Death or Glory is the fourth book in the Commissar Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM) series, which are purported to be Cain’s memoirs, arranged by the Inquisitor Amberly Vail as a resource for her fellow inquisitors. Cain lives in the Warhammer 40k universe where he is a commissar with the 597th Valhallan Imperial Guard, who are (mostly) unagumented humans fighting for the god-like Emperor in a grimdark universe where the trillions of humans spread across millions of planets are in danger of total annihilation and there is only war. War against the heretical Chaos space marines; war against the unimaginably ancient cyborg Necrons; war against the degenerate, technologically-advanced Eldar; war against the hilariously homicidal Orks; war against the voracious, hive-minded Tyranids; war against the Borg-like Tau; war against the Chaos gods themselves. And all their deluded human followers.
Cain just wants to stay alive, preferably in a cushy, far-behind-the-lines job. This is ironic as his job is to insure that the troopers under his command do not fall into such self-serving and disloyal thinking. However, as he tries to position himself in the safest places, he continually finds himself in dangerous situations where his desire to stay alive—and his martial and tactical skills—conspire to make him a HERO OF THE IMPERIUM.
Death or Glory chronicles one of Cain’s early triumphs as an exploding spaceship forces him and his batman, Jurgen, into an escape pod which they land on an Ork-ridden planet. Through a series of fortunate events they end up marching a growing army of the local PDF forces across the planet behind the Orks battle lines, turning the tide of the entire war. Cain then (accidentally, of course) challenges the Ork warchief to a duel. I leave how that works out as an exercise to the reader.
I thought Death or Glory was one of the better Cain novels. I would rank it second, right after For The Emperor. This one just seemed better to me than Nos. 2 and 3. Perhaps because I read the first three in a row and burned out on them. They are, of course, all basically the same story: Cain tries to find the safest place to be in any given conflict; in attempting to get back to safety he stumbles across something worse; Cain is a HERO OF THE IMPERIUM again. It could be because orks are a fun adversary that I enjoyed it more. Or possibly, watching Cain work with his ragtag bunch of PDF forces instead of the competent 597th is more interesting. Ariott, the vet turned medic, who went on to write the book All Life Forms Large And Small, was a highlight. All in all, it was an enjoyable read.