Cadia Stands

Book review

settings scifi warhammer

Taking a break from the 31st millennia for a while, I just finished Cadia Stands by Justin D. Hill. Set solidly in the 41st millennia, this novel is about the planet Cadia, a sentinel guarding the massive Warp rift known as the Eye of Terror. This review contains major spoilers. You have been warned, although if you're familiar with Warhammer 40,000 lore already then you probably know all the spoilers. I'm not even a fan of Cadia and I already knew the main events of the book and even several of the lead players.

Well, I say I'm not even a fan of Cadia but I have to admit that this book has changed that. In fact, I'd have previously said that I wasn't really a fan of the Astra Militarum, and this book has also changed that. After spending a campaign with the brave fighters of the Cadian forces, I really really want to go buy a Combat Patrol box of Astra Militarum and deploy them on the tabletop. As you might be deducing, I enjoyed this book, and maybe doubly so, because I expected not to enjoy it. I wanted to give the Cadia legends a second chance, though, and picked this book up as a sort of ultimatum. If this didn't convert me to loving Cadia and the Astra Militarum, then nothing ever would. Turns out this book was more than capable.

But first, a quick diversion. Bear with me, this all comes around in the end.

The problem with history

I'm as much of a fan of history as the next guy. I enjoy Egyptology, I marvel at the Greeks and the Romans, I wonder about the Hittites and [ancient] Persians and Minoans and all that stuff. But I'm no scholar, and I probably couldn't even claim to be a "history buff". I just enjoy the occasional documentary or popular history book.

The problem is, I'm a geek and I have the need to know why and how. When confronted with ancient history, this manifests as a sort of involuntary skepticism. A historian tells me that that a little statue was placed in a tomb as a backup phylactery for the entombed person's soul, and I want to know how why we believe that to be true. It's not the historian's fault, nor necessarily the historian's burden to explain that, but I can't help but wonder. The historian has probably studied the culture for decades and has very good rationale for asserting a specific belief or behaviour, and it literally wouldn't be worth the historian's time to try to explain it all to a casual observer like me. And on a conscious level, I'm actually happy to believe the assertion.

But in the back of my mind, I still wonder.

What I really want is the impossible. I want to travel back in time to see everything for myself, or a talk-to-the-dead phone so I can interview somebody from ancient history. I don't want conjecture, I want real history.

Real fake history

Absurdly, one answer to this conondrum for me has always been to take comfort in the absolute certainty of fictional history.

This makes no logical sense, but I appreciate that the history of fictional worlds leaves no room for doubt. The battle of Cadia definitely happened in this specific way, with troops being deployed from Santuary 993 at the last minute.

Lord Castellan Ursarkar Creed definitely gave a rousing speech, and Gruber definitely escaped Cadia and fled to Faith's Anchorage, where he and his troops definitely fought the forces of Chaos. They endured a seige from above until their void shields gave out.

Minka Lesk definitely confronted zombies and hell hounds, and survived. She had a vision of a saint. She persuaded the Adeptus Astartes to come to Gruber's aid.

Except, of course, that all of it definitely never happened. It's not just fake history, it's fake future history. But it's authoratative. It's the true story of an imaginary event, with insight into the very thoughts of key players.

For me, that's the form this book takes. It's a history book with detail you just can't get in history textbooks. Even Herodotus, who I've been reading lately, can't provide that. I know every historian would love to have the same certainty for their area of study, and I guess I just enjoy having it for something even if I do have to accept the greatest improbability of all: Warhammer 40,000 is fictional.

Cadia stands

The Hammer and Bolter episode called Cadia Stands is entirely unrelated to this book, and it was my first real exposure to Cadia. I had mixed feelings about it, and mostly didn't care for it. This book changed my mind. I'm not really sure why. On paper, this story is not for me. It's procedural military drama, with proud patriotism and lots of talk about ranks and troops and command. I was ready to put the book down, if I had to.

But I couldn't.

There's a pattern to this book. You're introduced to some characters. You get just enough about their relationships, or their thoughts about life, or their passion for the Imperium, so that you feel like you've finally found the main character of the book. Then that group of characters are killed. And you move to the next squad.

It's a highly effective trick, a sort of Astra Militarum Slackers except with death and destruction. You come to respect the exceptions to the rule. Even the distasteful ones. There's a Commissar in the book who makes it pretty far (I think he dies in the end, but actually we don't get to "see" him die, which upon reflection is a little odd) who's just the worst person in the world. You really despise him. And it's great, because as a Warhammer fan you know about Commissars but maybe you haven't gotten close to one yet. This book lets you come face to face with one, and as a reader you hate it but as a "historian" you relish it.

But you also get Minka Lesk, who I didn't care about when she got a special miniature released but now, to be honest, I kinda want that model.

And there's Creed, and Grüber, and the Space Wolf Skarp-Hedin. Many of these great characters only get a few dedicated chapters each, but it's worth it.

It's like reading the ideal form of a history book. You get all the information that nobody could possibly know after the fact, and you get it straight from the omniscient narrator. Cadia Stands is a good book, and it's pretty imporant to Warhammer 40,000 lore. This is the start of the Cicatrix Maledictum, the Great Rift, that divides the galaxy. If you want to see it all happen, this is the book to turn to.

All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.

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