Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Book Review: Path of the Renegade

When I found out that a novel by Andy Chambers was finally coming out from the Black Library, I was very excited. For those who do not know who Andy Chambers is, he was one of the most influential members of the Warhammer 40,000 game studio back in the '90s during the final years of 1st edition until the launch of 4th edition 40K in 2004. I would have thought his return to writing 40K background would've been tyranid focused considering how much influence he had on their design and background, but I was pleasantly surprised to find he was doing a book (the 1st of a trilogy no less!) on the Dark Eldar.

The Dark Eldar were hinted at, eluded too, and simply mysterious until they were rapidly launched upon the gaming world with the onset of Warhammer 40,000 3rd edition. In fact the starter set came with a ton of the plastic foot troops. However their background was left quite vague, essentially summed up as 'mean pirate elves who will steal your family and make them fight to the death for their amusement in their hidden web-way city. ...did we mention that they were mean? Oh, and they have lots of spikes!'  In fact, the Warhammer 40,000 community was somewhat confused: were the Dark Eldar the 'Slaaneshi Eldar, or a new twist on Eldar Pirates?' My good friend, 'the Doctor' and I were working on a 40k Fanzine back in the late '90s and had the honored privilege of interviewing Rick Priestly (the All-Father of Warhammer) and directly asked him this question to which his seemly confused response was...'The Dark Eldar ARE the Slaaneshi Eldar." Which led into a discussion about the lack of background that made any sense for the early 3rd edition 40K Codex's.

So, many years later, and even many years after Andy Chambers has since left GW (I heard he got married and moved to Cali!) the new Dark Eldar book arrives with a wealth of background, and finally, everything makes sense! Without simply repeating it all here, the previously mentioned question is dealt with, in fact the background fits so well that all of the established Eldar lore since the '87 Rogue Trader book finally makes sense! If you're a gamer, and have this Codex, I would encourage you to re-read it. And then pick up Path-of-the-Renegade.

What a deliciously vile book! Everything you could expect or want from a Dark Eldar book! Torture! Pain! Deception! Convoluted plots and treachery afoot throughout! And Mr. Chamber builds on the background extraordinarily well. So well in fact, that a non-gamer could pick this book up and comprehend the Dark Eldar, Craftworld Eldar (from the Dark Eldar perspective at least) and, much to my delightful surprise, the Exodite Eldar(! ) without ever playing a game of Warhammer 40,000!

The plot, summed up as vaguely as I can in an attempt to reduce any spoilers, is that a few ambitious Archons, essentially 'nobles' in the caste system of the Dark Eldar society, are eager to remove from power Asdrubael Vect, the ruler of the Dark Eldar who officially goes by the title of The Tyrant (if only our leaders were this honest!LOL...ahem...). I will reveal nothing more about the plot, only that a crucial element of it requires a raid on an Eldar Exodite Maiden-World.

The Exodites have very little background in 40k. So much so that only models in Epic scale have ever been produced. It's one of the 'missing' armies for 40k, which is essentially, at least in the beginning, Warhammer Fantasy Battle in space. Using that analogous approach, Exodites would essentially be Wood Elves in Space. This is actually not as silly as it sounds, in fact the epic models were quite inspiring and I know many people who have attempted model-conversions of Exodites, as they seem to fascinate a lot of eldar players and modelers alike. I could be wrong, but I believe Andy Chambers had a role in the creation of the Exodites back in the day when Epic 40K (Space Marine, as it was called at the time) when he wrote his first White Dwarf article on the Knight Titans. If you want to learn more about the Exodites, you need to pick up this book about Dark Eldar! If you want to learn more about Dark Eldar and their evil city Commorragh, pick up this book! If you want to know more about the Dark Eldar connection with Slaanesh ('She who thirsts') than pick up this book!
  • Did I like it? Heck yeah! This was an even faster read for me than Atlas Infernal!
  • Was it hard to put down? It really was. Granted, with my life-style, I read most of this in airports and hotel rooms. Andy has a very fluid writing style, and I found it almost comforting.
  • Could I care about the characters? Oddly, yes. But it's made clear quite early on that only a fool would expect anyone to come out of this book alive, but I was glad -and actually surprised to a degree- to see who the survivors actually were...
  • Did the writer truly grasp how the 'world' of the 41st millennium works in the sense that it doesn't betray or retcon previously established (as I know it) lore? Um, yeah. In fact, very few people know it better! Even though I think the bulk of this 'new' Dark Eldar background was written, officially, after he left GW, I can't help but wonder how much of it was truly figured out by the design team back in the '90s...regardless, he did a great job with it!
  • Was I being talked down too? Honestly, no.
  • How predictable is this story? Not very. It was constantly changing with all it's wicked little plots...
Now, what should I read after this? I'm tempted to give Gav Thorpe's Eldar Path books a try. I'm curious to know if Andy Chambers path and Gav's path will cross at some point...


Anonymous said...

The crone worlds are the ones inside the Eye of Terror. The Exodites' worlds are the Maidenworlds. Being less than 100 pages from the end of the book I have to say... you were right about everything else. Great book, and I can't wait until the next one comes out.

neverness said...

You are right about my screw up of the Crone/maiden worlds! In fact, reading it now, i have a few other screw ups I need to correct. That's what I get for hammering out a blog post right before bedtime... thanks for the catching that, the distinction is very important!