For the Emperor – Sandy Mitchell

“Sandy Mitchell’s For the Emperor offers an outstanding novel; featuring quirky, relatable characters, deadly Xenos against a backdrop of political tension.”

Title: For the Emperor
Author: Sandy Mitchell
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 3rd Nov 2003
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley

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On an outpost Imperial world on the fringes of Tau space, Ciaphas Cain and his regiment of Valhallan Guard, find themselves in the middle of a war. As the Imperial Guard struggle to contain worldwide civil insurrection, can the wily Commissar Cain identify the real villain before the planet is lost to the Imperium forever?


Rating: 4 out of 5.

I received a copy of Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium, from NetGalley in return for an honest review. I’m being terribly slow at reading my NetGalley reads, so thought I’d break down the anthology into its larger stories. Before For the Emperor, there is a short story – Fight of Flight, which serves as an introduction to Ciaphas Cain. Regardless, I am grateful to Black Library for the Approval for this read and hope that my reviews will take the sting out of my tardiness.

For the Emperor is the first full-length book in the Astra Militarum series featuring Ciaphas Cain. It features all the joyous Imperiam Propaganda that you’d expect from the faction and really sucks the reader into the world of Warhammer 40k – as viewed from the Imperium of Mankind. Ciaphas Cain himself is a Commissar in the Imperial Guard; an officer that works as an attachment to an established regiment and inspires them to keep on fighting, living, and dying in the name of duty. Cain is seen as a ‘Hero of the Imperium’ and with that comes a certain degree of responsibility, however, it’s quickly established that his unofficial title has come about more through good-fortune and being in the wrong place at the right time!

As a lead character, Ciaphas Cain is thrilling to read about. He is an ultimately flawed character whose bad qualities round him off nicely and make him a more captivating character to read about. He’ll do absolutely anything to stay alive, even if that means spinning his seemingly cowardly actions into ones that ‘Have the Emperors best interests at heart.’ What is very quickly shown is that Cain knows his flaws and he knows how to use them to his own advantage – he is a swift talker and expert reader of people and this covers up his known negative traits with casual ease. This also helps with the narration style of For the Emperor, which serves as a hand-written account of Cain’s exploits.

Interspersed with the main chapters of the novel are other voices chipping in. Cain is an unreliable narrator and spins a tale that serves his purpose – putting the reader back on the right track are the accounts of Inquisitor Amberley Vail and the extracts she chooses. They give a slightly alternative view of some of the events that transpire in the novel and show a complete picture as the world shifts around the characters.

While Cain is clearly the star of the novel, the supporting characters around him also hold their own merit. Cain’s loyal-beyond-all-reason aide, Gunner Ferik Jurgen, is of particular note. His quirks of character were interesting to read about and his steadfast loyalty to something other than himself made for a breath of fresh air compared to Cain’s self-serving nature; it is however the only thing fresh about him! The descriptions of his personal hygiene were raw to the point of physical assault, they were so richly depicted. The general ethos of For the Emperor sees Commissar Cain merging two decimated regiments – both of the fractured regiments seeing themselves as better than the other; and each one consisting of different genders to the other. The juxtaposition between them and how they merge together adds another complication to the novel as the plot progresses and just another element to make Cain’s job more difficult, and humorous.

The plot of For the Emperor is a concrete mixture of War-Time events with an overspill of Mystery. While on the surface, there is a civil war being handled between the loyalist citizens and those that have been turned to the ways of the Tau. The situation is tense and when the Inquisition becomes involved, you just know that there is more going on than first meets the eye. The description of the Tau technology through the eyes of Imperial Guard Loyalists is sublime and, because of the narrow-minded perspective, goes to show how little the regular citizens of The Imperium of Mankind know about the other races they encounter; the fact that they don’t open up guns blazing on their ‘enemy’ on first sight was another interesting element to the novel, there was more to For the Emperor than just all-out war – which is always a pleasure to read in a Warhammer novel. Of course, there is combat in the book, but it comes as a secondary element to the story.

What I felt was truly magical about For the Emperor is the humor which it brings to the usually deadly serious setting of Warhammer 40k. Ciaphas Cain meets his new regiment – one of his choosing – in the middle of a canteen-room wide brawl. It’s his reactions to this, and other events throughout the book, that make him a pleasure to read about. The core of Cain’s character lends itself well to this sort of novel; his self-centered, self-serving attitude would come across as irritating in a novel that has a more serious undertone. For me, For the Emperor is exactly what Warhammer 40k should be about; War, Conflict but ultimately, a heck of a lot of fun too!

There is a lot of background in this book. There’s world-building and characters being established. This takes up a lot of page space in the novel and is what keeps the pacing from being truly captivating. The moment events pick up, someone new is introduced or something else explained, which stops For the Emperor from being the shining star that it could be; I am being somewhat assumptive in thinking that some of the other books in the series don’t suffer from this as much and I am eager to read them. There are times when the pacing really ramps up and this is when the novels shine; I like character and world-building very much, but in this case, the action needed to start a little bit sooner to get rid of the ‘Just get on with it’ frustrations.


A good starting place for any reader new to Warhammer 40k. Easily accessible to both new and old fans of the setting. A healthy mix of world-building, character establishment, and plot but the action is a little slow in coming forward. Fantastic, relatable characters that are a joy to read about; which makes a change from the regular Imperial heroes. Not a Space Marine in sight!!

6 responses to “For the Emperor – Sandy Mitchell”

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