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Finishing off his look at Anthony Reynolds’ Word Bearers books, Bellarius delivers his verdict on Dark Creed.
“An excellent finale to the trilogy, and a must buy for any fan of the Ruinous Powers.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
The final book of the Word Bearers omnibus brings the tale to an explosively blood-soaked end. After two novels spent gathering the knowledge and xenos artefacts, the 34th Host is ready to begin their new crusade against the Imperium of man. Their target: The Boros system, the home of the White Consuls chapter and location of ancient Warp gateways. These massive constructs allow rapid transition of craft through the Warp, allowing immediately reinforcing the position against all attacks. Yet despite this, Marduk may now hold the key to their victory.
Along with several other venerated Hosts of Lorgar, Marduk’s forces are honoured with conquering this system in the name of the Warmaster and beginning the first step towards true victory. However, all is not well among the sons of Lorgar. Someone with the legion is vying for power, determined to make them the sole leader of their venerated church, and they will happily slaughter countless brothers to achieve it. Even as they begin their assault, Marduk cannot be sure if the more pressing enemy is the brothers before him or the men who fight at his side.
After the experimenting done with Dark Disciple’s events, it seems that Reynolds recognised some of the failings of that release. This final book of the trilogy returns to war on a massive scale and is all the stronger for it, avoiding the characterisation problems mentioned last time. With the more pressing threat of betrayal added into the mix, it achieves a perfect balance of action, character progression and drama which never makes the book drag. While hardly rushing into this final conflict with no set up, from the outset the reader is given high quality action and internal politics which puts the likes of Fall of Damnos to shame.
Along with answering a few long-standing questions, such as why the Word Bearers are all unified in service to undivided worship rather than falling into sects following other gods, the book also delivers some great depictions of both sides. Showing how far the loyalties of some Word Bearers will go in the name of their faith, while at the same time doing the White Consuls justice. The latter in particular deserves praise as it’s one of the best examples of a humanised chapter to date.
Unlike Uriel Ventris, who too often came across as a human in power armour, the astartes here are clearly post-human killers but remain surprisingly humane. It makes a fair degree of sense given their positioning and the fact that, despite being a stone’s throw from the Eye of Terror, the system itself thematically emulates Ultramar. This allows for the Word Bearers to have a finale similar to storming the stronghold of their old enemy; yet it doesn’t make the mistake of Death of Integrity by turning the Consuls into Macragge worshipping fanboys with no identity of their own. Plus it also permits an obvious divide to exist, clearly separating the Chaos worshippers and loyalists rather than making the two sides too similar. A problem which has shown up in more than a few books at times, especially with some authors trying to remove all differences between psychic powers and Chaos sorcery.
The writing itself is extremely tight throughout, never staying on a scene longer than it needs to and retaining a careful balance between focusing upon each character on every side. It proves to be even better in this regard than Dark Apostle, as it works with a far wider array of characters and a more complex plot but manages to keep the reader completely up to speed at every turn. You never feel as if there is too much going on or far too much to keep track of, and the novel offers every character at least one moment in the limelight. The Warmonger in particular, side-lined throughout all of Dark Disciple, is given some of the best moments and Reynolds has clearly thought about what part each character will play. While I will personally still argue that the characters better represent archetypes or ideas on both sides of the war, the way the action is staged prevents this from ever seeming like a shortcoming.
Now, this isn’t to say the book is without its problems. Reynolds displays some clear issues when it comes to his vocabulary, and while it has improved since Dark Apostle he does resort to certain choice words far too often. This isn’t helped by some very strange choices of terminology, such as describing an efficient warrior as having an “economy of movement” in order to emphasise his skill. These bits can easily take you out of the moment and leave you shaking your head.
Furthermore, Reynolds lacks some of the grandiose descriptions of battlefields and huge conflicts of pure carnage that other authors have, which can make some moments of the war feel surprisingly small at times. Notably when one battle barge is taken down, it fails to give the impact a millennia old vessel being gutted should. This also isn’t helped at times by the fact certain elements feel as if they should be far better established, such as the villains on the Word Bearers side who lack a truly memorable introduction. They make up for it later on certainly, but it’s not that initially impact a great villain should have. Oh, and the book’s also infamous for getting one particularly big thing wrong about how Imperial made teleporters work.
To be honest though, none of these elements truly detract from its quality and it sends off the omnibus on a high note. It shows respect to every side involved, delivers conflict on a scale worthy of a small Black Crusade, brings major character arcs to a close and concludes the trilogy on a fantastically dark note. Even if you’re not a fan of the second instalment, it’s more than worth soldiering through to get to this final battle and enjoy the carnage within.