Although it should be noted that for the most part this spoiler will be spoiler free, I would say that if you have not already read it, pick up Angels of Darkness before embarking on Ravenwing. Gav Thorpe's first Dark Angels novel, written a number of years ago presented some revelations and facets of the 1st Legion that at the time caused some consternation amongst the community such was the magnitude of its content. Now with the return of the Dark Angels as a gaming force it seems many if not all of his concepts have been embraced and become part of the Dark Angels background, rendered canon by the powers that be. Reading Angels of Darkness will grant you added perspective when it comes to reading Thorpe's latest effort. He has written another Dark Angels novel in between, a Space Marine Battles book called Purging of Kadillus and, although that is very loosely connected to this series, its by no means required reading.
Ravenwing is a solid if unremarkable book proudly heralded as the first part in the Legacy of Caliban series. It deals mainly with the titular Black Armoured elite 2nd Company, supported by the 5th company of standard foot-soldiers. Privy to secrets unbeknownst to those wearing green armour, the Ravenwing hunt down the fallen, trying to atone for their terrible legacy, of which the normal Dark Angels are barely aware. This does set up an interesting dynamic as the lesser orders of the chapter fight furiously for objectives only to be denied in the final stages as the Ravenwing come in. Perceiving this as an affront as well earned glory for the 5th company is taken from them again and again.
Inevitably this resentment between companies leads to moments of ill feeling and insubordination. Indeed, Thorpe barely escapes from portraying them as naughty schoolboys, such are the levels of admonishment and punishment doled out. Still, a rather neat sequence late on involving honour bouts puts paid to much of the bad feeling amongst ranks and the conflict does drive home the fractious nature of this most divisive of chapters.
Thorpe does a good job illustrating the different levels of confidence as to which various parts of the chapter are entrusted, although it seems somewhat unfeasible for any of the Adeptus Astartes to be so naïve about Traitor Marines. It's a difficult thing to handle and for the most part Thorpe handles it with aplomb. The strong characters in the book help, the hierarchy in this most secretive of chapters clearly laid out.
There are no Deathwing in this book (perhaps being saved for the sequel Master of Sanctity), but Sammael and his circle of command staff represent the most 'in the loop' - although it is made quite clear that not even the Master of the Ravenwing knows all the secrets of the Dark Angels. The Black Knights then know more than the normal Ravenwing, who then know more than the other companies.
The main characters in this book are Annael, a new member of the Ravenwing and therefore just becoming aware of most basic of secrets, and Telemenus, still of the 5th company and therefore ignorant of the greater workings. They are supported by a fine cast of secondary characters both in green and black armour. One thing Thorpe does do very well is portray Space Marines with just the right amount of humanity and that is evident throughout this book.
Also explored with great effect (although not as central a theme as in Angels of Darkness) is the role that the Dark Angels play in the wider scheme of things. Questions are raised as to whether Lion'el Johnson's progeny can ever truly function as Astartes when they are so overwhelmingly consumed with hunting down their fallen brethren whilst going to extraordinary lengths to keep their terrible legacy secret.
Gav Thorpe's style is punchy and the action is well written and prominent without resorting to bolter porn. Although he cannot compete with the class of Abnett et al, I have always found his writing to be competent and easy to digest. His descriptiveness never comes at the cost of exposition and he also takes time to flesh out his characters. Ravenwing is an easy book to read and I flew thorough it in a couple of nights. The pace of the book is maybe a little odd, the majority of it takes place over one action on a starfort and the ending section of the book feels perhaps a little rushed. There is also one GLARING error on page 388 that makes me question whether anyone at Black Library actually proofreads what is to be published (there was even a blatant spelling error early on in Pariah).
Of note also is the epilogue. I personally felt it was a little far fetched and certainly makes a mockery of succession in the 1st Legion (basically, if you accidentally see one of the Fallen you get promoted). Still on the whole, Ravenwing is a strong beginning for a series I look forward to seeing develop. Worth your time.