Path of the Incubus – A Review

Path of the Incubus

Launching right after the events of its predecessor, Path of the Incubus rattles along at a frantic pace, successfully building upon themes introduced in the first novel.

Warning contains spoilers!

Things are bad in Commorragh. Really, really bad. Though the end of Path of the Warrior provided the death of the budding Daemon Lord, the damage has been done and cracks have formed in the shell that protects The Dark City from the predators of the Warp. Daemons are gathering for a feast, disjunction is imminent, and the only guys who can stop it left the city long ago.

Which leaves only the not-so-merry band of murderous sociopaths from the first book to clean up the mess whilst trying to blame it all on someone else [Sounds like most companies in Britain today. -Ed.]. So all is well then.

Path of the Incubus manages to perform the delicate balancing act of bringing periphery characters who were previously only part of the background into prominence, whilst spending a little less time with those who we got to know well in the first book but not to the detriment of the whole. The story is split into three…ahem…paths, all with different destinations, with several other sub plots spinning around them. In the hands of a lesser writer this sort of tale would collapse in on itself in a jumbled mess, but Andy Chambers keeps things all finely balanced and on tenterhooks, so we get to not only see how the many tiers of Commorragh are affected by the disjunction, but also on the wider galaxy.

Archon Yllithian is back and fighting to defend himself from daemons along with Asurbel Vect, who has begun to suspect he may have a hand in the events unfolding. The less fortunate characters are trapped fighting to ascend, and then descend, the levels of Commorragh in search of safety. Their hope? Freedom from the attentions of not only the Great Enemy, but their fellow Dark Eldar, who wish to destroy anyone who could be a vessel for daemons – and with this being the Dark City, they tend to shoot first and ask questions later.

But the real focus, carving their way through the core of the novel and into the halls of one of the greatest partnerships in fiction are Morr – a disgraced Incubi – and Motley – one of the mysterious Harlequins. Both have to travel outside the Dark City and though Morr at first seeks death, with gentle prodding from Motley, he comes to realise he can be of more use in achieving a greater goal.

The duo was the novel’s secret weapon, delivering payloads of character development into the joy centres of my brain.  Every small skirmish felt important and when the important themes of the book kicked in, they felt delivered by well-rounded beings instead of just mouthpieces for the author.

It’s worth mentioning the astonishing breadth of fight scenes and locations covered too. From long dead crone worlds, sheltering from daemons in the Dark City, to the heart of a Maiden world, each fight seemed determined to try to introduce a new element to it, a new emotion for me to feel.

It’s rare for a novel to so completely improve upon its predecessor, but Path of the Incubus does that. Whilst I was a bit more disappointed by the ending of this novel compared to the last, its one of the few complaints I can have and one must assume the next book in the series will explain all.

Pick up the Dark Path series today, with the last in the trilogy out now, it’s the perfect time to acquaint yourself with the Dark Eldar.

Path of the Incubus is available from the Black Library with the Dark Eldar bundle. The individual novels and the many shorts from Andy Chambers are also available.

Fire Caste – A Review

Though I do read my fair share of books and in my time I’ve consumed enough fiction from Black Library to break even the sturdiest of book shelves, it is very much 40k fiction rather than ‘literature’. Yet reading Fire Caste, written by Peter Fehervari, I got the sense of something I rarely get from Games Workshop’s publishing arm. Fire Caste is a book that works just as well as literature separate from the 40k universe as a part of it. This book is the one of the few fully adult science fiction novels I’ve read in the Black Library line.

Fire Caste reminds me of something I had forgotten about after years of reading bolter porn. Which is that the 40k universe has so much potential as a legitimate science fiction universe that’s so often squandered on just recreating the tabletop game in novel form. Whilst Fire Caste isn’t a perfect novel by any means, it manages to juggle the larger nature of 40k metaphysics and the battle scenes that the less mature players turn up for.

Let me be up front. If you were assuming that Fire Caste is about the Tau, then you are in for a shock. The Tau are used more as secondary antagonists and as a way to drive the plot, though they do play an important part early on and in the final act of the book.

Instead, the novel follows the stories of an Imperial Guard regiment, The Arkan Confederates, and a lone half mad Commissar called Holt Iverson. Together they fight to discover just what is really happening on the planet of Phaedra, all the while running from the deamons of their past which in 40k, joyously, means both figuratively and literally.

Now whilst that may seem like a typical story for the Black Library, what makes it stand out is Fehervari’s writing style. More than most other books in the BL catalogue, the author seems to grasp that the Warhammer 40K universe is much better when it leaves things to the imagination and has many half-truths floating around. The books setting, a sort of chaosified Vietnam, is massively condemnatory of war in general, the horrors it allows and its overall futility.

These themes, along with a rather different take on the Tau will probably put off a lot of readers who are used to the Black Library’s standard diet of bombs and bullets sautéed in blood, served up on a platter of Ork guts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And I’ve certainly seen a lot of complaints about how open-ended the book leaves certain threads.

It’s worth persevering though. Fire Caste gives us the great character of Holt Iverson who I’m sure will be in other novels (though perhaps not in the traditional sense) and gives us a very interesting portrayal of the Greater Good, after it’s been subject to a 50 year unwinnable war and all the while steeped in the nature of the corrosive touch of chaos.

Along with Atlas Infernal, I have a feeling that the second wave of Black Library writers will be allowed to dig into the weirdness of 40k to give that crazy fucked up universe its proper dues. I can’t wait.

Fire Caste is available from The Black Library, Amazon and most highstreet booksellers.