[Review] The Warcaster Chronicles: The Way of Caine – Miles Holmes

Privateer Press has always had a relatively robust world, Immoren, in which their skirmish games Warmachine & Hordes exist.  In the past, the development of that background and the fleshing out of its characters was limited to the rulebooks and army books published for the games.  With the launch of of the strangely named Skull Island eXpeditions (yes, the X is the only letter capitalized in the final word), Privateer has finally expanded their scope to include dedicated novels and novellas to enhance the depth of their universe.  The Way of Caine, written by relative newcomer Miles Holmes, is the first entry in their “Warcaster Chronicles” novella series and was one of the launch titles.  Clocking it around 100 pages (read on an iPad mini – your page # mileage will vary based on device and font size, of course), The Way of Caine is a successful entry into the world of Warmachine.

The Way of Caine focuses on its namesake, Allister Caine, a lowborn hooligan that players of the game know to be one of the best assassins in all of Immoren.  But that’s not where the novella starts.  Rather, Holmes focuses the entire first ‘chapter’ of the novella on Caine’s upbringing as a petty thief in the slum neighborhood of Bainsmarket.  Caine has some of your typical roguish qualities; he’s a bit of a brawler, he’s got some charm, and he’s crafty.  But he’s also a bit damaged.  Skirting on the edge of cliche’, Caine’s father is an irresponsible drunk that considers his son an ordinary, unimpressive failure.  But Caine is anything but ordinary; he’s got some magic in him, a latent ability that allows him to not only manipulate space and time around him, but also the ability to ‘will’ inanimate objects, and more importantly, warjacks, to do his bidding.

Its this recognition that lands Caine in the eventual service of the army of Cygnar, where his abilities are slowly fostered and put into action.  Chapters two and three of the novella focus on Caine’s eventual ascent to Captain, leading his own garrisons of Cygnarian troops to the borders of Merwyn, the neighboring nation with potentially nefarious intentions.  Caine is tasked to investigate the potential conspiracy, utilizing the skills he learned on the streets in conjunction with his abilities as a warcaster, to root out any ill intent.

I was skeptical at first with how Holmes was going to portray Caine.  His upbringing skirts cliche, and the “I’ll prove you wrong” attitude that prompts him to enlist in the Cygnarian army is a bit lazy and expected.  However, I didn’t expect, over the short time frame of the novella, Holmes to be able to give Caine some real depth, but he does.  Caine is clearly a damaged character, conflicted about whom he should kill and the relationships he develops, and that makes him a lot less milquetoast than I feared he would be.  I really like what Holmes was able to do over such a short span with the character.

The narrative itself is interesting if not unimpressive, but the important thing is that it reads easily without being too generic.  It’s clearly a Warmachine novel, and the infusion of Ace, Caine’s sidekick warjack, added a great deal to the story.  Holmes’ description of Caine’s interaction with the ‘jack, particularly the imprinting, is well done without being overbearing.  In some of the Black Library novellas that are focused on products (see The Space Hulk novella), some of the insertions of game terms feels incredibly forced.  That’s not the case in The Way of Caine.  It’s really clear when Caine is performing a ‘feat’ but we’re never hit in the face with that terminology, which was really, really refreshing.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Way of Caine.  I think Miles Holmes has availed himself incredibly well with the first entry to The Warcaster Chronicles series, with strong writing and a well designed narrative, but more importantly with his ability to give Caine some depth over the course of a short story.  The Way of Caine, while not groundbreaking, is a really solid introduction into the Warmachine universe, and should certainly be read if you’re a Cygnar player.