Warhammer 40k Forum and Wargaming Forums banner
1 - 2 of 2 Posts

· Registered
26 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Review of the Enforcer omnibus by Matt Farrer, consisting of the novels Crossfire, Legacy, and Blind, interspersed with fictional dossiers, essays and documentation.

Short review: A rickety collection of over-extended short stories plasterboarded over with lavish detail. But what glorious detail it is ... 7.5/10

Tedious wall of text:

Ah, Mr. Farrer with this rich, creamy, artery-clogging pudding of 40k minutiae you're really spoiling us. By the time I finished Blind I just couldn't bring myself to read that one final bonus dossier. It was a tiny, wafer-thin mint of lore too far.

Enforcer is not standard Black Library fiction. The usual antagonists are absent. As the author explains in his introduction, the series is a study of the Imperium versus itself. Nor is it an adrenaline pumping bolter-fest; the word "visceral" won't be appearing anywhere in this review. Not only are you more likely to find action at a tea-party for octogenarian pacifists, but the plots themselves move forward with all the urgency of an arthritic sloth. There were moments during Crossfire when I felt trapped in the Immaterium. Linear time had been suspended. The pages moved forward - I could clearly see them moving forward - but nothing was actually happening.

So what's to like? It's the details. It's all about the details. It's about weaving a tapestry of Imperial life, it's about the complex interactions of various Adpetus, it's about the impish gleam in a pious young child's eyes as he receives his very first self-mortification device. Farrer has a real grasp of the background material. His inquisitors act like inquisitors, and not like refugees from a Raymond Chandler novel. His tech priests act like tech priests, and not like eccentric twenty-first century research scientists who occasional mutter about "machine spirits". And his commissars ... well sadly there aren't any in Enforcer, but if there were I imagine they'd be a damn sight more interested in enforcing discipline and maintaining moral than swaning around posing as field commanders.

For me, an early scene in Legacy best illustrates the strengths and weakness of this series. Shira and her team are present at an Ministorum redemption facility in order to prevent a jail bust. In any other Black Library novel there would be a certain amount of exposition outlining this scenario, a moderate amount of descriptive prose, and a considerable amount of action. Wham, bam, thank you Arbiter Senioris Calpurnia. Not here though. Here we learn about the nature of the convicts' crimes, the mechanisms of their punishment, their varying reactions to it, jurisdictional conflicts between the Lex Imperialis and ecclesiastical canon law, the individual duties of the priests, what they're wearing, why they're wearing it, and so on and forth and yon. It's a wonderful piece of scene setting, but bears almost no significance to the plot. With one exception, the new characters introduced never appear again, and the one who does is central to a sub-plot that goes nowhere because it's supersede by other events. Even Shira herself turns out to be a mere supporting player. For narrative purposes it's tangential at best and pointless at worse. And this is in Legacy - the most plot-driven of the three novels.


Newly minted Arbiter Senioris Shira Calpurnia arrives in the naval bastion of Hydraphur to kick ass and chew bubble gum. Unfortunately she brought a lot of gum. Fortunately she's not a maverick-who-plays-by-her-own-rules-and-if-the-Arbiter-General-don't-like-it-he-can-have-my-badge loose cannon, but rather a duty-obsessed-I'll-do-it-exactly-by-the-book-and-if-the-Arbiter-General-don't-like-it-he-can-have-my-badge prude. I find that refreshing.

Shira's just in time for social highlight of Hydraphur's year: a fortnight long religious celebration featuring fun, compulsory self-flagellation for all the family. Well, almost all the family. The younger kiddies are exempt and fobbed off with whip polishing duties instead. Hydraphur's religious authorities obviously belong to one of those liberal, wishy-washy, 'modernising' sects of the imperial church.

Sadly, some nogoodniks are intent of sabotaging the festivities. Disturbingly, someone badly wants our plucky heroine dead. Tragically, this all leads no where interesting as Shira plunges from scene to scene in an increasingly desperate attempt to tie the strands of her investigation into something resembling a coherent plot. She fails. A detective story where the villain doesn't have any discernable motivation isn't a detective story. It's a random jumble of events. Hell, the killer in Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue has more plausible motives. And it's an ape. An ape Matt.


Calpurnia finds herself called to arbitrate between two competing claimants to a rouge trading charter. Or at least she would were she not permanently stuck in a pointless side plot involving the Ministorum. You see, it's not just any charter. No, this charter is very old. Ten millennia old ...

Less detailed than Crossfire, Legacy's plot actually gets some room to develop. Albeit it's a development hampered by the sheer number characters introduced. There are four factions involved in the dispute, and two of them have sub-factions. Be warned: the frequent point of view changes may induce motion sickness. Nevertheless, Matt does an admirable job of sketching the personalities given the limited amount of space he has to work with. The legitimate claimant, his navigator ally, and the illegitimate claimant are all complex, flawed, and very (ab)human characters. If the narrative concentrated on them, and trimmed some of the fat, it would make an excellent novella. Things are less solid when not dealing with main triumvirate. I'm sure the big shoot-out scene was supposed be all kinds of awesome, and it would have been if I could have recalled who any of the secondary characters were at that point.

Unlike Crossfire and Blind, whose finales induced me to facepalm for various reasons, Legacy's conclusion is entirely cathartic. I believe Farrer is on much strong ground when not writing pseudo-detective fiction. Sadly he insisted on having one more stab at in in ...


Astropaths are an usual subject for the focus of a Black Library novel. But that's just what we've got here: a novel entirely set on the space station Bastion Psykana, a large astropathic facility colloquially know as "The Witch Roost". And it's a suitably eerie place, filled as it is with men and women who are literal conduits to hell.

Calpurnia, in punishment for her less than sterling resolution of the dispute in Legacy has found herself stripped of rank and confined to a chasteners prison barge. In fairness it wasn't her fault, and if I were her defence lawyer I would submit that her reduction to a secondary character prevented her from intervening in the plot in any meaningful way. Mind you, she still couldn't make anything meaningful out of the plot in Crossfire when she was a senior Arbiter on Hydraphur. Snigger.

So the chief astropath has been murder and ... ah sod it. Look Matt, a murder mystery story is fundamentally like a game of join the dots. The reader's pleasure is derived from joining the dots. Where are the dots? What you've done is to withhold the picture until the end and then hand it to us with the dots already connected. I'll bet you were the sort of nasty tyke who stole all the other kids crayons in school too. You're mean.

On the positive side, Blind could be retitled as Everything You Wanted to Know About Astropaths (But it Didn't Occur to You to Ask). How are astropaths ranked? What is the role of a choir as opposed to an individual astropath? Who are the support staff? What are their roles? What are the containment procedures? What is the experience of astropathic communion actually like? As individuals, how do astropaths feel? What are their aspirations? All this and more answered inside.


The choice of bonus materials is ... interesting. They include Shira's Arbiter Senioris commission papers, details on a rather puritan sect of the Inquisition, some background church dogma, and two or three other entries I can't recall and possibly didn't even read. For some they'll add to the flavour; others will find them redundant and dry. Those interested in 40k roleplaying may find them useful as source materials. I salute Black Library for trying something different here.

High points: Matt Farrer's flawless grasp of the source material.

Low points: Reaching the end of Crossfire and realising everything I had read was pretty much pointless. Having to experience that all over again with Blind.

· Registered
26 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Blind is a difficult read. It's rare I have to back track simply to find out who a character is, but Blind forced me to at least three times. The real kicker is that most of the characters aren't important to the plot. They don't even function as red herrings :wacko:
1 - 2 of 2 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.