This was my first foray into the Space Marine Conquests series and was very much an impulse purchase – I had heard good things about author Josh Reynolds’ Age of Sigmar offerings but had never read them. But what really sealed the deal for me was the Imperial Fist on the cover. Since reading Andy Clark’s Shroud of Night book, the Sons of Dorn had grabbed hold of a small but significant chunk of my brain – despite the fact the book was meant to be about an Alpha Legion warband! And once the Imperial Fists are dug in somewhere, they are awfully difficult to dislodge.
I purchased Apocalypse on Friday and had finished it by Monday evening, staying up far too late to do so. I’m now staying up far too late again to type this review, but I’m being used as a pillow for #2 son, so might as well. It is definitely a moreish book. The 550 pages or so move at an enjoyable pace. The set pieces are fairly standard and the story beats are fairly predictable for the most part. The action switches back and forth between various Imperial factions and the Word Bearers as their invasion fleet moves further towards their intended target. The switching give you exposure to various characters, some of whom will invariably die along the way. The book is called Apocalypse after all!
Josh Reynolds throws in various tidbits for fans of the Word Bearers and Chaos in general – references to characters and events from the Horus Heresy novels and setting. He tends to hint at them rather than beat you about the head with them, and they’re not needed to enjoy the story, but they are appreciated.
I really enjoyed the exploration of the Word Bearers and the relationships, arguments and conflicts between Lorgar’s genesons. Josh Reynolds does a good job of going beyond portraying the Word Bearers as Saturday Morning Cartoon baddies, whilst still leaving a bit of that camp villainy present. You get the sense of a Legion unsure of itself, rudderless without it’s Primarch and devolving into internecine factionalism. There’s a nice contrast between those who have embraced the gifts of Chaos more readily, and those who have retained more of their original identity. On top of that, there’s also a good exploration of how different Word Bearers view the hordes of Cultists that they send before them in battle.
One thing I did miss was the more gothic body horror of Chaos, and the hints at the more unknowable elements. Whenever a Daemon showed up, it was very much “Oh, that’s clearly a Bloodletter”, “Definitely a Plaguebearer” etc. There was little or no ambiguity, a Daemonic entity would show up and it would map nice and cleanly to an existing model in the Citadel range. Additionally I felt there could have been a bit more grimness and horror – the novel Dark Apostle by Anthony Reynolds is a really great exploration of just how messed up and terrifying everything becomes when the Word Bearers come to town. When it comes to the Daemonic aspect, Apocalypse is a much less Grimdark prospect.
The final few chapters play out much as how you’d expect. Desperate last stands, impossible odds, heroic interventions etc., etc. There were enough cool moments to make me start imagining a diorama depicting the final battles – I always think a Black Library book should recharge your hobby batteries and give you inspiration for future projects and games, and Space Marine Conquests: Apocalypse does admirably on that front. Ultimately it is the dialogue between various characters on each side of the conflict that sells this book to me, and makes me want to re-read it in a few years time – there are some fairly well fleshed out and nuanced characters and it comes through in the conversations. On the back of this, I’m minded to keep an eye out for more of Josh Reynold’s work.