Monday, 30 March 2015

Book Review: Master of Sanctity by Gav Thorpe

In my Review of Ravenwing I said it would be beneficial if you had read Gav Thorpe’s Dark Angels standalone magnum Opus Angels of Darkness but that it was no means necessary to enjoy Ravenwing. Sadly I cannot say the same of Master of Sancitity, at all. There are too many threads picked up to ignore. you will really need to read that first to have a better understading of what is going on. Master of Sanctity makes a lot more reference to Angels of Darkness than Ravenwing and features a couple of the same characters. Even thought the main thrust of the narrative is placed elsewhere. It also ties loosely into Purge of Kadillus, Thorpe’s Space Marines Battles Novel but you can safely ignore that (though it’s by no means a bad read) Sadly Master of Sanctity falls short of the promise showed in Ravenwing, It is also vastly inferior to Angels of Darkness being that difficult bridging installment in an overall story arc.

And of course that Arc involves The Fallen. Im not sure exactly when the Dark Angels turned into Pokemon collectors (gotta get em all!!) but it’s getting to be a little tiresome now. Of course hunting the Fallen was never a new thing for the Dark Angels, they have always striven to apprehend their traitor brethren since the end of the Heresy, but rather than being a quirk of the chapter it is now their overriding reason for existence and it’s all getting a bit silly. What really doesn’t work is the levels of secrecy revolving around the whole affair, the amount of ignorance that the lower echelons of the chapter display is absolutely staggering. It’s very hard to credit that they could be so naive such is the ease with which the wool is pulled over their eyes, and they come across as swaddled in bedclothes until they grow up enough to learn all about the big bad nature of Chaos. I can imagine the other chapters sneering away at the Dark Angels ‘Can you believe Azrael’s lot? They don’t even know about traitor marines and DAEMONS! HAHAHAHA!!!!’ Its all a bit tragic for the 1st Legion, an ignoble portrayal of a difficult and awkward concept.

Still it’s a narrative mechanic and here it follows much the same function as in Ravenwing. The Dark Angels bimble about, by and large unaware of what they are actually up to, just following orders. Of course the privileged few DO know and go about their business of tracking down the Fallen. The same characters from Ravenwing feature here, though they don’t really do a lot and are given limited scope for development. Telemenus in particular (promoted to Deathwing by virtue of simply SEEING one of the Fallen in Ravenwing) is incessant in his insecurity and far too much time is spent dwelling on how much he is struggling to measure up to the standards of the Dark Angels Elite. This was understandable I guess when he was a lower ranked marine but to see it in this capacity is just awful. It’s painful watching this waste of space of a Space Marine lumber around ineptly until something actually happens. It really does make a bit of a mockery of the Dark Angel heirachal system having such an insecure and doubt riddled member of the Dark Angels elite.

The main thrust of Master of Sanctity is not Telemenus (praise be to the Emperor) however. Instead this book focuses more on the Interrogator Chaplains. The main duo in this book are Sapphon and Asmodai. Sapphon is in the ascendancy and the titular Master of Sanctity, his cool and collected methods preferred by the Grand Masters of the chapter. Asmodai is considered too volatile, his brutal and compromising methods bringing too much controversy and attention to a chapter that prefers to keep to the Shadows. However, Sapphon is under pressure to deliver results and Asmodai is constantly trying to undermine him to gain his position. The power struggle between these two is one of the better parts of the book and where it works it works well. It is never really taken to the full extent of its potential though and Asmodai in particular comes off as a little one dimensional. However the interplay between the two is pretty good and personifies the different aspects of the chapter well.

The Fallen also have a much larger presence in this book, particularly Astelan from Angels of Darkness. In this book the Dark Angels use him to track down other members of the Fallen. As you might be able to appreciate this DOES not go down well with Asmodai, creating a great deal more conflict and drama. And I think that is the real problem here, drama. The story is overly wrought about stuff that as the reader we just don’t care about. At times the dialogue gets a bit cheesy but overall it’s not too bad but it helps the already inconsistent pace of the book not one jot. Unfortunately it is around here the plots starts to meander a lot, a nondescript and pointless trip to a daemon world ensues but is nothing more than a red herring setting up the real climax of the book. Now admittedly the cliffhanger the book ends on is pretty exciting and will entice you to read the next installment Unforgiven, but it sure comes out of the blue with no real foreshadowing and I’m not really sure where it is leading.

Master of Sanctity is a deeply flawed book. Thorpe is not a bad writer, or at least not deserving of the vitriol normally levied at him, but his handling of the Astartes here is just not right and in all honestly the Dark Angels come off as a bunch of arguing bumbling idiots. Especially Telemenus who is meant to be a member of the Deathwing for crying out loud! Still, Gav has done his homework and there are some passages that make for great reading. Some of the action scenes are pretty gripping and the sections on the daemonworld are delightfully old school if wholly forgettable. The pacing is also well off, with the end being shoehorned in and most of the climax of the book taking place is a startlingly short amount of pages. Some of the characterization leaves something to be desired too, with some cast members either being dull stereotypes or wholly unlikable. Another thing I must mention are the mistakes. AGAIN. Ravenwing had a few of these and they really jarred me out of the narrative as wrong names were used in vital places. Sadly Master of Sanctity is no exception and again there are errors. For example. Asmodai is described as having a white skull like helmet. EVERYONE knows Interrogator Chaplains do not wear white skull helms. Later on in the book we are told a Terminators backpack hits the roof of a corridor (ok this one is perhaps a little uncharitable) even though terminators don’t wear ‘backpacks’

The thing is I could understand these errors in a hired gun, a freelance writer who might not have in depth knowledge of the 40k Universe., but Gav Thorpe has been working with Games Workshop since before I got into the hobby! He is a veteran Game Designer, Codex Writer AND Black Library Author, this aint his first Rodeo. Hopefully this is all sorted out and the last book is a stormer. Otherwise the only one Unforgiven will be Gav Thorpe.

3 out of 5 Fallen

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