Comprising the books Dark Apostle, Dark Disciple and Dark Creed, as well as the short story Torment, this hefty tome collects all of Anthony Reynolds’ Word Bearers saga into one place. Charting the rise of First Acolyte Marduk through the ranks of the Word Bearers legion, as a set this is a solid slab of typically grim and dark Warhammer 40k action. There’s a neat arc running through the series as we watch Marduk step out from under the wing of his mentor, Dark Apostle Jarulek, and strike out on his own quest for power and glory.
The problem is, Marduk as a character doesn’t really grow or develop over the course of the books. Even when he steps out from the shadow of Jarulek he only really takes on the role that Jarulek played initially. Sure, we get to see the tension between Marduk and the brutal war leader Kol Badar (who in the end rather steals the show), but that’s the only real note of tension within the story. It’s left to the supporting cast to provide the light and shade, so we get the aforementioned Kol Badar, perpetually torn between his loyalty to his legion and his loathing of Marduk, along with the slippery, daemon-powered Burias who gets all the coolest action scenes and one of the few pieces of back story, tying him in with Marduk. Given that the protagonists are Chaos Space Marines, some of the most unpleasant and deadly characters going, we see them pitted against a variety of (largely) less menacing adversaries. Across the series these range from Imperial Guardsmen and loyalist Space Marines to some well-portrayed Dark Eldar and an impressively powerful Necron Lord who does a pretty good impression of the T1000 for sheer unstoppability.
Plot-wise the wider story revolves around the search for and subsequent use of a suspiciously powerful device called the Nexus Arrangement, which gets poached from under the noses of the Necrons. The first book revolves around the Word Bearers going to a whole lot of effort to find this gizmo, enslaving a whole planet and holding off the forces of the Imperium long enough to enact a fiendish ritual and get hold of the Nexus. The second and third books then give us Marduk and co. marauding around trying to work out how the damn thing works and then teaming up with more of their buddies to get some revenge on a system full of loyalist Space Marines, with the help of the now-working Nexus. Suffice to say the Necrons aren’t too happy about having it pinched, so don’t expect them to let it go without a fight.
It’s all good fun, and while the first book drags a bit with all the big fights between the Word Bearers and the forces of the Imperium, once into the second and third books the pace really picks up and we’re thrown through a variety of genuinely fun set pieces that give some of the characters the chance to flex their muscles (literally) and thicken the plot up a bit. Look elsewhere for plot-heavy, character-driven stories that really shed some light on the forces of Chaos, but for fun, action-packed page turners these hit the spot pretty well.
The short story Torment, included at the end of the book, gives a little insight into one of the more entertaining characters from the main books and harks back to an early Black Library story in its extreme level of darkness right at the end. A good little extra to spice things up.