After finishing the first Dark Imperium book, I wanted more. There was a lot of build-up to a confrontation between Guilliman and Mortarion that never happened in that book. We also got a peek under the curtain at the returned Primarch but were left wanting more. This meant that I started Dark Imperium: Plague War straight after the previous book, and as a sequel, it gives you exactly what you want. However, as a novel, in general, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Let’s start with the good. We once again delve in the psyche of Roboute Gulliman and watch him rage against a millennium that goes against everything he fought for 10,000 years ago. You feel his anger and sorrow at the state of affairs in the Imperium and these bits are excellent. It expands Guilliman further than the ‘loyal son’ I thought of him as and you see him angry at the Emperor and defying the idea of him being a God. A lot of this you see in the first Dark Imperium book but with Plague War, you get even more and with his brother, Mortarion, thrown into the mix you see more of Roboute’s questioning and uncertainty. All of which are excellent.
The latter third of the book is an action-packed adventure as the conflict between Mortarion and Gulliman comes to a head. This is fast-paced, exciting Warhammer fiction at it’s best. You’re never quite sure who is going to survive the conflict and the stoic Astartes come into their own as they fight against the hordes of demons and Death Guard. However, it isn’t merely a blow for blow account of a battle (thankfully). Instead, each moment drives the plot forward to that inevitable meeting between Primarch and Demon Primarch and when the two brothers meet things get really interesting. And I’ll stop there, but suffice to say that I really enjoyed this part of the book.
However, the middle third reads more like a catalogue of Games Workshops storefront than an engaging novel. That’s being a little harsh but my eyes glazed over at times as we spent a remarkable amount of time describing parts of the Primaris or a titan, and all of it could be removed without changing the direction of the plot. Whenever you can crop sections wholesale from a book without changing the outcome, there’s an issue. Thankfully, this dry section is sandwiched between introspection on a Primarch and high octane action. However, I could easily see people losing interest and if I wasn’t listening to it as an audiobook, then I could have been one of them.
As a Death Guard player, this book once again helped to flesh out the legion. It also spent more time on the demonic side of Nurgle as well (which made me really want some Nurgle daemons for my army), and I love how stupid but fitting the names are for some of them. While we only see a glimpse of some of them, Great Unclean Ones like Bubondubon or Squatumous never stopped making me smile. They are silly but horrific in all the right ways. Having said that, they are a little more cartoonish than other depictions of Nurgle daemons, so while I enjoyed how ridiculous they were I missed some of the terror they should inflict.
Jumping back to the Imperium side, there is some interesting bitterness and distrust between the Primaris and regular Astartes, and this roughness is something that I would love to be explored further in future books. We also spend a decent amount of time with the Sisters of Battle and see that they are a force to be reckoned with all on their own. It’s nice to expand beyond beefy men shooting big guns to beefy women shooting big guns. Jokes aside, it is nice that Games Workshop is expanding their horizons (and product line) further with female characters.
On the whole, I enjoyed Plague War. It’s a decent follow up to Dark Imperium and both serve are great introductions to the lore of Warhammer 40k. I first consumed both when I was really new to the hobby and they helped me get a sense for the size, scale and possibilities of this Universe. They also explained who a lot of key characters are and if you aren’t sure where to start with this daunting series, then Dark Imperium and Dark Imperium: Plague War get my vote.
Thanks for reading. If you want more 40k book reviews check out our recent review of Fulgrim. Alternatively, why not take a look at our review of spaceship skirmish game, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada for some big Warhammer 40k explosions.
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