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Word Bearers Omnibus

August 9, 2017

 

Rating: D+ overall, D+ (Dark Apostle)/C+ (Dark Disciple)/F (Dark Creed) individually

Length: 766 pages, slightly larger than standard paperback page size with slightly smaller than standard font

 

Before we begin, let me be upfront in saying that I'm not a Warhammer 40000 (WH40K) fanboy.  I've never played the tabletop, and I haven't read any of the Horus Heresy novels.  However, I do enjoy a lot of the fluff that I've come across, mostly via 1d4chan and what few novels I have read, and Dawn of War 2 is decently fun to play, so I'm generally a fan of the setting.  My absolute favorite faction is Tyranid, but Chaos is close behind, and of the Chaos Space Marine legions, the Word Bearers rank right next to the Emperor's Children as my favorites.  So, putting all of that together, when I saw that there was an omnibus for the Word Bearers and that most of the reviews I found with a quick search were on the positive side (and the negative one seemed to just be upset that it was too gory, which makes me wonder what the fuck the person was expecting from a set of Chaos Space Marine novels in the first place), I decided to give them a whirl.

 

I'm going to focus on the good points first, because if nothing else, I can say that I've read worse books, both within the WH40K setting and in general.

 

Let's start with the sheer amount of content.  This omnibus includes three full-length novels (Dark Apostle, Dark Disciple, and Dark Creed), along with an extra short story (Torment).  It's not as much as what comes in either of the Ciaphas Cain omnibuses, but it's pretty good, particularly since the $15 USD / $17.50 CAD price on the back cover is cheaper than average on a per novel rate.

 

Of course, quantity's all fine and good, but what about the quality?  Well, the characters are by far the strongest part of the omnibus.  The novels all focus primarily on First Acolyte Marduk, an apprentice to the Dark Apostle (a combination of a Chaplain and a Brother-Captain in Loyalist Space Marine terms, or basically the leader of a division of evil Knights Templar, for people who aren't familiar with WH40K) who aspires to replace his superior because being an ambitious motherfucker is just part of being a Chaos Space Marine.  Spoiler that isn't really a spoiler since it's mentioned in the front matter: Marduk does become a Dark Apostle by the time of the third novel.  Marduk's a good example of how to have an evil character as a protagonist, since he manages to toe the line of the cartoonish supervillainy that would be expected in the WH40K setting while still being real enough to be taken seriously.  I wouldn't say he shows much character development over the first two novels (there is some in the third, as he becomes drawn into the political machinations in the higher ranks of the Legion), but he doesn't really need it since he's such a cool character to begin with.  In all, he's probably one of the strongest points through the whole of the omnibus.

 

There are a number of supporting characters, mostly other Word Bearers since their opposition tends to get killed pretty frequently, and the four that play the biggest roles are Kol Badar, Burias, the Warmonger, and Darioq.

 

Kol Badar is the tactical leader of Marduk's war band, as well as being a Terminator (for people who aren't familiar with WH40K, that's basically a type of elite Space Marine who's essentially always wearing even more of a walking tank than the guy on the cover art).  He's kind of boring, really.  I mean, yes, he's obviously badass and all, but his ongoing feud with Marduk wasn't terribly interesting, since it can be summed up as "he killed someone I liked, so I'mma kill him some day", and it feels pretty one-sided at that.  Beyond that, he does precious little of consequence that couldn't have been done by any other Terminator until near the end of Dark Creed, when he has one real stand-out moment.  It's a good one, but ultimately, he's probably the most forgettable of the major characters who're featured in all three novels.

 

Burias is the Icon Bearer, which is just about exactly what it sounds like (he's the dude charged with carrying their holy standard in battle), and it'd be a pretty lame thing to justify being a featured secondary character if it wasn't for him also being daemonically possessed.  Sadly, for whatever reasons, Reynolds doesn't really explore the further implications of that and tends to instead use Burias as comic relief.  He's not particularly good at that role, though I guess the enhanced regeneration that he gets from being possessed helps to justify how he can shrug off getting run over by tanks or licking random poisoned blades.

 

Thankfully, there is an interesting character in the Word Bearers who actually does things aside from Marduk, and that's the Warmonger.  If that seems like a weird name, it's because the guy himself is actually little more than a desiccated body encased in a sarcophagus which is further encased in a super walking tank that's almost unstoppable in battle, otherwise known as a Dreadnought, so he's ascended beyond the bounds of mere mortal naming conventions.  Now, the lovely thing about this is that it means he's batfuck insane (beyond what's normal for Word Bearers, I mean), so he keeps reliving ancient battles, most specifically the Siege of Terra (Earth), in which he was part of the assault on the palace of the Emperor of Mankind.  Suffice it to say that he's got kind of a massive hate boner for the Imperium of Man (again, beyond what's normal for Word Bearers), and yet despite this, he's treated as a source of stability and guidance for Marduk.  It's honestly a much better form of comic relief than any of the jokes at Burias's expense.  I'll give some credit to Reynolds for that, even though I think it's more likely than not that it's just a happy coincidence.

 

Lastly, there's Darioq, who's also an interesting character despite making a bad early impression.  He starts out seeming like nothing more than a typical Techpriest (for people who aren't familiar with WH40K, that's exactly what it sounds like, only stupider, because human technology in WH40K is governed by things like the holy ritual of pressing the "on" button), but he grew on me a lot as I read more about him.  He manages to be ambiguous about whether he's being sincere or being a complete snark in a lot of his interactions with regular humans, which is pretty incredible for a guy who worships binary.  He shows that he'll actually use the forbidden technique of creative thinking, at which point he manages to hold his own strategically against Kol Badar.  Then he tops that by predicting correctly that a kamikaze attack would fall short of hitting him, followed by cutting down the Terminator who emerged from the crashed vehicle as if it was nothing.  Fortunately (from my perspective), Darioq gets captured by the Word Bearers and corrupted into allying with them, so he gets to stick around for all of the novels.  Yes, that's a bit of a spoiler, but he's a cool enough character that knowing that he sticks around would be a selling point for the subsequent books if Dark Creed didn't shit its pants (more on this later).

 

Each of the novels also has its own tertiary characters, though since they end up dead by the end of their novels pretty much categorically, they don't exactly do much to compare with the emotional bonds that the aforementioned characters can build.  For the most part, if they're not random members of the Word Bearers who're probably only named for the sake of convenience, they're just involved in minor plots running more or less parallel to the main ones which just end in a bittersweet kind of way, since there's no room for happy endings in WH40K content other than Ciaphas Cain.

 

Speaking of the plots, can I not talk about them?  Doing so is just going to end up pissing me off, but I guess I have to, don't I?  They're not really bad, but it's hard to call them good, either.  All three novels spend a ton of time dealing with some major conflict which ends up getting shoved aside near the end to introduce a new plot thread that's what everything was REALLY about all along.  I suppose that's fitting in a way, given that Tzeentch is the Chaos god of plotting/deception/trolling, but it's done in a way that doesn't make it a satisfying experience for the reader.  In particular, Dark Apostle and Dark Creed are rather heavy-handed in their foreshadowing that most of what's happening is incidental to the REAL plot, so it's hard to make myself care about stuff that I know isn't going to be important in the long run.  Dark Disciple was actually quite a bit better about this, in that it had its real plot set up from the beginning with an "in media res" introduction, but it's vague enough that it actually remains engaging throughout to see how events actually reached that point.  It's easily the strongest of the three novels in general, and this is a big part of why.

 

Staying on the topic of plots, for most of my time reading Dark Creed, I thought that it was going to end up being about equal to Dark Apostle.  However, there's a massive plot hole near the end, one so bad that I feel compelled to spoil it in order to help illustrate why more people shouldn't read Dark Creed.  At some point, Necrons (a race of sentient androids who exist just to kill all living things) show up and take over the planet that the Word Bearers were invading.  In doing so, they also take control of a device creating a block against contact with the Warp (an alternate dimension overlaid with real space that's critical for teleportation and faster than light travel).  In order to strike at the heart of the Necron force, Marduk's war band gets the crazy idea to teleport into the makeshift palace of the Necron leader.  Except, you know, that really shouldn't work because of the block against contact with the Warp, but it does.  The how or why of this remains completely unexplained, so I can only guess that Reynolds couldn't think of a sensible way of resolving things and just decided to go with something cool, even if it's utterly stupid under the circumstances.  Look, as I said before, I'm not a WH40K fanboy, but when you mention WITHIN YOUR OWN BOOK that traveling through the Warp has been disabled in that area, you can't just turn around and have characters teleport through the Warp as if it was no problem.  This isn't some obscure bit of trivial detail or picking on how bad so many authors are at math (which Reynolds seems to be, too, and it pissed the shit out of me every time he pulled random numbers out of his ass that didn't make sense, but I digress).  This is a basic fucking tenant of the book's setting that the author used as a huge plot point before summarily ignoring it.  I don't care that it resulted in a cool fight scene.  This is one of the worst examples of an absolutely blatant plot hole that I've ever come across.  How in the fuck did Reynolds think he could get away with that?

 

I haven't said much about Torment up to this point, and that's because there's not much to say about it.  It does resolve what happens with a couple of the Word Bearers after Dark Creed, and it manages to not fall into a vat of shit in the process, so if nothing else, it doesn't end the omnibus on a horrible note.  That's...something, I guess.

 

Anyway, in summary, skip this omnibus.  If you can get Dark Disciple by itself for a reasonable price, that one's decent enough to be read when you don't have something good at hand.  Dark Apostle is honestly kind of an incomplete story by itself, and the only nice thing I have to say about Dark Creed is that it didn't put me to sleep, because its plot hole was so insulting to my intelligence that I'm tempted to rip it out of the omnibus and burn it, except that that's more effort than it deserves.

 

Rating: D+ overall, D+ (Dark Apostle)/C+ (Dark Disciple)/F (Dark Creed) individually

Length: 766 pages, slightly larger than standard paperback page size with slightly smaller than standard font

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