|Not as good as the first cover again, but an improvement on the second one. I like the skulls.|
Lord of the Night reviews the third and final book in the Dark Word trilogy, Dark Creed by Anthony Reynolds.
"A superb ending that takes many unexpected turns in the greatest battle of the series, the culmination of the series results in a great book that no fan of Chaos should miss." - Lord of the Night
Dark Creed was a book that I hesitated over because I didn't want to see the last of Marduk and the 34th Host, I always feel that way when I come to the final book in a trilogy, and there's always a lot of expectation that the final book will surpass the rest of the series and be worthy of all the plot strands that have been building up to it. It doesn't work all the time, but Dark Creed is definitely one of the books that surpassed its prequels and became the best of its series. Reynolds surprised me quite a few times in the book, as did the characters who several times did things that I did not see coming, and crafted an epic battle whose outcome I was on edge to find out the entire read through. It may feature more Imperials than the last two books, but Reynolds doesn't disappoint here and manages to make them just as interesting as the Chaos marines and create a war where the reader may end up rooting for both sides.
The time has finally come. Now a Dark Apostle of the Word, Marduk leads the 34th Host to war alongside the hosts of Grand Apostle Ekodas. Their target: Boros Prime, an Imperial fortress world under the protection of the White Consuls chapter and the location of the Boros Gate, a network of wormholes that will allow the Word Bearers to ravage the Imperium unchecked if they can take them. And with the Nexus Arrangement finally unlocked, the Word Bearers secret weapon is poised to ensure their victory. But an old enemy is returning to reclaim what is theirs, and punish those who stole it. With enemies within and without threatening his position and his life, Marduk will have to use every trick he has to stay in power over the 34th Host and survive machinations ten millennia old that threaten to tear the Sons of Lorgar apart as their enemies wait for the right moment.
Dark Creed's story is first and foremost a trilogy ender, so in order to understand the plot and character developments and references to events past you must have read the previous two books. Reynolds picks up shortly after the end of Dark Disciple and finally begins what has been building since the end of Dark Apostle, the dark crusade against the Imperium. But of course things never go as expected and the story quickly becomes not only one of action but intrigue, the Word Bearers plotting against each other and scheming to be the Apostle that leads the campaign. The Chaos side to the story deals with the characters finally coming to a head with each other, and another element that I won't name for spoilers causing quite a bit of trouble within the Legion. But Dark Creed isn't just about Chaos, it also features the Imperials almost evenly and Reynolds uses their side to tell the story of the actual war, how things are going on the ground and the Imperials efforts to survive the onslaught of the Word Bearers while the Chaos side deals more with the intrigue going on behind the scenes, but does have some POVs dedicated to the ground war. Reynolds really does pull out all the stops on the story, even making connections to the Horus Heresy, and I think it pays off as the events in Boros feel suitably epic, a real confrontation that could be the beginning of something much bigger and infinitely more dangerous to the Imperium.
The characters are mostly a returning cast on the Chaos side with a few new additions, and an entirely new Imperial cast. Marduk, Burias and Kol Badar all return and with Marduk's ascension to Dark Apostle, the relationships between these characters take some interesting turns. Reynolds surprised me once or twice with some of the things they did or said, especially near the end when one character's actions became a real game-changer and I did not see it coming. One character changed a bit too much for my liking, I didn't care for how he acted during the book but that was a personal dislike and not a dislike of his portrayal or the writing involving him. New supporting characters like Kharesh Inshanbel who I wished had played a bigger role in the story, for his few scenes showed a devious mind and sharp wit that I liked, or Grand Apostle Ekodas who was an interesting look at the higher ranks of power in the Word Bearers. However one new character I did not care for, the new First Acolyte Ashkanez who I felt was wooden and the one-dimensional schemer type. The Imperial characters were written quite well, a step-up from the Imperial cast in Dark Apostle in that these characters actually had their own stories and were in the book for more than just dying against the Word Bearers, though they are only two White Consuls Space Marines. Both of these marines faced different issues about being in the Boros Gate and I really wanted to see how they'd resolve them, as both characters were actually interesting to read about and because these characters were used to show the war on Boros Prime, how the Imperials fare against the Word Bearers and later events, and we get an Imperial perspective on some of the main cast that is rather amusing.
The action scenes are stunning and really move up a step from the previous books. The cinematic feel is closer to Dark Apostle than Dark Disciple, but it goes even further by moving into space with running battles in claustrophobic hallways and immense hangar bays and arming chambers, and the hell-blasted surface of Boros Prime once the war really gets going becomes a major battlefield for each army. The urban environment is used nicely to showcase city fighting, moving through buildings and taking ground and fighting against mobs of civilians-turned-cultists. But the best part is that the Word Bearers finally face the foe that can match them in strength and power and blow for blow, the Imperial Space Marines. The two version of Space Marines finally meet and their battles are as brutal as you'd expect, and it's a nice change of pace for the Word Bearers to really be challenged by their enemy. And once the battle gets underway and an old enemy returns to haunt the Word Bearers, the battles become even better, the action scenes near the end are some of my favourites including one character's final moments which were brilliantly written. I also enjoyed how the returning enemy was portrayed, I felt an appropriate sense of dread as they approached, a different feeling than you'd get from Chaos. The use of Chaos as a weapon is resumed here and the madness that was prevalent in Dark Apostle returns, making each battle feel darker and more dangerous for the Imperials as they face not just the Chaos Space Marines, but Chaos itself. I also enjoyed the resolution of the battle, it was not what I expected to happen and in my opinion was an ending that could only happen in 40k.
The pacing is pretty good. When I first read this book I did it in a single afternoon, around six to eight hours of reading, so it didn't bore me even once. Reynolds maintained a good pace on both sides of the conflict, keeping the reader interested with character development, plot twists and the growing level of scheming in the traitor ranks, bloody fighting scenes with armies and personal duels between characters. The POV switches between Imperial and Chaos were also done quite well, the Chaos side did get more page time but the Imperials got enough that their stories were told and supplemented the Word Bearers stories without overshadowing them, which is good as if they had it wouldn't really have been a Chaos Space Marine novel. The use of the Nexus Arrangement, and the revelation of its purpose, was interesting and though I often loathe superweapons as being a deus ex machina or a simple solution to a complex problem, I liked the Nexus as a weapon that was not a weapon and found Marduk's use of it to be ingenious, and the potential that it shows is very seriously handled which worked in its favour, making the Nexus Arrangement a powerful weapon that completely changed the war in the Boros Gate, but had limits and could not win the war for the Word Bearers, only help them win it themselves. One plotline in the story connects to the Horus Heresy, however this connection never actually appeared in the Horus Heresy due to writing schedule conflicts, but it was very cool to see something that happened in the Heresy influencing the events of this book directly, it adds weight to what happens in the Word Bearers ranks and makes it feel like a continuance of what happened before.
Now for my favourite quote, this a common quote in 40k but it's never had greater meaning than it did in the final few pages of this book
"Death to the False Emperor!"
"Death to the False Emperor!"
The ending of the book is the natural one once you realise what is happening in the final third of the book, there's no great twist like in Dark Apostle but unlike Dark Disciple which also had a naturally occurring ending, Dark Creed features what I like to call the promise of things to come that we'll never see. Things that sound very cool but will only happen after the current timeline of Warhammer 40k, which it will never proceed beyond, so what we get is left up to speculation and the idea of what could happen during the 13th Black Crusade where the 40k timeline leaves off. I like these kind of things, they provide lots of things to speculate about and possibility which is always fun to think about, though some may find the ending somewhat anticlimactic for the Chaos forces since it did take them three books to end up here. But I find the ending to be in keeping with the nature of Chaos, in the end Chaos is its own worst enemy because it's very nature is to work against itself and for reasons that are unfathomable. The cameo in the beginning and the ending was a cool addition, though it did feel as if that character was added in solely for the purpose of appearance, since Marduk is just a Dark Apostle another character could have filled the role that the cameo character did without any real issue, but it was still cool and a nice nod to Heresy fans to see this much-love-to-be-hated character appear in the 41st millennium.
So for a great ending to one of my favourite trilogies from Black Library I give Dark Creed a score of 8.8/10. This is a novel that I enjoyed every minute of, even if I wish things had ended differently for one or two of the characters. As with the previous entries in the series I would recommend Dark Creed to any fan of the Chaos Space Marines or just to people who like reading about villains in general, if you prefer the norm of reading about heroes then while this book does feature more "good guy" perspectives than any of the previous books, it is still primarily a Chaos book and I do not think anyone who doesn't like villain POVs will enjoy it. But then again perhaps you should try the series and see if it can convert you to heresy.
That's it for this review. Next I think will be a new(ish) book, the recently released Imperial Guard standalone novel Baneblade by Guy Haley, his first full novel entry into Black Library and one that i've heard good things about, but we'll see. So until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!