Lord of the Night reviews the fantastic finale of the Path of the Dark Eldar trilogy, Path of the Archon by Andy Chambers.
"A riveting conclusion to one of Black Library's most twisted series, and one that provides not only a great story with plenty of surprises, characters whose black hearts are enthralling and battles that are darkly imaginative, but also a fascinating introspective look at not only the cruel Dark Eldar but the Eldar race as a whole. The definitive Dark Eldar series!!" - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
Ever since I first got into Warhammer 40k my favourite part of it has always been the Dark Eldar, they fascinated me right from the start because of their dark natures but it was what they truly were that made them interesting. The Dark Eldar are monsters who are already damned, and now they stave off that damnation by offering others in their place, a slippery slope that one day they will reach the end and the damnation that has chased them for so long will have them at last. But today isn't that day and despite that they should have learned their lesson long ago, the Dark Eldar will never stop trying to cheat fate until that day when they can cheat, lie and murder no more. When I first saw that Andy Chambers was writing a Dark Eldar series I was elated, finally my favourite thing about 40k was getting attention that it had deserved a long time ago, and before that came the long-awaited 5th edition Dark Eldar codex and army. I had never before heard of Andy Chambers but I was happy enough about the series that I didn't care who was writing it, and now that I have finished it I can't think of anyone else who could have done the Dark Eldar so right. They are twisted, evil, ambitious, manipulative, and every kind of atrocity that we can think of is just another day's distraction to them; and yet we want to read more about them. And Chambers depiction is the finest ever written, no other not even the codexes have managed to capture the insanity and cruelty of the Dark City as Chambers did. The only sad thing, is that now it's over, but it was a hell of a ride.
The story in Path of the Archon follows on from Path of the Incubus, but as Incubus did with Renegade it breaks away from the story there to tell it's own while continuing the overarching story. If Path of the Renegade was a story about the Archon Yllithian and Path of the Incubus was a story about Morr, then Path of the Archon is a story about the Dark Eldar as a whole. Unlike most stories with events similar to this rather than the Dysjunction continue PotA focuses on the danger that follows, the vacuum of power that is created by such an event and how the Dark Eldar seek to fill that vacuum. The personal stories of Yllithian, Motley, Kharbyr and Bellathonis all continue, some of them coming into the story with totally new motives and some just wanting to continue what they started this trilogy doing. Chambers introduces new stories in the backdrop of the Dysjunction-aftermath and plunges Commorragh into full-scale war with itself, the different factions all seeking to carve out a new empire for themselves and with the Tyrant trying to keep his own. Plenty of surprises lurk in the chapters and we see events from previous books in a whole new light, some of which were stunning in just how tiny they were and so normal that we missed them entirely. The Dark Eldar series as a whole has always been character driven and it's their stories told against the backdrop of the Dysjunction that are focused on and each one was wonderful, even those that ended in a way I didn't like were for purely personal reasons rather than any actual problem with the writing. The only thing that I found somewhat disappointing is that over the series some characters have cropped up and lived through a book, but have not re-appeared, and we are left to wonder at what happened to them; two in particular from the first book that I really wanted to see again. But we can't have everything.
The characters are as dark and twisted as they were in the last two books. It's a sign of Chambers's talent as a writer that he can take the Dark Eldar who are almost universally evil, cruel, sadistic, and malevolent and make them into not only interesting but also weirdly likeable characters. From Yllithian whose colossal ambition and preening arrogance drive the events of the story, to the unpredictable and absurdly hilarious Harlequin Motley who I think is the one non-evil character across the wider series (Not counting one-book characters), and the renegade Bellathonis who made much of the trilogy possible. For the most part the characters in this book/series are pure evil, and yet we like them or like reading about them and want more. One of the things I liked best about the book, and series as a whole, is that Chambers never shied away from making the Dark Eldar as evil as possible and didn't shoehorn in any redeeming features, apart from one or two exceptions that show that just because they are Dark Eldar doesn't make them pure and unutterably evil, the spectrum of the race if you will. And here in PotA we get the biggest collection of cameos in the entire series featuring the conniving Lady Aurelia Malys, the dreaded Kheradruahk and best of all, the Tyrant himself. Asdrubael Vect; who I think was one of the best characters in the book and whose characterization revealed a lot about not only the eldar himself but his people as a whole and perhaps just why Vect has really managed to hold power for as long as he has. And yet despite all the cameos not a one of them felt anything less than great and appropriate for the story, Chambers uses all of them in the perfect positions for both the story and their characters, and we learn a fair bit about them all in the process.
The action scenes are wonderful in how imaginative they are, Chambers takes the exotic weaponry of the Dark Eldar and unleashes all of it upon Commorragh as the Dark Eldar go to war with each other. Raiders fighting Raiders, Wyches and Warriors battling in the streets, Mandrakes tearing through the dark alleyways and spires, and epic duels between many characters that glue the reader to the page. Chambers really goes for full-scale war in PotA and he doesn't hold back as the war rages on, and Vect unleashes weapons that will shake the entire Dark City to it's foundations and then some. Chambers pits the different factions of Dark Eldar against each other, the Kabals warring between themselves and the various Archons plotting on how to gain the most from the chaos. But it's the Mandrakes that provide the best scenes as the mysterious shadow-kin make their way to the forefront for the final installment in the series and show the reader, many times, exactly why the rest of the Dark Eldar fear them so greatly, but we also get to see their weaknesses and how they can be fought as any other enemy, and what makes them unable to conquer the rest of Commorragh despite their arcane strength and unique advantages. The Haemonculi also get involved somewhat and we finally get the Grotesques and Wracks fighting, their strange and quite often disgusting inventions being used to full-effect. The only downside to the battle is that I felt a key faction in Commorragh was neglected, the Wych Cults. We didn't see much of them beyond one exception, and I think that the book could have used some more of the gladiator-style combat that they love so much. Also I would have liked some Scourges... just because.
The pacing of the book is well done. Chambers starts off with a nice recap courtesy of Motley on what has happened so far and brings the reader up to speed while at the same time entertaining him, and when the story does start Chambers doesn't waste any time in getting right into the chaos as the characters and their armies do the same. The book reads very nicely and Chambers makes each chapter engaging, I was so taken in that I read the first 317 pages in the tail-end of a morning and an afternoon. It's a damn hard book to put down, and at no point did I feel bored or that the book had slowed and was trying to regain momentum. The book keeps it's fast pace all the way to the end when the reader, and the characters, can finally catch their breath and see the outcome of the entire series, as the characters all meet their fates or live to scheme another day.
The setting and descriptions that Chambers uses are nothing short of excellent. I said above that nobody has brought as much character to the Dark City as he did and I stand by that, Chambers makes Commorragh into a madman's dream with sights and sounds that plunge the reader into a world where pain and suffering are the coin of the realm and the only limits are your ruthlessness and ambition. In PotA Chambers introduces the satellite-realm of Aelindrach and this was one of the novel's best features, the realm of the Mandrakes feels like a whole other world where willpower is the guiding force, it actually felt like an ocean where you had to rely on your own will to survive both it and the predators that lurk in it's depths. The rest of Commorragh isn't neglected either and we get a few moments where we learn quite a bit about the character of the Dark Eldar through the vistas of their city, and those are some of the more interesting parts of the book as it uses those moments to take a breath between the epic battles and the incessant plots and schemes that fill the entire series to the brim.
Now for my favourite quote, I actually have two. First is definitely the one that was the most chilling and because in context it was an excellent moment, and second is one because it showed that this particular character who has been one of the most delightful in the entire series was being completely and utterly serious;
"It's you. I knew that you would come back for me."
"Am I?... I am."
The ending was very calm when compared with the rest of the book and the series. The Dysjunction and the war are finally over and to the victor go the spoils and the right to punish the loses. Many characters meet their end by those final pages and some get to live, but the ending's purpose is to close off the story by giving each character either what they have earned or what they deserve. We get to see the end of one of the more dangerous plots in Commorragh and a glimpse at the twisted genius that is Asdrubael Vect and just how he can punish you in a way you never saw coming. Chambers closes the book and the series with an epilogue where he takes an instropective look at the different factions of the Eldar and explains exactly how the characters across the entire series and the books, in a breaking the fourth wall moment, can be correllated with those factions, along with a look into the psyche of the Eldar race and why it may be that these factions are simply states of mind, and why it is that the Harlequins exist among these vastly different and in some ways similar pieces of the Eldar whole.
For a great story that had me engaged from start to finish, characters that personify everything I love about the Dark Eldar, action scenes that were gripping and really made me use my imagination to see them, and for finishing what I consider to be the definitive Dark Eldar stories I give Path of the Archon a score of 9.0/10. Anyone who calls themselves a Dark Eldar player or just a fan should make it a point to read this series because it is without a doubt the best depiction of them that Black Library has ever done, and I can only hope that while this trilogy has ended, Andy Chambers will return to Commorragh one day and pen more adventures of it's twisted denizens. I would also like to say thank you to him for writing this series and giving the Dark Eldar the grand and epic series of books that they deserve.
That's it for this review, thanks for reading. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX! FOR COMMORRAGH!