Title: The Carrion Throne (Vaults of Terra)

Author: Chris Wraight

Publisher: The Black Library

Date of Publication: May, 2017

Approximate Pages: 304

Review by: HeritorA

Abbati, medico, patronoque intima pande
(Do not keep secrets from your clergyman, your physician, or your patron).

Chris Wraight has made it again. Another book with the soul has been given to us for dissect. And to be honest – that’s first novel in a long while which wasn’t solely focused on fighting and war. That’s a story focused on Inquisition and what most important – that’s a story about Inquisition written by mister ‘awesome writing’ Chris Wraight himself. And even more – it has it’s roote’s in the new Gathering Storm setting of 40K. The Carrion Throne gets into the seedy underbelly of the Throneworld, Terra itself, at the end of the 41st millennium!
Before we go for the meat of the novel I want to mention that you will get an upgraded view on the The Carrion Throne if you would find and read two prequel stories for the novel. One is called ‘Ardent’ and focused on one of the main/secondary characters – interrogator Spinoza and how she went to wield her weapon in the first place. The second – is an exclusive story ‘Sanguine’ which is included into the Limited Edition variant of the novel. Both are very short – but in the core they are much more than simply a fan-service, as usually goes with Chris. Which only shows the reader again how prominent the author has become since his first BL novel.
As far as the synopsis goes it follows Inquisitor Crowl, who serves on Holy Terra itself, who follows the trail of a conspiracy that leads him to the corridors of the Imperial Palace itself… With all the attending secondary characters and plot lines. Let’s get to the meat of it. In the hellish sprawl of Imperial Terra, Ordo Hereticus Inquisitor Erasmus Crowl serves as a stalwart and vigilant protector, for even the Throneworld is not immune to the predations of its enemies. In the course of his Emperor-sworn duty, Crowl becomes embroiled in a dark conspiracy, one that leads all the way to the halls of the Imperial Palace. As he plunges deeper into the shadowy underbelly of the many palace districts, his investigation attracts the attention of hidden forces, and soon he and his acolyte Spinoza are being hunted – by heretics, xenos, servants of the Dark Powers, or perhaps even rival elements of the Inquisition itself. Soon they discover a terrible truth, one that if allowed to get out could undermine the very fabric of the Imperium itself.
Beginning of the story is truly a splendid one. As a masterful writer and a person who can do adverts Chris Wraight gives us one of the best beginnings for the novel in a long while since ‘I was where …. Horus killed the Emperor’:
Say nothing, listen with utmost care,’ he said. ‘You understand me. You are in danger – you know this. You can see the tools against the far wall. But do not look at them. Look at me
After that the story moves very slowly – making way to exploration of Inquisition and Throneworld itself. A place of disgust, degradation, stagnation, broken things and pious piligrimage with the bottomless holiness in it’s bones.
Further up the story is truly well paced, every scene is exactly as it should be. With each further page it goes in it’s scope and speed alea iacta est (the die is cast indeed).
And through it all we have an awesome descriptive writing style of Chris Wraight.
He is a true master of a word. What he gave us in each chapter – is the view of a Throneworld from a different angle. And his description is beyond godlike:
«Terra. Holy Terra, marvel of the galaxy, heart of wonder. No jewel shone more brightly, no canker was more foul. At its nexus met the fears and glories of a species, rammed tight within the spires and the vaults, the pits and the hab-warrens. Spoil-grey, scored and crusted with the contamination and majesty of ten long millennia, a shrine world that glowed with a billion fires, a tomb that clutched its buried souls close. All the planet’s natural beauty had long since been scrubbed from its face, replaced by the layers upon layers of a single, creeping hyper-city. The sprawl blotted out the once-great oceans and the long-hewn forests under suffocating mountains of rockcrete and plasteel, tangled and decaying and renewed and rebuilt until the accretions stretched unbroken from the deepest chasms to the exalted heights.
No part of that world was free of the hand of man. Viewed from space, the planet’s night-shrouded hemisphere glittered with constellations of neon and sulphur, while its sunlit hemisphere gasped in a hot haze of pale grey. Its skies were clogged with voidcraft and lifters, packed with the manufactures and commodities that kept the teeming world from starving itself. With those commodities came living bodies – pilgrims by the million, products of a migration that never ended, bringing souls from across the vastness of space whose only wish was to live long enough to reach the sacred precincts of the Palace itself; to somehow endure the crowds and the hardship and the myriad predators that circled them for just one glimpse, even the smallest, of the golden towers portrayed in the Ecclesiarchy vid-picts, before they died in rapture.»

And on and on it goes…
All in all – Chris has made a truly admirable job linking he start and the end of a novel. Like Uroboros it’s constant and eating it’s own tail.
You need to read The Carrion Throne to get the full story for yourself. I will not provide spoilers – partly cause it’s being a ‘part detective story’. But I will say that ending would be to your satisfaction (for most of the fans). Especially if you will remember that the story will have a continuation further on in another novel.
Plus Chris Wraight masterfully uses snippets from other BL authors (which make you smile a lot while reading something here like ‘awry’ or ‘feth’ from some
Dan Abnett books) 🙂
The characters are truly alive with believable motivation to their actions. Author used his usual dynamic to create a consistent development throughout the book.
But the true main character of this novel is not the Inquisition as an organization (through it feels like it’s own character) and not mister Crowl himself. The main character of The Carrion Throne is Throneworld. Mighty Terra, Hyper-city itself.
And as I mentioned above – it’s character building and description are beyond compare.
Another alive main character – inquisitor Crowl will make you like him through his own seriousness and problem solving. Yes – he is a harsh person to like or work with. He is a man of fewer words and a man whose road leads to ‘here be dragons’. But that makes him interesting and curious enough to root for.
Spinoza – secondary main character that truly shows the greatness of Chris Wraight as a character builder. Not only she is likeable and easy to root for. She is also show the gap between and inside the Inquisition in general and Ordos in particular. With her views on the Galaxy as a Schola kid and tutelage student of a crusading Inquisitor – he views Terra, the throneworld for what it is. A place of holiness, a place of death and stagnation.
Another as you could say – main character is a ghost of the past. An augmetic-encrusted servo-skull of the ‘ghost’ to Crowl Pavl which speaks abbreviated latin makes for the hilarious compatriot : ‘Phylum tertius. Tut, tut…Numeroso. Dally not.’ 🙂 Which makes humor entries into the serious story to make you smile a bit and show the fruitness of the setting where nothing go to recycle. Everything is salvaged and reused. And that’s one of the cornerstones of the W40K on itself.
Every person or ‘unit’ in this novel feels alive and that’s one of the best characteristics of Chris Wraight as an awesome author.
(Probably except for the lone Custodian – but we will have a fully focused novel on him at the end of a year, so I think we will dive into his character in it)
It wouldn’t have been me if I haven’t given a portion of critic for the novel. After all bene diagnoscitur, bene curatur(well diagnosed, well cured).
Main critic is about the point where the novel fails in Acta non verba (actions, not words). It’s trying to be a detective/sci-fi/theological/ war story but fails to delivery a proper range of actions to each of the ways. Instead of some specific range what we have is a hybrid of a lot of genre’s. It’s trying to hard to be something specific but in the end it is a hybrid (through a solid one). But as a general W40K book and a character/world building one it is amazing.
That’s not a masterpiece like The Path of Heaven – but an amazing novel in itself.
Next portion of critic – sometimes the steps to actions are not motivated the way they should be.
As a detective story linked to a mystery sometimes it feels flat. And author who has shown us that he could write and epic battle scenes has written some here – but not one of them are so memorable as his scenes from The Path of Heaven or ‘Scars’ or War of the Fang.
Custodes character and overall plot is a bit too thin. The revelations actually wouldn’t be a surprise for the fans who read Gathering Storm campaign fluff and theories of Emperor’s Rebirth.
As a well written W40K story combined with awesome author’s writing style and ability breath ‘life’ into stagnant Terra as a Throneworld I will give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
In his next novel in the setting which appears to be focused on one particular Custodes character I hope to see a more ‘genre specific’ story and a lot more enthusiastic action scenes. And how ‘Gathering Storm’ affected Custodes strategic doctrine outside the Throneworld.
Chris Wraight thank you for the amazing read and can’t wait to read your next adventure.