Lord of the Night reviews the first book of the Dark Word series, Dark Apostle by Anthony Reynolds.
"A dark and fast-paced book filled with characters you'll love to despise, Reynolds really makes the Word Bearers come alive with ritual and lore in addition to strong characters and bloody battles."
Greetings fellow Heretics and welcome to the very first of my official Heresy Online reviews. And what more fitting for Heresy than the Word Bearers series by Anthony Reynolds, the ultimate heretics of Warhammer 40k. The Dark Word series is one of my particular favourites in Black Library, as a fan of all things evil and monstrous, and because books about the Chaos Space Marines were rare when Dark Apostle was released, thankfully not as much anymore, and it was a real delight to see one of my two favourite groups in 40k getting their own series. It was also my first experience of Anthony Reynolds and I closed the book a pleased man, as I felt not only had he written a very enjoyable book but he had also done justice to the Word Bearers, as he explored their twisted faith and really expanded what it means to be a Word Bearer.
The warp is stirring as an ancient prophecy is finally coming to fruition. The Imperial world of Tanakreg, backwater and unimportant to it's masters in the Administratum, has now finally become important to somebody. The 34th Host of the Word Bearers Legion, led by the fanatical Dark Apostle Jarulek and his devious First Acolyte Marduk and numbering at two thousand warriors of the word, are making all speed to Tanakreg to conquer the planet and enslave it's people, but there is a deeper purpose to their coming, one that will only become apparent to all as Tanakreg burns and the Word Bearers face an enemy that does not fear them, or their Gods, and as the prophecy reveals it's prize.
The story in Dark Apostle is a very nice reversal of what at the time was one of the main staples of Black Library. Rather than Space Marines defending a world against a deadly foe, it's the complete opposite with Chaos Space Marines invading a world and fighting against stalwart Imperial defenders, which adds a new twist to the story as I at least found myself liking both sides, though obviously I wanted Chaos to win. This of course makes Dark Apostle stand out from the rest of Black Library's books, which combined with the plot which I found strong and engaging as it drew me in with the mystery behind the invasion of Tanakreg and the battle to keep it, and the interactions between the various Word Bearers characters that added one or two interesting sub-plots, made Dark Apostle such a good read. Being part of a series Dark Apostle is meant to link to the remainder of the books, but as it was the first book it is also capable of being a stand-alone novel and it shows as the book's plot is self-contained and is wrapped up at the finish, except for one matter that allows it to be part of a series.
The characters are one of my favourite aspects to the book and the series. Real villainous characters are always more fun to read about in my book and in this book that was true as well. The Word Bearer characters, while admittedly lacking a sense of dread and abnormal cruelty that I expected, were plenty cruel and evil enough that it was an interesting time reading about them and often rooting for them over the Imperials, who were clear-cut heroes in comparison. The Imperials I felt were not as strong as no character arcs were assigned to them, they were there just to show the opposite side and provide a break in the grimdark and villainous perspectives of the Word Bearers, but they were at least well-written if one-note and while I didn't become engrossed in their segments neither was I bored by them. However there were one or two scenes between the Imperials, specifically the Guard and the Mechanicus, that I really liked as it showed the divide between these two groups very clearly, and how despite being allies the ties between them were very fragile. The best arc though I felt belonged to the character Varnus whose segments were among the best, and the places his arc takes him were very interesting to read about as a 40k fan, and showed how it is that ordinary people in 40k are affected by such invasions, and especially the how corruption that spreads in the kind of environment the Word Bearers create can affect those caught up in it. Reynolds villains aren't the most menacing group but they are enjoyable to read about, appropriately evil and manipulative and with a good dash of humour in them; all of which adds up to good protagonists that despite being irredeemably evil monsters, you might find yourself liking them.
The action was enjoyable through the entire book and had plenty of excellent moments dotted throughout. With the Word Bearers as protagonists the battles can use much more than tanks and heavy guns, instead featuring Daemons, mutants, monsters and all sorts of madness in the battles against the more traditional Imperial Guard, who admittedly did bring one or two things into the battle beyond the norm for them, which made them all the better to read about. One thing that I particularly enjoyed was that Reynolds has a real grasp on what it would be like for a mortal man to fight a Chaos Space Marine, and the scenes where this actually happens are not only bloody but also feel 'right', like this is how these two enemies would actually fight and how hard it would be for them. I also felt he captured the innate power and strength in each Chaos Space Marine which considering that there was two thousand of them in the book, makes his Word Bearers feel very powerful indeed. I also enjoyed his attention to detail in the battles, specifically the weather and affects the weather and the fighting have on the battlefield, both of which made the fighting feel more realistic and hellish as they drew on. Reynolds battles definitely kept me interested, which is good as 40k battles need to be visually epic which he does very well later in the book when the really chaotic stuff comes out.
The pacing of the book is fairly fast once it gets going, the book wastes almost no time in getting to the main points of the book at the beginning and then starts to reveal more and more of what is coming and the reasons behind it all. One or two parts in the middle felt a bit slower, but made up for it by really advancing character plots and providing a very interesting depiction of slavery under the Chaos Space Marines, particularly the Word Bearers who have their own methods of enforcing loyalty. One thing that I think made this book good was Reynolds giving attention to the intricacies of the Word Bearers, their rituals and litanies and prayers and how all of these influence how they behave and fight. The Word Bearers are a very deep Legion and Reynolds portrayed them very well, his characters might not be as fearsome as i'd expected them to be, but the faithful and fanatical aspects to them were dead on and made his Word Bearers feel distinct from the rest of the Chaos Space Marines featured in short stories, and the other depictions of the Word Bearers in 40k which I felt were blown away by the characters in Dark Apostle.
There were plenty of excellent quotes in the book, and i'm going to go with this one as my favourite because it made me laugh quite a bit which is always a plus for dialogue,
"Watch out for your nemesis, Burias. Fear the dreaded Chimera."
The ending was a good one and wrapped up the book nicely, and as I said it could have ended here and while it would have ended with lots of speculation as to certain events it could have served as a good ending. But the series continues on and while Dark Apostle is a self-contained story, it has a few plot threads that carry on into the next book and I found those threads to be engaging enough that it guaranteed I would buy the next book, even if I hadn't really liked the characters and the narrative which I did on both counts. Reynolds ends a few character stories here but a good number of them continue, and by the epilogue it is made clear that one character, who I thought was a very good depiction of his faction, will play a larger role in what is to come. I particularly enjoyed the twists in the plot that came in the final two chapters, some things I did not see coming at all and some I guessed at as I got further into the book, the hints were there, and while I would have liked more scenes with some of the characters in particular I felt the story ended in a good if a little hectic and abrupt place, but given what happened in the last few pages it felt appropriate that the ending be fast-paced. One other thing about the ending really appealed to me, but for spoilers I can't say what it was, though I will say it was the outcome of the book and how you don't see that a lot in most fiction, but in 40k it happens all the time and I think it needs to happen in the books more often.
For a good story with some very surprising twists and plot developments, plenty of memorable characters that were likeable even though they were evil monsters, and gritty action scenes that sucked me in and really used Chaos to make the battles more stand-out and visually awesome, I give Dark Apostle a score of 7.3/10. The book was good, though not great, and I would encourage any fan of the Word Bearers and Chaos Space Marines in general to give it a try, and if you're on the fence about them I would also recommend Dark Apostle as a taste of what the Traitor Marines are like and what you can expect if you choose to read more about them. That said while the Imperium is in the book, they aren't the protagonists for once so if reading about the villains and not the, let's say heroes, isn't something that you enjoy doing, then this is not a book I would suggest to you.
And that's it for this review. Next i'll be reviewing the second book in the Dark Word series, Dark Disciple by Anthony Reynolds and the sequel to Dark Apostle, so if you want to know a bit more about the series check out that review, however a warning: It will contain spoilers as to who survived Dark Apostle and who didn't, so don't read it if you're planning to read Dark Apostle anytime soon and want to be surprised. That's it for this review, so until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!