His planet dried up and his city infested with a horrific plague known as the Grey Tears, Arch-Deacon Ambrose is all that stands between death and his people. But even the Emperor of Mankind’s most devout subjects get lost in the darkness. I am a sucker for hopeless situations so was immediately drawn into the story, both reading it and listening to it across two nights. The first half of the story is a blend of horror and some decent, albeit standard, political intrigue, while the latter half descends into full on gothic horror as an increasingly fanatical Ambrose is thrown into one terrifying situation after another. Most Warhammer readers will see the big twist coming but it is still well done and makes for compelling reading. There is plenty of body horror too, with a couple of particular scenes that turned my stomach and made my skin crawl. Three words: worms, eyes, singing.
Ambrose is the sole protagonist and very much the heart of the story. Annandale does an excellent job of fleshing out his character. The contrast between Ambrose’s rise to spiritual saviour and descent into fanaticism is executed brilliantly and makes for some very uncomfortable reading as he increasingly crosses the line between hero and villain as the story progresses and the true threat reveals itself.
Unfortunately, the supporting cast gets a lot less page time than I hoped. Cardinal Lorenz and Rosarius make for a sinister duo but spend more time sitting than doing. Cenobite Nossos rarely appears except when absolutely essential to the plot. Enforcer Bonarmo is badass and, although she is very much not the focus of the story, I would have loved if Annandale gave us a couple of chapters from her perspective as Magerit descends into utter chaos. Finally, there is Bethia, perhaps the only real paragon of good in the book. We only get a snippet from her perspective near the beginning, before she is reduced to a supporting character role to Ambrose and spends the entire midsection as pretty much a bystander to events. She only really comes back into the story towards the end and I feel her significance to the plot could have been fleshed out better. Nevertheless, these characters are all fascinating. I just wish they got more page time.
I highly recommend checking out the audible version, which is narrated by Christopher Kent. Not only does his gravelly voice suit Ambrose’s character, perfectly embodying a worn out soul on a world dying of thirst, but also enhances the horror exponentially, making some of the story’s most skin-crawling scenes even more terrifying. I recommend listening to it at night in the utter darkness if you want to get the full horror experience.
Overall, The Deacon of Wounds is a solid instalment in the Warhammer Horror franchise, perhaps the best one yet. Although Warhammer fans will see the twist coming a subsector away, it is nonetheless well done, and newcomers to the franchise will be left absolutely traumatised by what they just experienced. For in this grimdark, every mortal soul is at the mercy of the things that lurk in the dark.