"Cadian Blood" is Aaron's* first novel for Black Library and to my eyes a truly exceptional piece of work that's going to be hard for him to follow. The story centres around the Cadian 88th Mechanised Infantry Regiment and their efforts to liberate the Imperial Shrine world of Kathur from the Chaos spawned 'Plague of Unbelief' and the many plague-touched (read Zombies) it has created.
The story is set during Abbadon's 13th Black Crusade and takes place on a revered shrine world that is some distance away from Cadia where the main action is taking place. This makes the presence of the plague, a feature of the battle around Cadia, a mystery and one which sits at the heart of this story.
Aaron's protagonist Warden-Captain Thade is a finely crafted character who very quickly establishes his bona fides as an experienced soldier and a reluctant hero, a symbol of hope in a situation that has little. His supporting cast are equally compelling and Aaron's ability to set the scene grabs you from the very first page and doesn't let go until you turn the last (At 3am in my case, with work...later that morning).
The story itself flows well, with each character viewpoint, Imperium and otherwise, adding immensely to the dark atmosphere that characterises a good 40K novel. His battle scenes build a very clear picture of the action in a way that never leaves you behind wandering what the hell just happened and the twists and turns of the plot are surprising and keep you wondering what will happen next.
Some stories destroy what suspense there is by leaving you in no doubt that the protagonist and co. will survive. Not so here. Who survives and how is not clear until the last pages and one is left with the feeling that while Aaron clearly likes his characters he's unwilling to sacrifice suspense on the altar of their survival.
I have tried to nit pick as, I believe, is expected from a review. I can't. It's a riveting read, driven by strong characters in a well thought out and suspenseful plot. For a first or for that matter a fifth novel it is tremendously readable and points to a real talent that I look forward to reading more from.
By the by it is also an excellent introduction to the 40K universe for first time readers. 40K atmosphere drips from every page but you won't need more background knowledge than the author provides to enjoy it.
SciFi fans! Read it now, thank me later.
*Please note: I have not used the author's first name to imply any kind of personal familiarity, for none exists. I have used it because his mouthful of a double-barreled surname doesn't really lend itself to snappy prose (some would argue that my writing style can hardly be called snappy and to them I stick my tongue out in defiance :)