Path of the Renegade – A Review

Black Library logo v.2

A twisted alternative to the Path of The Eldar series, Path of the Renegade provides enough insight into Dark Eldar society to avoid it being left in it’s cousin’s shadow. I love Gav Thorpe’s ‘Path‘ series and not just because he’s a fellow writer on the site, focusing on the Craftworld Eldar, it provided the closest view of how they thought and functioned – albeit tough going at times.

Path-Renegade

Path of the Renegade, in contrast, is a far more accessible and entertaining (if shallower) blast through the home of the Dark Eldar. Still, it manages to provide enough thoughts and insights into the Dark Kin to make it more than fast food in book form. The book stars a number of characters* all of whom are cruel, selfish, manipulative and vain – which makes them perfect for a book set in Commorragh! The main plot of the book takes it’s starting point from the Codex, namely to become ruler of Commorragh, Aserbul Vect had to topple a lot of Noble Eldar families, many of which still remain plotting their revenge. The head of one such noble family and orchestrator of one such scheme is Yllithian, who has survived as long as he has by scrupulously hunting down and killing any relative that may potentially be a threat to his position. Path of the Renegade follows his perspective for most of the book, as he manipulates, bullies and coerces others into helping him with his plan, to unite the houses of old under the leadership of a legendary leader. The only challenge is avoiding Vect becoming suspicious…

Andy Chambers weaves the multiple narratives and perspectives together well throughout the book, each chapter building the tension slowly. Parts of the book seem to be constructed to bring to mind the Italian Canto, which is perfect considering POTR’s melodrama and range of characters who act out the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum. You can certainly see he had a lot of fun writing such characters, whose actions are so despicable but over the top it becomes rather funny. Yet Chambers’ pulls off a delicate balancing act, weaving titbits of Dark Eldar life and society into the proceedings, which help explain just how a society of sociopaths functions so efficiently without consuming itself within a matter of decades. It’s touches like this which raise the standard of the book and banish the old internet meme of the Dark Eldar being ‘Hell Raiser knockoffs’. I have heard that the book is the first of a planned trilogy like its Eldar Path cousin and there was clearly some thought put into this, with events being set up that won’t pay off until at least the next installment, including a cliffhanger so good I screamed out loud in frustration, so annoyed I was at where Chambers had left the plot. That the book affected me that much though shows how, despite initial impressions, Chambers’ own Path series has sunk its claws into . Just as well the next book is written, or I may have started petitioning Black Library to hurry up and launch it!

What this means is; the book comes highly recommended from me. If you’re a fan of the Eldar at all, upgrade that to ‘buy it now’.

Path of the Renegade is available from the Black Library in e-book and physical formats.

*I hesitate to call the characters of the book protagonists, because that would imply they have redeeming qualities.

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.