Dark Creed by Anthony Reynolds – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk 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.