Shadowhawk reviews the third and final novel in the Word Bearers series by Anthony Reynolds.
“Back-stabbing, betrayals, heroism, loyalty, faith and gamShadowhawk reviews the third and final novel in the Word Bearers series by Anthony Reynolds.
“Back-stabbing, betrayals, heroism, loyalty, faith and games played in the shadows all come to a head once again for Dark Apostle Marduk.” ~ The Founding Fields
Purely because of a lack of interest, the Word Bearer novels by Anthony Reynolds never really held any fascination for me. Even after I went out and bought the first two novels all those years ago and read through them, my interest in them never really took off. Don’t get me wrong, the first two novels are quite excellent in all respects, its just that I was never actually attracted to the Word Bearers in the first place.
That all changed recently however, for reasons related to my renewed attempts at writing tie-in fiction. This led to an interest in the Word Bearers and in the end, I finally went and got the eBook for Dark Creed.
Dark Creed is the culmination of a meta-plot spread out over three novels in very distinct stages. The first one is First Acolyte Marduk discovering the existence of the Nexus Arrangement, an alien construct we can easily infer as belonging to the Necrons, on the Imperial world of Tanakreg and recovering it for his own ends. This is the story for Dark Apostle. The second stage is Dark Apostle Marduk now finding out just how to use this alien construct for his own ends. This is the story for Dark Disciple. And the last stage is Marduk now using the construct on a campaign, alongside some of his peers, for the good of the legion and to the detriment of the Imperium. That is the story of Dark Creed in a nutshell.
Of course, things are never that easy and in a legion so devoted to scheming and back-stabbing and power-jostling, things are also never quite as they seem either.
The Word Bearers are quite a different legion than the Night Lords who have devolved since the end of the Horus Heresy into a bunch of loose alliances between warbands and companies who no longer fight as a legion anymore unless the stakes are really, really high. Such as the plot for Aaron’s audio drama Throne of Lies for example but that’s a review for another time. The warbands of the Word Bearers, known as Hosts, have a central leadership in the form of the Dark Council which rules from the daemon-world Sicarus in the Eye of Terror. It is the Dark Council which decides the fates of the Hosts, appointing Dark Apostles and Acolytes to them as they see fit. The Word Bearers are also a very scheming bunch, much more so than the Night Lords in that the former rely on internal politicking rather than obvious displays of force.
Note: Keep in mind that my comparison is based on the Night Lords novels by Aaron and my understanding of them. I am told things are different in Si Spurrier’s Lord of the Night but as I have never read it I cannot comment in that regard.
And that is at the heart of Dark Creed. Anthony Reynolds performs fabulously in that regard as, for the first time, we see where the power of Marduk’s Host really stands in comparison to that of his fellow Dark Apostles. With the Nexus Arrangement in his possession, his Host has a key role to play in a campaign to destablise the balance of power near the Eye of Terror and establish a foothold for Chaos in one of the subsectors around the warp-phenomenon. So Marduk is thrust into an alliance of sorts with four other Dark Apostles, and this at the request of none other than First Chaplain Erebus himself.
Straightaway, we get into the heart of things as the politicking and intrigue start off with Erebus’s charge to Marduk. It continues all the way to Marduk’s meeting with the other Apostles and then on till right to the very end of the novel when it all comes together. Anthony really reinforces throughout the novel that while outwardly the Word Bearers are a united legion they are not above scheming and lying to get the best of each other. And that would be one reason why the followers of Chaos do not rule the galaxy as yet, because they can’t maintain their alliances long enough to destroy the Imperium. This is particularly relevant in the novel when a certain event happens to the detriment of the Word Bearers and potentially hampers their plans, even though it was, in effect, a waste, all to satisfy the greed of the few.
Another big standout part of the novel is its action sequences. No punches are pulled when the battles begin and you are taken, not on a roller coaster which would mean that the actions yo-yos up and down, but on a straight uphill ride in every single battle. The stakes keep getting bigger and bigger for the characters, whether it is a case of the Apostles meeting together before their attack, the White Consuls preparing to meet the attack of the traitors, the reinforcements being sent to Boros Gate (the subsector in question), the space battles or the ground assaults.
Anthony’s prose is also quite punishing for the reader, which is both a good and bad thing. Good in that you really get a sense that you reading about Space Marines, near-immortal demi-gods of war, fighting each other and against trained Imperial Guard troops. The scale is perfect, the scenes are laid out nicely, the element of surprise and twists and turns are all there. But, by its own nature, the punishing pace can distract you from your reading and actually pull you out of the experience as well. My one complaint about the action scenes is that there is so little dialogue in them.
I like my dialogue. Irrespective of how much dialogue a writer puts in non-action scenes, I believe that action scenes deserve a good, healthy amount of dialogue. Its all about show and tell and balancing that tightrope between the two. Some people think you should show, show, show and then just tell. Others believe you should show, show and then tell, tell. And all other myriad combinations. No one approach is particularly correct mind you, they just have different situations in which they work.
For Dark Creed, I think having more dialogue would definitely have made the experience that much better. I finished the novel quite fast, thanks to my iPad, but there was always that very real danger of putting the novel down because the relentless action was a little too much for me at times.
On the whole however, the action scenes are well done, whether it is the Word Bearers fighting against the White Consuls and their allies in space or on the ground. The epic feel is very much there and there is just the right amount of references in the scene that hint at the larger campaign since its not just Marduk and his Host attack the Boros Gate, but the entire Hosts of four other Dark Apostles and associated cultist hordes and even a Titan legio!
On the character front, it was nice to see all the characters large and small from the previous novels return, particularly Burias-Drak’shal, Kol Badar, Sabtec and all the others, although I wish there had been a larger variety of sergeants/champions shown. A returning cast is all well and good but if your Host is larger than an entire chapter of loyalist Space Marines, that variety would definitely not hurt. We do get some additions in the form of Marduk’s Acolyte Ashkanez and the Black Legion sorcerer Inshabael, but there contribution to the plot and the scheming within the Word Bearers task force is significant mostly off-screen. Which is a real shame since they were quite interesting from the get go and I was looking forward to reading more about them than we got.
Another highlight of the novel is that Anthony can, at a whim, knock your socks right off. Particularly relevant scenes, which I found the most intriguing and most fun are three. The first is that one event I sort of mentioned above re: scheming. The second was the final clash between Marduk’s legionnaires versus the White Consuls on the latter’s strike cruiser. And then finally, the big twist of the novel which is intrinsically tied to the Nexus Arrangement itself, particularly its creators.
Like I said before, the stakes kept getting bigger and bigger for all concerned.
One of the small niggly little complaints I have about the novel relate to the actual function of the Nexus Arrangement and a certain transportation choice made by Marduk and his cohort in the latter third of the novel. Given what it is supposed to do, the Apostle’s choice didn’t really make sense to me. So I am hoping to see what the internet world is speculating about it and see if I can get some clarification from Anthony himself.
Lastly, as a fan of the little touches and what not, especially since Anthony’s portrayal of Space Marines of both stripes was very realistic for me, I loved his emergency council scene between the Astartes Praeses. The Astartes Praeses, for those who don’t know, are a group of twenty chapters dedicated to combating any and all incursions around and out of the Eye of the Terror. To see the variety of the chapters and the strict, business-like attitude of their commanders, and their readiness to put aside whatever differences there may have been otherwise was a nice enough treat for a minor lore nerd like me.
And the same for the White Consul hero who goes on to become a key player in the defense of the Boros Gate and around whom part of the ground assault revolves. Through him, I think took some great steps in showing how much of a difference a single, inspirational icon can make during war-time. It was reflected in the adoration of the Imperial Guard on the planet and in all the references that Anthony packed in. One man in the right place and the right time and all that!
That’s all that really. In closing, I definitely enjoyed this novel a great deal. It avoided the slow moments from the previous novels such as the scenes on Tanakreg involving the locals in Dark Apostle and the early ones involving the moon-colony and Dark Eldar in Dark Disciple. No lows in the novel really, just highs and highs one after the other.
I will definitely be picking up the Word Bearers omnibus in the future!
I rate the novel 8/10 for being a very entertaining read, for having the right scale of battles, visceral combat, lots of politicking and intrigue, somewhat over-relentless combat, under-using some characters who would have been a joy to read and lastly, for a slight lack of variety in villainous characters.
However, I do recommend the novel highly because the mentality of the Word Bearers as they are in M41 is very much at the heart of the novel and that is something very enjoyable....more
Shadowhawk reviews Graham McNeill’s latest, the first in a stated duology about the Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the organisation that creaShadowhawk reviews Graham McNeill’s latest, the first in a stated duology about the Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the organisation that creates, maintains and hoards all the technology of the Imperium of Man.
“A wonderfully distinctive and engaging look into what makes the Tech-Lords of Mars tick, this is an absolute must-read.” ~The Founding Fields
The Adeptus Mechanicus is one of the factions of the Imperium, they are actually an allied state rather than a subordinate organisation, that has had little more than short cameos at best over the years. There is scope in there however, to tell a whole variety of stories about them. They are the caretakers of all Imperial technology, they create new machines, they maintain them, and they are always searching for more knowledge. Added to that is that the Mechanicus is also a religious institution, for they believe in a Machine-God, a sliver of who’s will and power resides in all pieces of sanctioned technology, even something as small and inconsequential as an on/off switch. They are also biologists, explorers, linguists, and so on. It makes them one of the richest Imperial factions, one which has the potential to be the subject of some really fascinating and other-worldly stories.
That is exactly what Graham McNeill does in Priests of Mars. He takes one of the most central tenets of the religious tech-experts, their eternal thirst for lost knowledge, and writes the beginning of a grand tale of exploration that culminates in a surprise ending.
The novel is about a disgraced Tech-Priest, Lexell Kotov, gambling everything on a single mission, hoping to regain his lost glory. Of course, he’d just say that he’s doing it for the good of the Mechanicus and in the service of the Deus Mechanicus. Of course. Having lost some of his forge-worlds to various enemies of the Imperium over the years, and with his reduced standing in the Martian Priesthood’s hierarchy, this is his last chance to essentially make things right. Or have the last of his forges, on Mars itself, taken away from him and given to his peers. In light of this, why Kotov assembles the mission to the Halo Scar, searching beyond the boundaries of the Imperium for the lost fleet of Magos Telok is, is abundantly clear. Throughout the narrative, Graham visits this again and again to really hammer home that this isn’t just any other Explorator mission, this is something more, a chance for redemption and validation in a cross-galactic brotherhood where politics are as much as a weapon as faith in the Machine-God. With Kotov, Graham succeeds in giving us a character to care about, although he is not the sole protagonist of the novel, or the sole focus of it either.
The novel goes beyond Kotov and takes a deep look at the Mechanicus from several different angles, many of which we have never really seen before.
An example of this is the father-daughter duo of Vitali Tychon and Linya Tychon, stellar cartographers of the Mechanicus whose services Kotov is employing in his mission as they have studied the Halo Scars for a great number of years and have amassed a great amount of knowledge about it. And as we know, the Mechanicus values knowledge more than anything else. These two characters are very humane in their characterisation, something I initially found myself at odds with when reading the novel. Thing is, most Tech-Priest characters in BL fiction tend to be the heavily-cybernetic type with voice-boxes, extra appendages, red cowls, three eyes, hunched look and so on. And they always talk formally and in detail. Not the case with the Tychons here. The way they are written, it presents another facet of the Mechanicus and shows that not all Tech-Priests are cut from the same mold. If anything, the Tychons are very reminiscent of a previous such character that Graham has written about, albeit in the time of the Horus Heresy: Magos Koriel Zeth, one of the very, very few prominent female Tech-Priests in BL fiction. These characters are about more than just blind devotion to the Machine God, they look outwards from its (often) tyrannical tenets and they seek to aspire to much more than they are. Great stuff.
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:
Shadowhawk reviews Graham McNeill’s first Ultramarines audio drama, in which he tackles the experienced veteran Scout-Sergeant Torias Telion, a livingShadowhawk reviews Graham McNeill’s first Ultramarines audio drama, in which he tackles the experienced veteran Scout-Sergeant Torias Telion, a living legend of the chapter.
“Battles are not always fought head-to-head. Sometimes they are fought far from the frontlines and no one knows this better than Torias Telion and Graham McNeill. A superb audio!” ~The Founding Fields
My craze with Black Library’s various audio dramas continued last month with Graham McNeill’s Eye of Vengeance, part of his Ultramarines series, and especially the second trilogy as he tackles a much wider cast of characters than just the battle-brothers of the Fourth Company and their Captain, Uriel Ventris. As far as I can recall, The Ultramarines Omnibus was one of my first purchases after I’d bought The Space Wolves Omnibus and the first Gaunt’s Ghosts omnibus The Founding back in 2007 for my birthday. I was on a sort of omnibus drive at the time so they were all good picks for me. And I have to say that I’ve never regretted buying either of those books. While Bill King and Dan Abnett’s offerings rekindled my interest in all things Black Library, it was Graham’s offering that really made me push on and explore more. And I’ve been a fan since.
Eye of Vengeance is one of those few stories that deal with Space Marine Scouts, the neophytes of the chapters who must spend years under the tutelage of their sergeants before they are considered fit to to earn their black carapace and their power armour. I’ve listened to George Mann’s Helion Rain previously, an audio drama with its divided between a Raven Guard Scout squad and a Raven Guard Captain as they fight to defend a world from the ravages of the Tyranids. I wasn’t really impressed with it, either by the writing or with the voice-work. Glad to say that Eye of Vengeance is a huge improvement over it on all accouts and that it hits all the right notes for me when compared to Helion Rain.
Torias Telion, a veteran Scout-Sergeant of the Ultramarines who has served under no less than three Chapter Masters and has trained many of the chapter’s current crop of officers, was introduced with the last Codex: Space Marines. He is certainly an interesting sort of character, having seen several centuries of service but not yet jaded by it, an expert marksman to the degree that he is often seconded to other chapters for cross-training and so on. Graham definitely managed to capture that essence of his character, and the voice-work for him by Rupert Degas magnifies that and brings it to audio superbly.
His voice was certainly not as I’d expected, which would be a minor complaint that I would also level against the voice-work for Chaplain Cassius (voiced by Saul Reichlin) when he makes an appearance earlier on in the audio drama, but it didn’t really bother me. Having those heavy, gruff, or deep bass voices for all such veteran Space Marines would have taken away from the “realism” of the audio so I think it was a good decision by the voice-actors to do as they did. It made both Telion and Cassius stand out, and that’s a good thing.
Cassius’ cameo was, to say the least, a great surprise because I really didn’t expect him to show up. His easy camaraderie with Telion, what little there is of it, and his soft censure of the Sergeant’s sometimes irreverent actions made for a really nice touch. Especially more so when Graham draws some strong parallels between Telion and Uriel where their interpretations of the wisdom of the Codex Astartes is considered. I have a slight problem with that portrayal though, borne out by a certain comment from Marneus Calgar in the short story Consequences, about how some of the Ultramarines view the Codex because that really is the shtick of the chapter. They are staunch adherents of the philosophies penned by their Primarch and to deviate from them is heresy, as events concerning Uriel and his banishment from the chapter prove. To have another such high-ranking officer of the chapter treat those philosophies as just guidelines was a little disconcerting.
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:
Shadowhawk reviews the jam-packed Warhammer 40,000 anthology released as a tie-in to the now-defunct CCG Dark Millennium by Sabretooth Games.
“Some gooShadowhawk reviews the jam-packed Warhammer 40,000 anthology released as a tie-in to the now-defunct CCG Dark Millennium by Sabretooth Games.
“Some good, some not so good, the anthology’s collection of quirky, unusual and rare short stories offer something for everybody.“ ~ The Founding Fields
Tales From The Dark Millennium is quite an interesting anthology for several reasons. For one, unlike most other anthologies from Black Library, this one is set in a very specific time and place, with the stories contained therein forming a subset of a larger whole. And second, it is based on Sabretooth Games’ now out-of-print collectible card game Dark Millennium. The best thing about the anthology is that it contains several stories the likes of which are sorely missing in Black Library fiction of today, and the likes of which really flesh out the Imperium at large. I would love for more writers tackling these sorts of themes and concepts and characters and locations in future anthologies or novels because for me, these are the types of the stories that define the Imperium just as much as the “regular” stories about Space Marines and Imperial Guard.
First off in the anthology is Steve Parker’s The Falls of Marakross which tells the story of a Dark Angels strike force arriving on the world of Cordassa on a top-secret mission. As with most Dark Angels stories (really just all of them actually) this deals with the Dark Angels’ eternal hunt for the Fallen, the traitors of the First Legion from the days of the Horus Heresy. As such, the plot is very predictable but of course, predictability can have its own advantages. This is one of the best short stories in the anthology because Steve Parker keeps this ages-old theme alive by mixing in a really suspicious Inquisitor who is always hot on the tails of our protagonist, Interrogator-Chaplain Artemius. The Falls of Marakross is executed well, the pacing is good and while you know how the story is ultimately going to end, Steve Parker makes the journey of getting there just as vibrant and lively as anything else. The best thing about the story is of course that the Dark Angels have to achieve their mission right under the noses of the Inquisition and have to keep their true objectives a secret. The only thing I did not like about the story is that the Dark Angels’ names don’t jive with the chapter’s naming convention of using the names of fallen angels from christian mythology and the like. They are too Gothic. But other than that, this is one of the best in the anthology.
Next up is C.S. Goto’s Vindicare which tells the story of a female Imperial Assassin on a mission. Extremely predictable and very unsatisfying from start to finish. The letdown of Vindicare is that you never truly get a feel for just how a Vindicare executes his/her mission. The story itself is just nothing more than a commentary about the the last stand of the last defenders of the planet Orphean Trine. Assassins are one of the most underused factions in Black Library fiction and while this story had a lot of potential it ultimately went nowhere. I just couldn’t connect with the protagonist at all and neither was I drawn in to the larger conflict that she is witnessing. The way the narrative unfolds, it is more like a 2-3 page text in a codex. Even the ending is very unsatisfactory and makes me go what the hell just happened. The thing is that Nyjia, the titular Vindicare, is presented as too perfect, with the author taking the theme of “getting that one vital shot” to the extreme. Vindicare is definitely nowhere near the best of Goto’s work and it is also one of the worst short stories in the anthology.
Then we have Graham McNeill’s The Prisoner which is the story of Erebus, the First Chaplain of the Word Bearers legion, and one of the oldest Chaos Space Marines still alive. For me, The Prisoner is the absolute best in the anthology and definitely among the best of Graham’s work. It is intensely fast-paced, insidious and keeps you utterly hooked from the beginning to the end. Also, the ending is something totally unexpected because it portrays Erebus at his best: playing games within games for extremely high stakes. Inquisitor Lord Osorkon and Justicar Kemper are also portrayed quite nicely and the fact that the setting is a prison complex just adds to the enormous fun of the story. This short story also shows that Graham is really good at getting across his characterisation, whether it is for a short story or a novel. I would very much like a sequel to the short story because I think that aspect of The Prisoner has a lot of potential and as the details of the Pyrus Reach Sector setting unfold, it is quickly turning into quite a rich world to set stories in.
The fourth story in the anthology is Dan Abnett’s The Invitation, a Sisters of Battle short story that is quite unique in its promise but fails to deliver. Dan generally writes excellent narratives and his novels and short stories are usually quite good, but just as with his first Space Marine novel, Brothers of the Snake, The Invitation feels very much like an experimental piece, sometimes blatantly so. The mystery and suspense of the plot are lackluster and the ending is also abrupt and unsatisfying. There is just no reward for the reader here and the story just smacks too much of convenience. Its a decent enough story, just not my cup-of-tea. And I far prefer James Swallow’s take on the Sisters rather than Dan’s.
Next up is A Balance of Faith by Darren-Jon Ashmore. This one left me scratching by head by the end of it. I think this is quite a subtle story and the message of it has just passed over my head. I talked to a couple people about this story and they had no problem with it so I guess its just me that doesn’t get it. The story revolves around a Sister Hospitaller who is having a crisis of faith and her “mentor” is an injured, and possibly dying, Dark Angels Librarian. A Balance of Faith appears to be another experimental piece and while the story definitely didn’t work for me overall, I think it still is quite strongly written, but I’m just not the target audience for it because subtleties usually pass me by on jet engines.
The sixth short story is Mike Lee’s Gate of Souls and this is another one that I definitely enjoyed reading. Incidentally, it is another Erebus-centric story so that might have something to do with it since Erebus is a character that I find quite thrilling to read about, never mind that I absolutely loathe the character himself. Mike’s characterisation of this ten-thousand year old Astartes and that of Inquisitor Alabel Santos were very enjoyable to read about and I must say that the way he has written them, I would very much like a follow-up story to see where Erebus’s motivations take him next and what happens to the good Inquisitor herself. Just as with Dan’s Eisenhorn and Ravenor or with Graham’s Osorkon, Mike’s Santos is very believable and with her he has managed to capture the defiant and loyal aspect of the Inquisition quite nicely. One of the best in the anthology for sure.
Coming in second-to-last is Matt Keefe’s Fate’s Masters, Destiny’s Servants. This one falls somewhere between The Invitation and Vindicare for me. That is to say, I didn’t enjoy it one bit since the story was mind-numbingly obvious after the protagonists encounter certain corpses. The problem with the story is that it is an attempt to use a widespread SF plot cliche and set it within the Warhammer 40,000 setting. It just doesn’t fit. Even the execution of the cliche is unsatisfying in that things just happen for no reason. That doesn’t make for an interesting story and in my case, I’m just left shaking my head. Being an avid watched of SF shows like the various Star Trek shows, Andromeda, Stargate, Farscape etc, the author’s attempts at subtleties just didn’t work for me. There was nothing interesting about the plot hook really and therefore the story to me is an indifferently mediocre one.
And finally we have another entry by C.S. Goto, Tears of Blood. This short story is a sequel I believe to the Eldar Prophecy, a novel that I attempted to read some two or three years ago and just could not get through. The Eldar in either the novel or the short story just don’t act like Eldar and the author’s attempts at making them seem alien and different to humans fall flat since there actually is no difference here at all. If anything, Goto’s Eldar are too self-destructive, too secretive, too rebellious, and too open to the dangers of Chaos and the Dark Eldar way of life. More than any other entry in the anthology, Tears of Blood left me just massively disappointed. The fact that the story is such an obvious continuation of events and plot threads from Eldar Prophecy means that few people will understand the gist of it. The setting of the Pyrus Reach Sector is just a convenience tacked on to the plot and nothing more.
Overall, I’d have to give the anthology a 7.5/10. The excellent short stories from Steve Parker, Graham McNeill and Mike Lee are the best thing about Tales From The Dark Millennium while C.S. Goto’s two shorts are what drag it down. That said, I would still recommend the anthology to everyone because of the sheer diversity of stories and the different aspects of the Imperium that are covered by the seven authors....more