniest series in the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. I cannot recommend this book enough, and any fans of fun adventure are going to have a great time with Caves of Ice.