Path of the Renegade by Andy Chambers – Review

Path of the Renegade unleashes all the weirdness and intrigue of Commorragh. It’s a wonderful, action-packed romp through the stranger aspects of the Warhammer 40K-verse and the definite Dark Eldar novel from Black Library.

The things that keep this from a top rating are (a) mainly the lack of a truly self-contained story, and not “just” opening the trilogy (Soul Hunter, in contrast, manages to do both very nicely) and (b) the sometimes awkward pussyfooting around non-PG themes, which Andy Chambers clearly seems to have on his mind (it’s Commorragh after all!), but isn’t allowed to write about.Path of the Renegade by Andy Chambers: 4 / 5 stars      

For millennia, Asdrubael Vect has ruled the dark city of Commorragh, crushing any who dare to cross him. His reach is long and his position unassailable… or so he thinks. Yllithian, an ambitious archon with the desire to unseat the tyrant, joins forces with a twisted haemonculus in an attempt to revive a long-dead warrior and challenge the might of the overlord, both racing to achieve their goal before Vect discovers their treachery. But a cataclysm is coming, and Yllithian’s actions may in fact be the cause…

The following review will inevitably contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

#1 – The Format

Warhammer Black Library Novel Path of the Renegade by Andy Chambers

The version I have is the smaller mass-paperback they use for “older” books (compare it to the Firecaste trade-paperback above). Path of the Renegade has 407 pages of story (and one or two pages of ads) for GBP 7.99 straight from Black Library (or GBP 5.59 from Amazon).

After reading several “premium hardcover” books from Black Library, it’s good to be back reading lots of awesome 40K-fiction for a low price. Path of the Renegade (published March 2012) is only the first book of a Dark Eldar trilogy that continues with Path of the Incubus (February 2013) and a yet unknown third book.

Andy Chambers Edgar Allen Poe-Harlequin mash-up The Masque of Vyle shares some characters (though the latter is an independent story, from what I’ve read so far).

#2 – The Story and Characters

There is a lot going on. Really. A lot.

  • A shaky alliance of three archons plots to overthrow Asdrubael Vect
  • A rivalry of haemonculi feud within their own dark fraternity
  • A motley group of Dark Eldar quest through outlandish sub-realms to further their archons’ plans of rebellion againts the tyrant of Commorragh
  • A renegade Craftworld Ranger goes through the disillusioning process of acquainting himself with his dark kin

And those are just the “main” plots!

It’s a credit to Andy Chambers’ storytelling ability that all these many characters and subplots weave together surprisingly well, each in their own part driving the story forward.

There is no true protagonist and Andy Chambers is not afraid to kill off major characters he build up with care. In true Commorragh fashion, nobody is the “good guy” and nobody is ever save.

That alone makes “Path of the Renegade” a very different, highly enjoyable read compared to many other Black Library novels. Rather than following the story of a single character or group of characters, the reader follows the many, multilayered plots, intrigues and plans of different characters, who are drawn from all parts of Dark Eldar society, never really knowing who will succeed (if only temporarily) and who will die messily before the chapter ends.

#3 – Commorragh Brought To Life!

If the (vicious, jaded, backstabbing, scheming) characters already make ‘Path of the Renegade‘ a Dark Eldar-must-read, its Andy Chambers’ ability to bring Commorragh to life, vividly, with all the alien and exotic locations and the many mind-bending oddities that seals the deal.

The Dark City is clearly a tough place to set a story, much less to get it right. Andy Chambers masters this challenge and more.

There are all the tropes and standards one would expect from a novel set (mainly) in Commorragh: Gladiatorial arenas, occult traps, towering pleasure-palaces, racing Reavers, decadent, outlandish archon-experiments and grimy streets in the lowest parts of the Dark City teeming with the most miserable flotsam of the 40K-universe, and much, much more (really!).

Yet Andy Chambers also manages to put a unique spin on it, making them different and distinct enough to not feel like copy from the Dark Eldar codex, but truly like unique and “real” places, despite their often (or.. mostly) extremely offbeat nature.

The only thing Chambers is holding back on (understandably and likely not by his own choice) is the sexual side of Commorragh’s excess (other than the rather technical word “copulating”, which apparently is ok with the Black Library editors and thus shows up fairly often).

If you want to “experience” Commorragh, this is the book you need to read!

#4 – Final Thoughts

Why “only” four stars?

The reason I didn’t rate this higher is because, after reading 400 pages, I know preciously little about the story of the trilogy.

The first 250 to 300 pages, while brilliant in giving you a tour of Commorragh and its depraved inhabitants (see above), is just one big set-up for the last 100-or-so pages, which in turn only serve to build up to a cliff-hanger for the next book.

Path of the Renegade is meant to set up a Dark Eldar trilogy. That said, having only read this first book, I find it lacks (compared with Soul Hunter for example) its own narrative core as a story itself, and not just a trilogy-opener.

Still, would recommend Path of the Renegade to anyone looking for Dark Eldar lore and fiction (or just looking for a good Black Library book on Xenos) without hesitating.

If the trilogy – continuing with Path of the Incubus – delivers what Path of the Renegade promise, I will certainly look back on this book with even greater awe.