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Book Review- “Descent of Angels” by Mitchel Scanlon

August 15, 2015 Leave a comment

gw-descent-of-angels When you read novels in a series of books you start to expect certain things. So it can be a little frustrating and off putting when you come across an entry in a series that doesn’t deliver what you’ve come to expect right away. If you have patience with these books though they can sometimes surprise you and take you places you don’t expect while still delivering what you’ve come to love from the series later on.

That’s just what happened to me while reading “Descent of Angels” by Mitchel Scanlon, the sixth entry in Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” series, which chronicles the epic galactic civil war that lays the ground work for their “Warhammer 40,000” line of novels. So if you’re looking for a novel that gives you epic battles with Space Marines (the genetically engineered super soldiers that serve as many of the focus characters in the “Horus Heresy”) you might want to skip “Descent of Angels,” or perhaps read it another time. If you don’t have patience with the book it will frustrate you. So it might not be for every “Horus Heresy” or “Warhammer 40k” fan.

That’s because instead of kicking off his narrative right around the time of the titular ScanlonHorus Heresy Scanlon rewinds things back quite a few years. Each book of the “Horus Heresy” series puts the focus on the members of one of the 20 original Space Marine Legions and the civilians that might be caught up in their orbit at the time, and in “Descent of Angels” Scanlon focuses on the Legion known as the Dark Angels, but he kicks thing off several years before the Dark Angels are even a Legion. So it’s very much an origin story of the Legion instead of a tale focusing on their role in the Horus Heresy (I imagine we’ll get more of that in a later book titled “Fallen Angels”)

So “Descent of Angels” begins on Caliban, what will become the home planet of the Dark Angels legion. It’s an interesting world in that it’s been cut off from the rest of humanity for thousands of years. So much so that the population starts to wonder if the tales they’ve heard about Terra, the ancient birth planet of humanity, are really ancient myths. The technology on the planet is very much a mix of science fiction and medieval; soldiers wear crude power armor and carry high tech pistols, but they also carry swords and ride horses.

The society of Caliban is very much medieval too. Knightly orders exist to protect the planet’s populace from roaming monsters that jump out of the heavily wooded areas to commit acts of whole sale slaughter. So Scanlon really brings Caliban to life. One of the things I love about “Horus Heresy” and “40K” novels is the fantastic places the writers take us. Like I said though, this is a very different place then what’s found in many other novels in the series. So be prepared for that. At the beginning “Descent of Angels” feels almost like a medieval fantasy.

That’s because we start off by following the exploits of, Zahariel, a young supplicant to Caliban’s most popular group of knights, The Order. When we meet him Zahariel is one of the Order’s most promising trainees and that’s due in part to his friendly rivalry with his cousin Nemiel. The duo inspire each other. Nemiel is more of a pragmatist. So he’s a decent character, but Zahariel is an idealist ready to give his brothers and people the benefit of the doubt, which I thought made him a pretty likeable lead character.

descent-of-angels-wallpaperSo we follow Zahariel on his exploits to become a full fledged knight, which involves several tasks. Perhaps my favorite is one that happens early on and does involve some fun, creepy, clues about the supernatural nature of the 40K universe. Then we follow Zahariel, Nemiel, and their fellow knights lead by the demigod like Lion El’Johnson and his friend Luther as they set out to liberate their world from the monsters (both creatures and human) that terrorize it.

That struggle takes up over half the book. Then comes the inevitable meeting between the Order and the forces of the Imperium of Man, which leads to the founding of the Dark Angels. This section of the book continues to be interesting as Zahariel deals with the great changes that’s come to his world in such a short time. It’s got some fun training sequences. It also has a surprise appearance by one of Warhammer 40K world’s most legendary characters and it’s handled really well. When this character appears it’s like “Woah!” Scanlon capture the majesty of the character quite well.

From there Lion El’Johnson, who is one of the long lost demigod like Primarchs created by the Imperium of man’s leader, the God Like Emperor, takes command of the Dark Angels. The newly founded Space Marine Legion then heads out into space as part of the Imperium’s Great Crusade to reunite the various planets colonized by humanity. This section of the book feels most like your typical “Horus Heresy” or “Warhammer 40K” style adventure. It’s almost like a fun little short story that has the Dark Angels confronting a hidden threat on a very interesting world.

So in terms of overall story “Descent of Angels” is a little disjointed, but thats okay. The individual parts of the story are interesting enough and the characters that populate the novel are very intriguing and fun to follow. A lot of what happens is setting the stage for the Dark Angels later on and readers familiar with that will catch some ominous hints of that set up.

With “Descent of Angels” Scanlon has written a very different “Horus Heresy” novel and that’s okay. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re patient and allow yourself to enjoy the ride and the characters he introduces you too the book is very rewarding. It also did it’s job of making me more interested in the Dark Angels, a Space Marine Legion I didn’t know a whole lot about. So I’m excited to hopefully revisit a number of characters that Scanlon introduced me to in a later novel.

Categories: Book Review