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Ciaphas Cain (Novel Series)

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The Ciaphas Cain series are Dark Comedy/Action-Adventure novels written by Sandy Mitchell that follow the life of Imperial Commissar Ciaphas Cain.

Titles and Images

The first three novels, as well as the short stories Fight or Flight, Echoes of the Tomb and The Beguiling, were collected into a single omnibus entitled Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium in 2007.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth novels, as well as the short stories Sector 13 and Traitor's Gambit, were collected into a second omnibus entitled Ciaphas Cain: Defender of the Imperium in 2010.

The seventh, eighth, and ninth novels, were collected into a third omnibus entitled Ciaphas Cain: Saviour of the Imperium in 2018.

The tenth novel, Choose Your Enemies, was released in 2018.

The original audio dramas, Dead in the Water and The Devil You Know were released in June, 2011 and April, 2014, respectively.

A limited release novella, Old Soldiers Never Die, was released in November, 2012, during Black Library's Weekender event, and collected into Ciaphas Cain: Saviour of the Imperium.

Series Overview

Ciaphas Cain first appeared in the short story Fight or Flight, and the subsequent novels and stories follow his career, through the time of his retirement from active service to teach at a Schola Progenium.

The novels and short stories purport to be extracts from "The Cain Archive," a private memoir written by Cain and subsequently edited by his close associate, Ordo Xenos Inquisitor Amberley Vail, for circulation to her fellow Ordo members, though not to the general public.

Throughout the Imperium, Cain is revered as a hero and always praised for his courage and resourcefulness, but in his private memoirs he expresses another opinion: all he ever wanted was a safe posting with few responsibilities, with little to no chance of being exposed to actual danger. However, despite his efforts (or perhaps because of them) to always be in the safest place possible, somehow Cain always manages to get himself in the most dangerous situations and is forced to save his hide. Unfortunately for Cain, saving his own hide often inadvertently results in him saving the day, which inflates his status even further!

Novel Summaries

For the Emperor

Commissar Ciaphas Cain, after being plucked from his somewhat cushy attachment to the 12th Valhallan field artillery, is attached directly to Brigade Headquarters for what he thinks will be an easy job of data file shuffling and organizing the occasional firing squad. This seems not to be the case as he finds himself constantly being assigned to outfits that are placed on suicidal missions. Wishing to save himself from the people who think him a hero, Cain places a transfer request. Along with his faithful aide, Jurgen, he becomes appointed to the Valhallan 296th/301st, which is comprised of two under-strength regiments with radically different backgrounds, not including the fact that the 296th is an all-women regiment. Cain has to survive moulding anew this reconsolidated fighting force and their christening by fire on Gravalax, a backwater planet that has come under the sway of the radical Tau race. After the mysterious assassination of a Tau leader during diplomatic proceedings, Cain finds himself with Inquisitor Amberley Vail of the Ordo Xenos, embroiled in a conspiracy that may ignite war between the Tau and the Imperium.

Caves of Ice

Main article: Caves of Ice (Novel)

Commissar Ciaphas Cain and his regiment of Valhallan guardsmen are deployed to the Ice World of Simia Orichalcae to combat an Ork Invasion. There are rumours of evil in this insignificant backwater mining colony and Cain is nominated to investigate mysterious events down in the mines. Unbeknownst to him an ancient evil begins to stir deep in the ice caves. Having to deal with Orks on the surface, unseen horrors in the dark depths of the planet and the freezing temperature of the planet itself that seem to try to strangle the life out of the commissar while only boosting the morale of his Valhallans, Cain must once again make his way through another adventure of bowel-clenching terror.

The Traitor's Hand

After completing a relatively uneventful campaign on the world of Kastafore against the Orks, astropathic reports of Chaos raiders calling themselves the Ravagers come in from the Imperial Navy saying that the raiders are heading for the Adumbria system. Cain and the Valhallan 597th, alongside several other regiments including the Tallarn 229th whose attached regimental commissar turns out to be an old acquaintance of Cain’s named Tomas Beije, set out to defend the unremarkable backwater. As they make planetfall and set up the defenses of the world against the incoming chaos raiders, heretical Slaaneshi cultists reveal themselves and an insidious plot to bring forth an unspeakable evil slowly unfolds as Cain and the Imperial forces fight for their very souls.

Death or Glory

A prequel to the first novel in the series, Cain is still attached to the Valhallan 12th field artillery when the story begins. After being forced to board an escape shuttle to survive a disastrous space battle with ambushing Orkish invaders that damages the troopship he is in, Cain is reported dead in the gunfire and confusion. Landing behind enemy lines after three weeks, and after the fleet he was with makes planetfall on Perlia themselves, Cain and his aide Jurgen must make their way through an entire continent of greenskins with nothing but the supplies aboard the shuttle, what they can scrap from the Orks, and what remnants of the Perlian PDF that they can round up as they make their way back to Imperial lines.

Duty Calls

Main article: Duty Calls (Novel)

Cain arrives on the planet of Periremunda, a bizarre world of plateaux rising above deserts and lava flows, alongside the Valhallan 597th to stem its rioting populace and prevent a full-on rebellion. After arriving on the planet and surviving an attempt on his life by Genestealer hybrids alongside a few of their purestrain brethren in the city streets, things on Periremunda get more and more interesting as the Inquisitor Amberley Vail shows up and whisks Cain into a tumult of conspiracies, encroaching Hive Fleets and mysterious Chaos cults. Before the war is over Cain will have to survive many more attempts on his life, as it would seem that Vail, in an attempt to draw attention away from herself and her investigations, has made out the commissar to be the figurehead of the entire campaign and personal witch hunter!

Cain's Last Stand

Cain is retired and living on Perlia, the planet he defended in Death or Glory, where he teaches at a Schola Progenium. But the 13th Black Crusade of Abaddon the Despoiler has broken out, and Cain and his cadets are called into service. As the forces of Chaos overwhelm Perlia, Cain is forced to command the defense of the planet and hope that his luck doesn't run out...

The Emperor's Finest

Cain's narrow escape from the Necron Tomb World (in Echoes of the Tomb) conveniently takes him where he was heading in the first place: to the Strike Cruiser of the Reclaimers Space Marines. Cain believes there are far more dangerous places to be than surrounded by heavily armoured supermen, but is quickly disabused of that notion when he and Jurgen are forced to accompany the Astartes in their investigation of a space hulk infested with genestealers.

The Last Ditch

The Greater Good

Short Story Summaries

Fight or Flight

by Sandy Mitchell

Commissar Ciaphas Cain joins his new regiment, as far behind the front lines as it's possible for him to arrange. Unfortunately, he discovers that life with an artillery regiment in the Imperial Guard is not always just about sitting a half a continent away from the enemy and pounding them with shellfire... especially if the enemy are Tyranids.

Echoes of the Tomb

by Sandy Mitchell

Having been transferred in late 928.M41 to brigade headquarters for becoming a Hero of the Imperium and having his talents wasted on a backwater artillery regiment (Valhallan 12th Field Artillery), Cain finds himself thrown into ever more dangerous situations due to the staff officers and his dashing reputation. Deciding for once that he would choose a menial mission instead of be assigned a lethal one, Cain, leaving Jurgen behind to handle office affairs, is sent to rendezvous with a Reclaimers battle barge in the Interitus system with the eventual destination the Viridian System. His immediate transport is the Omnissiah's Blessing, a Mechanicus freighter under the command of a Magos Killian (not to be confused with a certain radical Inquisitor, Ernst Stavros Killian). The Magos' target is Interitus Prime, a dead world which has something of archeotech interest to them. Before Cain can transfer he is invited down to the surface to advise on military matters. Flying deep into a crevasse in the planet, Killian and Cain land at the Mechanicus research camp. The techpriests present claim that have found strange hieroglyphs on the walls of tunnels nearby as well as a strange metallic spider. On closer inspection Cain's instinct is to run. Gathered later at the camp, the attack comes, Wraiths and Necron Warriors pouring out of the walls and tunnels, whereupon escaping with Killian into the tunnels, Cain evades death. After some time they come to a chamber of machinery suffuses in green light, which Killian is enraptured by, only for a squad of battle damaged Necrons to appear out of a Warp Portal at one end of the chamber. They all aim at Cain after he destroys an injured one, only for Killian to take the shots, evaporating into nothing. Cain, losing his two primary fingers on his right hand, chooses to leap through the portal instead of face certain death by the Necrons. He finds himself in the company of Astartes in Terminator Armour seemingly on a raid on some form of Necron position. With charges laid, they retreat, much to Cain's pleasure.

The Beguiling

by Sandy Mitchell

On the planet of Slawkenberg, under attack by the myriad forces of Chaos, Cain has an encounter with a Slaaneshi priestess and cult leader Emeli Duboir. He is only saved from her embrace by Jurgen's psychic null field. Having executed her, the two of them flee the building with an artillery strike in tow on the location.

Sector 13

by Sandy Mitchell

Picking up what seems to be the relatively light duty of reprimanding a tavern/brothel where several of his men became drunk and disorderly, Cain is unpleasantly surprised to find that the place is actually the central nest for a Genestealer infestation. Awakening the mob of infected, Cain and company retreat to the local enforcers headquarters where they hole up under assault from the horde who manages to break in. Retreating upstairs and eventually to the rooftop, Jurgen spots re-inforcements in the form of Cadians arriving and driving off the Genestealer horde. Later at a ball, Cain's reputatation is enhanced further by Divas who states that if Cain had not uncovered the infestation in the brothel then every regiment would eventually be infested and the war lost.

Traitor's Gambit

by Sandy Mitchell

On a tour of inspection on an aquatic world, in a sector uncomfortably close to Tau space, Cain and Jurgen take full advantage of the Governor's hospitality and conduct most of their tour from his luxurious submersible yacht - until a group of pro-Tau terrorists strike. They succeed in killing the governor and are intent on steering the ship on a suicidal collision course with the Imperial fleet in orbit. Cain and Jurgen manage to escape in an emergency pod, before the yacht is destroyed by the fleet's weapons.

The Bigger They Are

The Only Good Ork

Three Questions


The events depicted in the novels and short stories are not strictly chronological according to publication, since the Cain Archive was purportedly written in its entirety during Cain's retirement, and select portions are published according to Inquisitor Vail's whim. Aside from Vail, the only clue to the order of the events depicted is Cain's passing reference to some past event.

For instance, in For the Emperor, the first full-length Cain novel, Cain refers in passing to the First Siege of Perlia, which earned him much of his unwanted notoriety, but this event is not depicted in any detail until Death or Glory, the fourth novel.

Using these indefinite clues, the rough chronological order of the short stories and novels is as follows:

Chronology Novel/Story Publication
1. Fight or Flight (Short Story) 2002
2. Sector 13 (Short Story) 2005
3. The Beguiling (Short Story) 2003
4. Death or Glory (Novel) 2006
5. Echoes of the Tomb (Short Story) 2004
6. The Emperor's Finest (Novel) 2010
7. Dead in the Water (Audio Book) 2011
8. For the Emperor (Novel) 2003
9. Caves of Ice (Novel) 2004
10. Duty Calls (Novel) 2007
11. The Traitor's Hand (Novel) 2005
12. Old Soldiers Never Die (Novella) 2012
13. The Last Ditch (Novel) 2012
14. Traitor's Gambit (Short Story) 2009
15. The Greater Good (Novel) 2013
16. Cain's Last Stand (Novel) 2008

In addition, there are several encounters referred to by Cain in passing, such as being held prisoner in a Dark Eldar Reaver citadel, successfully escaping from a Chaos Dreadnought, and being recalled to service during the later Tyrannic Wars. These have not been explored in detail and will likely be the subject of future novels in the series.


Cover Errors

On several of the novels' covers, with artwork by Clint Langley, Cain is often shown holding a bolter or bolt pistol. In the books, however, Cain never uses either of these weapons, preferring his standard-issue laspistol and chainsword. In particular, the cover of Death or Glory shows him dual-wielding a pair of bolt pistols, which he does not do in the story.

Since these covers also portray Cain in various heroic poses, and in the thick of the action, many readers take this artwork as a deliberate joke on Cain's public image as a hero of the Imperium, in contrast to how he describes himself in his memoirs.

Another error can be found on Langley's cover illustration for Caves of Ice, on which Jurgen is shown firing his weapon of choice, a melta gun, but the weapon is shown ejecting shell casings, as if it is a bolt gun or other projectile-based weapon. In actuality, the melta gun does not use cartridge-based charges, nor, given its slow rate of fire, would it eject several casings in a matter of seconds.

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