The planet of Theotokos is dying of thirst. For years, Arch-Deacon Ambrose has done everything in his power to help the people. Charismatic, virtuous, pious, he is as beloved as the corrupt Cardinal Lorenz, who hoards the water reserves beneath the Ecclesiarchal Palace, is feared. When Lorenz dies, Ambrose’s moment has arrived. As good as his intentions are, he is also proud. He will be the saviour Theotokos needs, and bring the relief of water to the suffering. But there is something worse than drought to come. Lorenz’s death unleashes a terrible plague, soon to be known as the Grey Tears. As Ambrose struggles to save Theotokos from the Grey Tears, the unnatural nature of the plague becomes clearer and clearer, and he is driven to more and more extreme measures. He fears malign forces lurk behind the Grey Tears. The truth is worse than his most awful imaginings.
I was given an ARC of Deacon of Wounds by Black Library via NetGalley, in return for an honest review. Many thanks to the publisher for the copy of this book and I hope you find my review to your satisfaction.
Deacon of Wounds follows the story of Arch-Deacon Ambrose through his ascension to the spiritual leader that the drought-ridden world, Theotokos, needs. Where his predecessor was feared, he is very much adored by the people. He is a beacon of hope during their darkest hour; if only they knew how dark things were to become.
Rightfully placed, Deacon of Wounds, is a part of the Warhammer Horror line of books. It’s a very grim, very dark story of the rise and fall from grace of central character, Arch-Deacon Ambrose. This key characters story-arc is competently handled as he turns from an approachable, personable, key-figure in the settings religious order to someone barely recognisable. However, the story is paced so well that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong for Ambrose. When did he start on his downward path? He is the driving force of the entire book and it’s an intimate character study of both his thoughts and his actions.
On the side-lines, there are a handful of other characters, Bethia, something of a forbidden fruit and parishioner for Ambrose. A temptation that I would have liked to see a bit more fleshed-out in terms of her own character as the ‘romance’ felt stilted and under-developed considering it’s importance to the plot.
The pacing of the book was slower compared to most Black Library offerings, allowing the tension to build and the horror to grow at an organic rate; by the time the extent of what was going on around Ambrose was realised, it was far too late. As suggested in the sub-category of Warhammer, Deacon of Wounds isn’t your run of the mill Warhammer Novel and it has a concentration on something other than the eternal conflicts of the setting. There is evidence of the wider-settings war, but Theotokos is just a small part of a wider-whole and the world-building here is second-to-none. The insight provided into how a worlds Ecclesiarchy runs was in a class of its own and for this alone Deacon of Wounds earns itself some high-praise. Getting a glimpse into the political and religious movements that are usually behind the scenes in Warhammer 40k is always delightful.
The plot itself was curious and I don’t feel that it was fully realised. Throughout Deacon of Wounds, I felt that there was something amiss. There was a quality to the writing; the descriptions rich and captivating. The scenes of horror we’re depraved and, sometimes, quite disgusting. There was a rhythmic quality to some of the descriptions. A reliance on using three words some of the time, which if purposefully done was a subtle mastery that hinted to the overall source of the horrors within. And yet, I still felt like there was something missing throughout. A depth to some of the supporting characters was lacking compared to Ambrose himself and I feel like there could have been something more to these characters, Bethia specifically, that would have lifted the story as a whole.
While I found that the overall plot was an enjoyable tale, I didn’t find it overly surprising or startling in itself. Already touched upon is the delight of Ambrose’s character development and I feel the plot was somewhat pigeon-holed to fit around his arc. One element I found brilliant was reading the inner monologue and conflict within Ambrose, having access to his direct thoughts made him stand out compared the characters around him, these key thoughts are what drive him to react in the way he does. What we read is his reaction to what is happening to the world around him and his thoughts on situations as they develop; only once does he take specific action against the plague, the Grey Tears, and this helps to bring the book to the conclusion.
There is a lot to enjoy about Deacon of Wounds. It offers some quality character development in Arch Deacon Ambrose, a slight air of mystery in the plot and some wicked descriptions of body-horror. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that it didn’t quite hit the mark in places, such as; character connections.