The Bastion Psykana on the fringe of the Hydraphur system. The Bastion is the centre for astropathic communication around Hydraphur. Bastion Master Otranto's body is found. He has been murdered.
Shira Calpurnia is incarcerated far out on the edge of the Hydraphur system. She is about to face trial for the events upon Selena Secundus. Calpurnia is temporarily restored to the rank of Arbitrator Senioris by Chastener Dast so she can investigate the killing.
Calpurnia and the Arbites put down a mutiny upon arriving at the Bastion. Calpurnia makes contact with Master Detective-Espionist Rede, an undercover arbitor, who can use her secret informers to investigate the murder.
Calpurnia discovers that Otranto had left Teeker Renz, his Concordiast, and was on his way to meet Torma Ylante, who had arrived on a Black Ship the day before. Otranto's body was found in his sealed quarters; there was no sign of the killer or the murder weapon.
Calpurnia quizzes Ylante. Ship's Captain Gessante Lohjen secretly requests that two astropaths watch Calpurnia. Dast threatens Ylante, trying to get a quick resolution to the case.
Renz meets with Dechene to talk about Calpurnia and Ylante. Calpurnia discovers that Ylante had been a Concordiast at the Bastion many years ago. She knew Otranto and many of the senior astropaths on the Bastion. Chastener Dast is attacked.
Calpurnia questions Watchmaster Chevenne with Ylante. Dechene and Kyto plot against the arbites.
Dast is in a coma in the apothecarion. It seems like he was attacked by arbitor Phiessen, who later died with no trace of why. Calpurnia takes sole charge of the investigation. She confines Ylante to her quarters and orders her watched. Ylante receives a secret message from Calpurnia asking to meet her in the docking hangar.
Dechene follows Ylante to the hangar, as do the arbites under Calpurnia. Ylante meets four mysterious figures who are working for Lohjen and drag her away. Crewmen, who have been commanded to enter the hangar by a secret arbites messenger, are shot at by the figures and one dies. The lights go out. One of the Lohjen's men is killed. They leave the hangar with Ylante. Dechene follows again.
Back in the hangar, the prisoners are released from the arbites dromon. Calpurnia responds but finds it is a trick. Meanwhile, one of the crewmen, Goll, goes berzerk and kills Lohjen and the rest of his men before expiring himself. Lohjen is found to be an inquisitorial agent.
Calpurnia discovers that Kyto is amongst Lohjen's dead. She links Kyto to Renz and Renz to Otrantro. Calpurnia forces astropaths Chevenne and Anschuk into a scrying to pick up Otranto's psychic trail. Anschuk dies with the effort. Chevenne is severely wounded. Calpurnia talks to Ylante in the apothecarion, who survived the attack on Lohjen and his men. Calpurnia discovers that psykers can manifest physical wounds which mirror the visions they see.
Renz is arrested. Dechene intervenes. He has developed hidden psychic powers which can force people to do as he wishes. He used these powers to kill Otranto, attack Dast and control Goll. Calpurnia resists and kills him.
This is the third Shira Calpurnia book, and is very much like it's predecessors. The focus is on background and character, rather than action, which is something of a rarity in Warhammer 40,000 fiction. The pace feels very slow. This is only in part due to the absence of fight scenes, but is largely because of Matthew Farrer's writing style. He is quite slow and laborious, and goes round the houses to get to the heart of each scene. You get the feeling that if he had to point to his right ear he would use his left hand and go over the top of his head to get there.
The upside of this is that his settings are very well realised. He obviously does a lot of research and thinks deeply about how the elements of his setting interact. There seems to be a high degree of internal consistency here. The Bastion is a very evocative and believable place. If you read 40k novels to inform your knowledge of the background universe, then Farrer's books are for you. They work less well as involving narratives.
There is an opacity to the writing and the characters. Many times I found myself flicking back a few pages to re-read a passage and make sense of the plot. I sometimes confused characters as we got a glimpse of their internal thoughts which all sounded very similar. I don't think that Farrer has managed to create distinct 'voices' for each of his characters.
This was a short book which felt quite long. Nevertheless, it does try to achieve something a little more considered and mature in comparison to many other 40k novels, and for this it should be commended.
I'd score this book 6 out of 10.
All of my reviews end in a score out of ten for the product. The table below explains what that score means.
- 10/10 Perfect, absolutely nothing better
- 9/10 Excellent, highly recommended
- 8/10 Very good, recommended
- 7/10 Good
- 6/10 Above average, some problems
- 5/10 Average, some good points some bad points
- 4/10 Below average, some redeeming features
- 3/10 Poor, major flaws
- 2/10 Very poor, avoid if possible
- 1/10 Absolutely appalling