Saturday, 19 September 2015

Book Review: The Unforgiven by Gav Thorpe.

It seems some writers have become synonymous with certain marine chapters. Nick Kyme has the Salamanders, Graham McNeil, the Iron Warriors, ADB took the Night Lords as his own some time ago and Gav Thorpe will always be linked with the Dark Angels.

And whilst we wait for Gav to make his first full length Dark Angels Heresy entry with Angels of Caliban, we have had his Legacy of Caliban series, a continuation of the story he started in Angels of Darkness. I have already reviewed Ravenwing and Master of Sanctity and now it is time for the third and final book. The Unforgiven, the book that should tie up and finish the arc begun so long ago.

One has to wonder how Gav views Angels of Darkness. A firm fan favourite, the book is regarded very highly and at the time added significantly to the fluff of the Dark Angels with some truly shocking revelations. Like many artists who have produced a magnum opus Gav has been judged by it ever since. Living up to a previous high point is notoriously tough and one can tell that Gav has been trying his best to do justice to Angels of Darkness with the Legacy of Caliban. Sadly thus far he doesn't seem to have quite managed it (though i did enjoy Ravenwing a great deal). Perhaps The Unforgiven will prove third time lucky.

The first of the legacy of Caliban and the best

The Unforgiven picks up the exact second after Master of Sanctity ends. The Dark Angels, as always, are on the hunt for one of the Fallen. This time they have been guided by one of the Fallen themselves and this has led to Cypher, who surrenders himself. Having apprehended Cypher the Dark Angels return to The Rock in order to find out more about him and his agenda and how it all keys into the Fallen's plans and indeed the Dark Angels very destiny.

The Unforgiven is the first book to feature Azrael in a primary role. Ravenwing established the characters we will discuss in a moment and Master of Sanctity focused on Asmodai and Sapphon. Now it is time for the Grand Master of the Dark Angels. Overall The Unforgiven actually features more characters than any of the other books and Gav is to be commended for the job he does of cramming them all in. obviously this means that some characters have a vastly reduced presence this time round, most notably Asmodai and Sapphon, this is a shame as the interplay between these two characters was one of the highlights of the last book.

Worth it for the tension between Asmodai and Sapphon

Still this is the final book in the series so Gav rightly has to make concessions as he still needs to get to a suitably climatic conclusion. We do find out a fair bit more about the Inner Circle and with Azrael being featured the Watchers in the Dark also make an appearance. Though nothing too earth shattering is revealed there are some tidbits here and there. Gav even manages to work some of his Horus Heresy work into the convoluted narrative and one has to wonder if this was his intention all along. Certainly i'm expecting more of the same with his yet to come Horus Heresy novel.

The main part of the book is taken up with the interrogation of Cypher and another infamous Fallen and inner machinations of the Dark Angels as they attempt to unravel the Fallen's plans. As mentioned Gav also brings the characters in Ravenwing's arcs to a close. Telemenus continues his woefully unsatisfying story. I find it difficult to believe that such an inept individual could survive in the ranks of ANY marine chapter for so long. Made Deathwing purely by the virtue of having seen one of the Fallen, he has since bumbled his way through his career as an elite Dark Angel, His eventual fate (no spoilers) will likely come as a surprise to none that have read thus far but makes an utter mockery of Dark Angel progression and resources. His hallucinations of the Emperor in no way endeared his character to me either. Gav has a go at justifying it all but i was left less than convinced.

So too i had problems with Annael's continuing tale. The Ravenwing Black Knight goes against orders to search for his comrade and ends up doing penance. In itself not an issue but he at this point becomes one of the most annoying and detestable characters i have ever read. Churlish, sulky, self doubting and whiny it is a poor poor example of an Astartes, especially one of advanced rank. I'd have written him off and shot him in the head personally. I have frequently championed Gavs ability to write well rounded and believable characters, but here as with his Eldar books what he has created is wholly unlikable. With the Eldar books it was understandable, after all as a race they are meant to be aloof and arrogant, so to write them as total dicks (and they were) kind of made sense.

Republished to co incide with the rest of the Legacy of Caliban and probably better than all of it. 

But to write Space Marines as whining, self pitying and self doubting oafs does them no justice at all. In particular it makes the Dark Angels come off really quite badly (man they got ISSUES) and combined with all the internal strife its all just a little odd. It's likely that id not be judging it quite so harshly and might be a little more forgiving had I not just read Scorched Earth. Gav could really do with taking some notes from that book on how to portray Marines as vulnerable and damaged yet still Astartes and retain their integrity.

Alongside all this soap opera the actual pain plot grinds to its conclusion. Sadly this element of the book is less realised than the afore mentioned character story arcs, Fairly convoluted and awkward it nonetheless builds towards a suitably epic if somewhat overreaching action packed climax as the Forces of Chaos mount an all out attack on The Rock. Here we actually get the battle scenes that so much of the saga has cried out for and it does make for a satisfying end to the book. Finally showing the Dark Angels at their best. As for the VERY end of the book, well it is audacious and bombastic and a potential game changer. I'm sure it will prove very divisive. The only way I can really describe it is 40K meets Star Trek but that really is the best I can do without spoiling it totally. If taken as canon (and i see no reason why it wouldn't be it is a pretty big deal and something that will echo throughout the background of the 40K universe.

And so to a close comes the Legacy of Caliban Trilogy/Saga, the official continuation and indeed conclusion of the narrative started in Angels of Darkness. I do not think that Gav has equaled that book, the series is too awkward and inconsistent. However, i do personally think that Gav has already written books better than Angels of Darkness so as far as i am concerned he has nothing to prove anyway. That is not to say that this series is without merit, I genuinely enjoyed Ravenwing a great deal, i thought it was a very promising start to a series and that it offered something not previously seen. Master of Sanctity had it's charms too, mainly the interplay between the titular character and Asmodai. However it was a book betrayed by it's own concept and Gav failed to really sell the concept to me. What seemed plausible in Angels of Darkness was rapidly becoming more and more far fetched and making the 1st legion look like a chapter of fools. The Unforgiven doesn't really delvier the end we deserve. The Fallen's plan seems somewhat poorly thought out and the plot seemingly exists as a secondary consideration to some truly exasperating character writing. The poor characters stand out against the lackluster overall narrative which is buried under masses of indulgence and hastily contrived ideas. The overall climax is pretty 'out there' and doesn't really feel '40K' .

Overall I just don't think the books are a good representation of the Dark Angels, I much prefer Gav's work thus far in the Horus Heresy. Angels of Darkness did a great deal for the Dark Angels within a very limited page count. The Legacy of Caliban does rather less despite being more than triple the size. Still, I look forward to Gav's Heresy novel, Angels of Caliban with great interest. I still think he is the man for the job, I just hope he reins in the characters a little as in this book I was really rooting for the Fallen and that probably wasn't his aim...

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