Cover Image: Bloodlines

Bloodlines

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As the initial entrant into the Warhammer Crimes set of novels, Bloodlines admirably shouldered the burden of setting the tone for the future stories.  Wraight's characters and setting fit perfectly within the WH40k universe, while allowing for creativity and depth throughout.  He did a fantastic job of blending the crime noir genre with the grimdark of WH40k; I kept waiting for Sam Spade or Jake Gittes to come around the corner (and then get killed gruesomely; this is Warhammer after all).  If this is the caliber of storytelling we're going to get from Warhammer Crime, I am excited to dive in headfirst.
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Agusto Zidarov is a probator, a police detective in the metropolis of Varangantua. Varangantua is a sprawling city of extremes: squalor and poverty on one end and obscene wealth and grandeur on the other. The city in reality is run by various large corporate conglomerates and by criminal cartels. Corruption is a way of life, even for the Enforcers (the police force). This is the setting where Agusto works. The story begins when the matriarch of one of the big conglomerates summons him. She wants him to find her missing son. Agusto wonders why because corporations often have their own security forces, often better funded and equipped than the Enforcers. Why bother calling on him? Agusto soon finds out this goes way beyond a missing persons case, and he soon realizes he's being used by the matriarch, but why?
 

This is a Warhammer 40,000 novel, but in heart it is a noir detective mystery novel with a bit of conspiracy and corruption thrown in. If you already read WH40K works, you'll likely enjoy this one. The author pays attention to details to get the ambience and setting of WH40K right. However, you don't have to be a WH40K fan to enjoy this. If you like a good detective story with a bit of noir, the worn down cop who has to step up to solve a case no one really wants solved, you'll likely enjoy this one. If you are not familiar with WH40K, you may be concerned about a term here or there. No need to worry. The author includes a helpful glossary so you can get the lingo and terms. 

The novels starts, and it builds up gradually. As the case builds up, we also learn more about Agusto and his family. He is a relatively ordinary man called to solve a big case; this is a common trope in detective stories. Soon the tension and action pick up the pace, and the truth is revealed in the last act. It is a well paced novel that keeps your attention. I wanted to keep on reading. Setting is crucial in the novel, and it works well. It is oppressive, corrupt, overwhelming at times, reinforcing that the odds are not in Agusto's favor. Throughout the novel, we see bits of Imperial propaganda, such as billboards. It can be a bit reminiscent of Orwell's 1984, and it is a reminder that the universe of Warhammer 40,000 is very much dystopian. The author manages to make a good detective noir story within the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and it works well. 

This novel is part of a new Black Library series: Warhammer Crime, taking place in Varangantua. I do hope there are other Agusto Zidarov novels coming down the line. This looks like it can get interesting. Overall, this was one I really liked.
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I think I would have enjoyed this more if I had either read the other books or knew more about the Warhammer universe.  That said, it did not take me long to get into the feel of a different world and I soon found myself very wrapped up in a great mystery.  It is something different to mystery lovers who find themselves wanting a new experience with the same satisfaction of solving a whodunnit.
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I would like to thank Black Library and Net Galley for accepting my request to read this title. What a great beginning to the new Warhammer Crimes series. Wright nearly Wrongfooted me at some point, but damn the ending was all worth it.
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I really wanted to like this book... but am sad to say I DNF'ed it. It really isn't the book's fault though.
I picked this up as a buddyread with The Husband. He almost exclusively reads Warhammer novels, and I figured this book would be a great entrance for me to get to know and share a bit of his passion. And it started of great. I Really liked the first chapter. I was intrigued and somewhat creeped out but in a good way. But then we go off in a completely different direction and I found myself zoning out. I would read the words but none of them stuck with me. I got lost... And The Husband would summarize the chapter for me and I would sound Awesome. I just couldn't take it in when I was actually reading it. I am still interested in this book, so am anxiously waiting for Husband to finish it so he can tell me what happens. I am just not in the right headspace for it and there is no point in me continuing this... for now.
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What a tremendous start to the new Warhammer Crime series. This book focuses on the life of Zidarov and his search for a missing person in a continent sized hive city. Unlike most previous Black Library publications dealing with the Warhammer 40K universe, this one brings us into the lives of the everyday citizens of the sprawling empire of humanity. The dystopic future of 40K is on full display in this novel with the gritty city filled with criminals, workers going about their jobs, and government officials all trying to make sense of the mundane existence and how their lives fit into the grand scheme.
I enjoyed this immensely because it focused on the humanity instead of larger than life super soldier Space Marines. A hard boiled, grim dark, crime thriller that will excite any science fiction fan.
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Hot on the heels of Warhammer Horror, Black Library continue to diversify their list, breaking out from their usual military science fiction fare once again with Bloodlines. Set in the “decaying urban hellscape” of Varangantua - the intended shared setting of all of the Warhammer Crime range - we follow Probator (detective, essentially) Agusto Zidarov as he attempts to track down the missing son of a wealthy family. This is an altogether more grounded story than we would normally see from Black Library then, one where the ordinary human beings that make up the vast numbers of the Imperium of Man are the stars of the show, as opposed to aliens, super soldiers or heretics.

These particular ordinary human beings struggle to light up the stage, however. Whilst the story itself is not without the odd twist and turn - with a reasonably satisfying denouement, to give credit where it’s due - the majority of the people that Zidarov encounters are excessively described in terms of their appearance, with actual characterisation somewhat lacking. Where one might expect a more nuanced approach to characterisation, perhaps with a greater range of emotions brought to the fore than in a tale of the canonically unfeeling Space Marines, we instead veer between apathy and emotional displays bordering on melodrama. Conversations Zidarov has with other characters are consequently somewhat uneven, with attempts to make him sound hard bitten and world weary - usually with a pithy closing remark - coming across as very forced and quite awkward. Those moments of dialogue that work well tend to be with Zidarov’s family, and actually these are some of the highlights of the novel. His relationships with his wife and daughter feel natural and believable, and in fact their conversations could even stand to be longer.

Slightly patchy characterisation aside, the biggest issue is the pacing. Bloodlines crawls rather than bounds towards its conclusion, with Zidarov seeming to spend much of his time driving from place to place, asking someone there some questions, then driving back to work. Very little actually seems to happen, which isn’t an issue of this being a different genre to Black Library’s normal output; there’s just not much in the way of excitement or tension. One of the most exciting sounding scenes actually takes place outside Zidarov’s point of view, leaving us with the description of its aftermath and feeling more like we’re shackled to him rather than following his story. Some of the ideas here definitely have legs, such as the explanation around one of the major criminal activities of the area (which I won’t reveal here for spoiler reasons). Oddly, the explanation of this activity, which is pivotal to the plot, comes much later than might reasonably be expected. Said explanation is also delivered by Zidarov to a fellow Probator, who already surely knows all about it, in what is a reasonably engaging but perhaps overtly expositional monologue.

Zidarov’s investigation is one element which one might reasonably expect would be the main appeal for a potential reader, but again this isn’t without its problems. He describes himself as not being particularly insightful, or words to that effect, but his method of questioning makes it seem more like incompetent might be a fairer description. Leads flee the scene as he tries to speak to them, and he never asks them why they ran. They lie, and he doesn’t ask them what they were lying for. In fact, it doesn’t even seem to occur to him to ask them why they’re behaving suspiciously. It’s as if these characters behave this way because it’s what’s expected in a crime novel, with little thought given to their motivations for doing so. The outcomes of these conversations never seem to fill in many blanks either, instead leading Zidarov to just go to the next person and ask them some more not particularly inspired questions. It really is very strange, almost like reading the script to unimaginative quests distributed by NPCs in a videogame. Progress on the investigation only seems to be made through sudden leaps of logic, with some elements of it dwelt on and others skirted over, the dots hastily joined in order to get Zidarov to the next story beat. 

It’s tempting to say that the real star of the novel is Varangantua itself, which arguably could be the case. That opening promises much, making it sound seedy and violent, with death never far away and a general air of grimdark goodness lingering over the whole thing. Bloodlines falls some way short of realising this particular vision though, with locations described just as excessively as the characters but lacking atmosphere. We’re bombarded with Zidarov’s sensory input at practically every place he visits, with what almost feels like a checklist: what can he see, what can he smell, what’s the weather like, is he hot or cold, etc. It very quickly becomes repetitive, sapping the energy out of the story and padding it out to the point of flabbiness, with a great deal more telling than showing. There is an interesting setting at the centre of all this, but this feels more like an attempt to pin it down exactly rather than one to sketch it in and let it breathe.

Ultimately, Bloodlines is a reasonably diverting but all too often frustrating read. The foundations of Warhammer Crime are here, yes, but hopefully much more can be built on them in future.
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What I enjoy the most about Bloodlines is how it represents the hidden, every day aspect of Imperial life. So often we read novels that have mighty heroes fighting on the front lines of battle. To see a humble approach to the everyday elements that make up the Imperium of Mankind and the lives within its clutches was enthralling. A big part of this is due to Augusto Zidarov as a main character. There is something world-weary and long suffering about him. This makes him as captivating as his surroundings. Not only is he an average sort of guy within the Enforcers he is also a family man with troubles of his own to deal with. Mostly in the form of an equally world-weary wife and a daughter who insists she’s destined for the Imperial Guard. Bloodlines re-enforces the fact that the Warhammer 40k setting is grim and gritty. And there is very little in the ways of pleasantries about it. Life in the Imperium is unfair and Bloodlines does little to sugar-coat that fact.

As stated, It’s dark in Zidarovs world and only those that can escape the depths of the darkness are those that can afford to do so. This is the other aspect of the every-day that we’re shown in Bloodlines, through the eyes of Udmil Terashova. The High-born woman who contracts the Enforcers to find her missing son. The richer element of Imperial life. Those that can afford the luxuries to make the day-to-day life in the Imperium bearable. Those that can afford to keep themselves looking young through rejuvanant treatments – a process which is vital to key-plot elements within Bloodlines and the criminal cartels that are involved with the process of procuring the vital chemicals required. A process that involved ‘Cell-Draining’ in which the youth are drained of their vital essences until there’s nothing left but a husk. Naturally, all highly illegal. As the plot progresses more elements are added and more clues need to be pulled together for Zidarov to solve. It’s highly entertaining and kept me guessing as a reader. I was keen to see all the individual elements wrapped up and solved.

I’m pleased to announce there isn’t much combat in Bloodlines. It’s not the run of the mill shoot-em-up that Warhammer 40k books usually offer. It makes for a refreshing change of pace. Bloodlines is an intelligently written, complex story that is well worthy of the crime genre. Not a moment passes when you think this is anything other than a 40k novel. There’s a lot of grounding done to keep the reader firmly established in the individual world setting of Varangantua as well as the Warhammer 40k universe as a while. There are references to Imperial Faith and the Astra Militarum amongst other standard Imperium of Mankind aspects. It’s very cleverly handled that blends the two elements perfectly as newcomers to the Warhammer Universe will be able to pick up and read this book as easily as those who’ve been into the genre a long time.

When the action comes it’s fast-paced and easy to imagine and over quickly. There are scenes of thrill and tension too and they all blend well together making Bloodlines a mixed-bag of entertainment.

What I found rather novel about Bloodlines is that it draws on some usually over-done tropes of the Crime genre. The protagonist is ageing, weary and having family troubles on-top of his ever growing pile of cases to solve. His boss in on his back; and the dubious work partner. Usually, I would tear a book down for it’s over reliance on triteness. However of Bloodlines I am more forgiving as these are masterfully interwoven between plot developments and personal character twists.
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Whether or not Black Library have created the 'Warhammer Crime' series to try and carve themselves a slice of the thriller pie or if it's just because they wanted to breathe new life into the Warhammer 40k universe, I am uncertain. What I am certain of is that they've got this series off to a great start.

For die hard bolter porn fanatics I am going to spoil your day: There are no space marines in this novel. It seems like the Black Library want to show that they are more than just Space Marines and Imperial Guard and, with Bloodlines, both they and Chris Wraight have achieved that.

Augusto Zidarov, an ageing probator (a type of policeman/detective in the warhammer 40k universe) is our protagonist and, throughout the majority of the novel I found myself liking the unveiling of his character. He's often not quite what you think he is, a feat achieved by clever reveals on the part of the author.

Bloodlines creates a grim, dark and oppressive-feeling world in which bleakness and the daily grind are pretty much the only things to look forward to. Unless you're rich, in which case you can have what you want, when you want. Including rejuvanat treatments (treatments to reverse the ageing process). The fact that much of this trade comes from 'cell draining', the process of hooking a living person up to a machine and having the lifeblood, and other youthful goodness, sucked out of them until they die where they lay.

Zidarov's mission to bring down the cell-draining cartels in his city is a major plot point, one that unfolds to the backdrop of a missing aristocrat he's being forced to track down at the behest of one of the most influential, and filthy rich families on his world.

Chris Wraight does a great job of showing just how bleak and miserable life can be on many of the world's within the Imperium. It shows how the Imperium is a society where the rich thrive and the poor are squeezed for every last bit of productivity in whatever job role they find themselves in. It may sound like it, but I don't think they're Tories ... honest.

Some of the characters do feel a bit two-dimensional but I feel part of this is more because Zidarov isn't the type to open up to or to reach out and let others open up to him. Whatever the reason, it doesn't feel like it detracts. It just feels like they are the stoic citizens of the imperium that any fan has come to imagine over the years of reading.

Oddly, for a warhammer 40k novel, there isn't a whole lot of fighting. There are some heart-pounding scenes that really make you appreciate the build up to them, but a great portion of the book is spent on detective work and snooping around. Which, being a thriller-type novel, I am glad of. When I opened this book I was worried that it was just going to be lots of shooting and explosions coming from a policeman's gun rather than a soldier's and just called a 'crime novel'. Thankfully, in Bloodlines, Wraight has given it a truly 'crime novel feel' whilst still making you feel grounded in the Warhammer 40k universe.
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Really enjoyed this - classic style detective novel set on a W40k world. I'll definitely check out more Warhammer Crime novels, particularly by this author.

I also appreciated some of the new imperial expressions Chris Wraight came up in this novel - "His hand" as a greeting, for example, both makes a lot of sense and adds to the flavor of the world.
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With this being the first book released under the Warhammer Crime line it really kind of had to do a bunch of things right. It had to have enough crime-ness in it for it not to be another regular Warhammer 40K release, it had to have enough Warhammer 40K-ness in it to not just be another crime/thriller airport novel, and it had to have a good story and entertain because after all it is the initial offering. Bloodlines walked a tight line and felt totally like a gumshoe novel that every once in a while reminded you it was a WH40K book. Neither of those things felt at all heavy handed or forced at any time and while you don't need to be any kind of WH genius to enjoy the book, knowing some of the stuff would definitely add to the enjoyment. Things like instead of tucking his gun into his jacket holster it's a laspistol. The warp is a part of the background, service to the Emperor is mentioned, and little sayings thrown in like, "His Hand" as a greeting or, "Throne, no" just sort of nudge you and say, remember where you are.

That being said the story is fantastic and I was engaged throughout. It's not just a simple whodunnit mystery, there's a bunch of different things going on on many layers and everything was brought to a satisfying conclusion at the end. Warhammer has always done horror and science fiction very well and Bloodlines is not just a retread, something thrown-out slapping a WARHAMMER CRIME label on the cover and calling itself something it isn't. It is an original story set in an already established universe and it manages to feel fresh and new but also comfy to readers in the know.

Good job, Black Library.

I received a copy for review from Netgalley and Black Library but that in no way impacted my thoughts or opinion.
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I read this and listened to this book and it is one of the best books Chris Wraight has written and I am big fan of his work, he encapsulates the dark, grimy and seedy aspects of life in the WH universe perfectly, as you read the book you can feel the despair and fatigue the characters have to endure on a daily basis, this is a must read book
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