In The Death of Antagonis, David Annandale, has created a war of attrition for the Black Dragons Space Marine chapter, one in which most won’t survive fully intact. The Black Dragons is a chapter rife with mutation, a chapter whose loyalty to the Emperor is questioned at every turn by the Inquisition, and a chapter who is about to face near annihilation from their perfectly matched counter parts: Cardinal Nessun and his band of chaos marines, The Swords of Epiphany.
The main arcing plot for this novel is securely clutched in the hands of Nessun. This madman is always one step ahead of the Black Dragons, quickly moving from one planetary destruction to the next, either to setup his diabolical masterpiece or to lay a false trail of bread crumbs to throw the dragons off his scent. However, it is the more subtle plots beneath that surface that I find really shine in this novel.
I enjoyed the stark contrasting themes behind the colors of the pure white Swords of Epiphany battling for chaos while the dark and damned Dragons die in the Emperor’s name. I also liked the fact that Nessun twists sweet lies through the warp to corrupt those of the Black Dragons who have become most susceptible to his poison of “purity”. So in the midst of tracking down Nessun, the Dragons are faced with an inner turmoil that might shatter them apart, from within their own ranks. White against Dark, Purity against Mutation, and with the novel’s conclusion comes my favorite question: Is the Imperium of Man simply the lesser of two evils?
I realize I haven’t touched on the characters involved with The Death of Antagonis much, aside from Cardinal Nessun, so here is your cast of deadly players: More monster than space marine – Volos, one of the few remaining Black Dragons untouched by mutation; Toharan, Inquisitor Werner Lettinger who is hell-bent on purging the Black Dragons corruption, and Canoness Setheno, a mysterious battle sister who brings a solid punch to the table and another shocking truth to be revealed later. Volos and Setheno team up in an attempt to preserve the Black Dragon chapter, while Toharan and Lettinger want to burn and cleanse it into something new and pure.
The Death of Antagonis is all about the extremes and Annandale really blows the doors off in that aspect. His writing style is also unique, in that he has the ability to switch on and off seamlessly from a general’s viewpoint to a front line grunt, which is something that mirrors Abnett’s legendary ability in bringing realism into his works. The Death of Antagonis leaves me wondering if it is just my human nature that rationalizes the good in man and wants the Space Marines to be the “good guys”, serving a life-long sentence to protect the weak. The Black Dragons are a necessary evil, but are they that much different than those of the chaos they claim to abhor?