|Not as good as the first cover in the series, though that is my preference for helmets over bare-heads speaking.|
Lord of the Night reviews the second novel in the Dark Word series, Dark Disciple by Anthony Reynolds.
"A superb book that proves to be a sequel that surpasses the original in storytelling, character development and action scenes. Reynolds' Word Bearers only get better with each adventure." - Lord of the Night
Dark Disciple was my immediate choice to be read after I finished Dark Apostle, having enjoyed the hell out of that book I was eager to get to the next instalment in the series, even more so when I found out that the Dark Eldar were the villains of the piece, well the antagonists really as the protagonists are villains as well, and as the Dark Eldar are my favourite fictional race and at the time there was next to nothing about them in Black Library I was sold on making Dark Disciple my next read. I was not disappointed as not only was the book a great read, but it was a marked improvement from the first book with a more engaging story with meaningful sub-plots, stronger character development that really fleshed out some of the main cast, and fast-paced action scenes that were well choreographed as well as frantic.
The 34th Host is in chaos. Dark Apostle Jarulek is dead, killed by The Undying One on Tanakreg, and abandoned to his fate by First Acolyte Marduk who now possesses the Nexus Arrangement, an ancient artefact of supreme power that will allow him to usher in a new dark age for the Imperium, if he can unlock it's power. Only the corrupted Magos Darioq-Grendh'al can find the secrets hidden on Perdus Skylla, and the Sons of Lorgar must find Marduk's answers before the Tyranids force the Imperium to respond with the ultimate sanction. But with Dark Eldar enslaving the populace in the shadows and his own host suspicious of his recent rise to power, can Marduk recover the secrets of the Nexus Arrangement? Or will he fall before the vaunted title of Dark Apostle can be his at last?
Now the story in Dark Disciple is a marked improvement from Dark Apostle for two reasons. One the main story is more ambitious, moving beyond the typical planetary invasion story and into a more personal story for the 34th, however the choice of continuing story also keeps Dark Disciple from being a stand-alone book, only those who have read Dark Apostle will fully understand it's plot and the third book will be required to see what all of this was for. And the second reason is that Dark Disciple features two distinct sub-plots outside of the Legion, and I really enjoyed the dual-theme behind them both. Human cruelty and kindness in a time of war, and exactly what both of those things will typically get you. Unlike in Dark Apostle Reynolds really made these stories feel important, even though one was not connected to the Word Bearers in any real way, and the other only connected with the main story near the end, and most importantly they were both very good, I found the story about kindness to be very gripping and the ending really surprised me, but then again this is 40k so it probably shouldn't have, but Reynolds managed to make me think the ending would be something different. Some may not care for the idea that one of these stories is almost completely separate from the main plot and is unconnected to it in any way to be a mistake, I understand why some would think that but I personally enjoyed it as though it didn't connect to the main story it was entertaining on it's own and had a very good ending.
The characters are mostly a returning cast, but with some new additions for this book solely and some for the series. Marduk, Burias and Kol Badar all return and each one plays a big role in the novel, and I was unable to pick somebody to root for as I liked them all which was a mark in Reynolds' favour in my view. I liked the scenes that showed Marduk and Burias's friendship, an odd pairing indeed but the two do act like friends at times, and yet they are also soldier and officer and I liked how Reynolds showed Marduk switching between the two with Burias. By contrast Kol Badar and Marduk's relationship is the exact opposite, Badar hates Marduk and must obey him and Marduk knows that which I felt added to Badar's character and made it tougher to predict what he would do. The new characters were a good addition, the champions Sabtec and Khalaxis adding some more faces to the mix, but the best part for me was the Dark Eldar cast. I still maintain that Dark Disciple has one of the best portrayals of the Dark Eldar ever, they felt suitably alien in how they interacted with each other and with the rest of the cast, and it was doubly interesting to see two of the worst kind of villains in 40k going up against each other. Reynolds proved here that he can write aliens as well as humans, it's just a shame he hasn't written anything more with the Dark Eldar since.
The action is again a step-up from Dark Apostle because this time the Word Bearers face far different foes than the Imperial Guard. Dark Eldar and Tyranids fighting Chaos Space Marines definitely make for some interesting fight scenes, especially when Reynolds continues to capture the innate strength of the CSMs but matches it against both the speed and twisted grace of the Eldar, and the biological adaptability of the Tyranids. Both enemies provide very different scenes and both were very enjoyable with many things to enjoy about both. The Dark Eldar were portrayed well not only in character but in battle, their speed and cruelty making them formidable foes that tested the Word Bearers and gave as good as they got. The Tyranids were also portrayed well with their sickening bio-weapons being shown in great detail, particularly what they did to those hit by them, and their limitless numbers made each scene with them feel like a last stand. Each battle was also written very well in terms of imagery, the environments were clear and easy to picture, and one or two made for some very interesting locales for a fight. But most importantly for any battle-scene I was never confused by what was going on, it was always clear to me who was doing what and how they were doing it, and yet Reynolds also made some of the battles feel chaotic as if everything were happening at once and as the characters situations became tougher their frustration and rage really showed as they battled.
The pacing of the book felt much quicker than Dark Apostle, mainly because while the first book was more about occupation and defence, Dark Disciple is about a raid which means that things move a lot quicker than they did in the first book, and that the characters are constantly on the move never staying in one place too long and that makes the book feel much more fast-paced. The battle scenes too are fast-paced, with the Dark Eldar involved the battles go over quickly but they are very impressive while they last, while the battles with the Tyranids feel a bit slower in comparison like each moment is stretching out as every second pushes the characters further towards being overrun. The POV switches are much more distinct in this novel, with two sub-plots to tell as well as the main story with multiple POVs itself, there are plenty of scene switches. Reynolds handles these well, the focus is on the main plot with both sub-plots being told gradually as the main story moves along, and when it is time for each story to connect with the main plot it brings the reader to some very good scenes, and gave one character a very well-deserved ending. Reynolds also continued his exploration of the Word Bearers culture as a Legion, and of their faith. Small things, like the names of holy texts and quotes from them, or mentions of places and battles that the Host has been in, but it's these small things that give the wider Host an identity beyond faceless soldiers in the battle scenes or casually mentioned deaths, and adds character to Reynolds' Word Bearers as a group rather than as characters.
Now for my favourite quote, didn't even have to think about it, it's definitely this one,
"I know what it is that you fear."
The ending was very good though admittedly not as surprising as the last book's, Dark Disciple doesn't go for the twist ending but rather the natural ending that you could tell was coming but sets up the stage for the third book which the ending makes clear will be the culmination of the last two books and the characters' actions and efforts across both of them. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but while it doesn't make the ending bad it does make it less memorable than the twist ending of Dark Apostle. Disciple's ending also feels less abrupt, as it skips ahead to show how the events on Perdus Skylla have affected the characters and to tease as to where they will go next in the third book, Dark Creed. The epilogue did feature a surprise however, but only as a teaser to the next book, but it was a damn good one and made me anticipate reading the last book in the trilogy all the more, which of course was the point I imagine. I quite enjoyed where the characters, who lived, ended up and the potential for further growth that the ending promised, especially for one character who gained the most and by the end had entered a whole new world.
For a great story that surpassed it's original and offers a lot of potential for the third book, with many enjoyable characters, both old and new, that were very fun to read either fighting the enemy or with each other, and plenty of hard-hitting action scenes that really stick in the mind for the excellent imagery I give Dark Disciple a score of 8.4/10. This is definitely a step-up from Dark Apostle which I feel enters the very good category, but doesn't reach great, and anyone who enjoyed the first book should definitely invest in the rest of the series, and of course I would recommend Dark Disciple to any who enjoy reading about the Chaos Space Marines or just villains in general, but if neither of those are your thing then this is not a book I would recommend to you, really it's the same as Dark Apostle in that regard. If that wasn't a book for you, then this one isn't either.
That's it for this review. Next will be the final book in the Dark Word trilogy, Dark Creed by Anthony Reynolds, and with a few brand new book reviews to follow soon after. A warning, the Dark Creed review will feature some spoilers for Dark Disciple plot wise so if you want to be surprised by everything in Dark Disciple, do not read the Dark Creed review until you have read Dark Disciple fully. So until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!