Released under the Black Libraries' Warhammer Crime division, Bloodlines by Chris Wraight is an absolute masterpiece of the genre. Something I find incredibly difficult about writing a crime story in the Warhammer universe is that, by its very nature, the Imperium is a heartless, crime-filled expanse. Why would this make things challenging? Well, because when almost every novel released is practically a crime novel, writing something that warrants separation into its own subcategory needs to be pretty impressive or risk being lost in the crowd.
Bloodlines has absolutely no trouble achieving this. Set in what appears to be a hive city, though not explicitly labelled as such, we are shown a rather down to earth view of life in an Imperial city through the eyes of Probator Agusto Zidarov. For those unfamiliar with the Warhammer terminology, the closest approximation would be a detective. Unlike so many polarised novels set in this universe, Zidarov is neither an Imperial fanatic nor rabid Chaos cultist. He is a man, with a family, trying to live his life in a vast and uncaring universe. In general, it has a very 'bladerunnerish' feel to it, with the combination of classic noir detective story and higher-level technology and dystopian cityscape.
Wraight manages to set the tone for life in the city of Varangantua very early on while avoiding many of the typical tropes employed by noir writers. Through creative use of listing and descriptions, he really drives home how mundane and grey life is, yet somehow simultaneously incredibly dangerous. At the same time, he provides enough information that even those new to the landscape can get a good mental image of the world. Without wishing to give too much away, we are not introduced to the investigation by witnessing it in the opening of the book, nor does Wraight lead us on with needless red herrings. The reader is given almost precisely the same information as Zidarov throughout, and while he does have the advantage of existing within this world and some insider knowledge, it is entirely possible for the reader to logically make the same deductions, something I very much appreciated.
That's not to say the story was predictable. While the overall arc and resolution might not be entirely unexpected, there are more than a few hooks to make us anticipate one thing from the story before discovering a wholly surprising truth. These are written in a wonderful way that made me think back on the information provided, only to realise I just had my own assumptions to blame! Once we do get into the action, Bloodlines is a fast-paced chase for the truth, and certainly not without perils to both Zidarov and those around him.
Bloodlines is one of the first times I have really gotten a feel for how big the gap is between the Gilded of the city, the financial elite of the world, and the everyday citizens of the Imperium. Even someone as relatively well off as Zidarov, is shown to be almost entirely inconsequential to them; only their ability to use someone of his position gives him any value at all. We are often told that the Imperium is a difficult time to exist in, but we so rarely get to see it first hand. Even the Kal Jerico novels, set in the underhives of Necromunda make the world feel more happy go lucky than the bitter reality revealed in Bloodlines, and I am really impressed with the way Wraight constantly hints at the depressing and dystopian nature of it all without breaking perspective from what is essentially a loyal citizen who shouldn't really be that aware of the bigger picture.
If you are a fan of science fiction and crime, or even just keen to get a new view on the grim darkness of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Bloodlines is an absolute must-read and one of my favourite books this year.