Sunday, 25 December 2016

Conclave Horus Heresy Review: Angels of Caliban by Gav Thorpe

It's fair to say the Dark Angels haven't really enjoyed the best treatment in the Horus Heresy. Descent of Angels and Fallen Angels by Mitchell Scanlon and Mike Lee respectively didn't really do the First Legion any justice and are among the more poorly received entries in the series. Attempts have been made since in numerous short stories (most notably by Gav himself) to redress the balance but there is no question that alongside the Blood Angels Lion'el Jonson's sons are much neglected. Especially considering they play such a significant role in the Heresy. HALF the legion turned yet there has been nary a word written about it bar some vague build up.

Well it is now time for that to change. Gav Thorpe has already done sterling work with the Raven Guard and with Corax due in a few months to provide the climax to the Raven Guard Primarch's story arc, he is free to work on the Dark Angels. After all, the name Gav Thorpe is more or less synonymous with the sons of Jonson.

I was quite apprehensive about this book to be honest. I have mixed feelings about Gav's work when it comes his 40k Dark Angels books. Angels of Darkness was a rightly lauded fan favourite that was groundbreaking at the time. Ravenwing was promising with a few niggling flaws and sadly was the highlight of his Legacies of Caliban series which became far too character focused to the detriment of the overall narrative. Not bad books by any means but I was very much hoping that Angels of Caliban would be better. After all the end of the series read more like a Star Trek episode than anything based in the 41st Millennium.  

Well thankfully it is. I can happily say that Angels of Caliban is another solid entry by Gav and although slighter than many other of it's contemporaries in page length it manages to cover a suprising amount of ground and deal with events of some import. After all the Horus Heresy series is in a weird place at the moment. .

Let's face it, thanks to the Imperium Secundus arc much time has been spent away from the main thrust of the story with Horus very much taking a backseat in his very own Heresy! Let's not forget in the original version the involvement of the Ultramarines was very much a footnote with them being cut off from the fight and therefore in a position to hold the Imperium together in the aftermath of the siege of Terra. That has changed here and though I cannot argue that there has been some great stuff as a result the split in the narrative has been noticeable. 

Well here Gav straddles both, effectively bringing the Imperium Secundus arc to an end and simultaneously moving events on Caliban to a head and moving essential playing pieces into position for the end phase of the Heresy, which is likely still another ten books off at least. The book is evenly split between Ultramar and Caliban and moves at a brisk pace due to its short length.

On Ultramar Jonson is tasked by Emperor Sanguinius to bring Curze to justice. Deeply and personally invested in his quest to take down the Night Haunter the Dark Angels Primarch has been all over Ultramar in an attempt to bring the Night Haunter to heel and is none too gentle in his pursuit of his quarry leading to some interesting conflict in the triumvirate on Macragge as the frailties in Gulliman's fledgling Empire are exposed. Thankfully things do not become too political and bogged down and Gav keeps things brisk and interesting as Curze thwarts his pursuers, as always playing his own twisted game. When he and Jonson do finally clash no one is left disappointing and their duel is gripping as the fallout afterwards.

Meanwhile on Caliban Luther's insurrection takes shape as he looks to solidify his hold on the planet. Having rallied the vast majority of the legion left behind by their Primarch (and imprisoned the rest) he knows that he'll have to make hard decisions and that it will only be so long before he is made to answer for his treachery. Whilst the reasons for Luther's secession from the Imperium and his motives are made quite clear, it did appear that I had missed quite a lot of events, many characters had experienced things that I don't think I have yet read. 

Now I know that the Heresy series is phenomenally fractured and a bit all over the place but the myriad black and gold book spines on my shelf leads me to believe that I have a fairly comprehensive collection. I really would like to know exactly where these events occur because as far as I know I have missed only a few shorts and audio dramas. In any event I would be surprised if the majority of readers were not a little confused. (edit:I have since done some research and the events were covered in 'The Lion' and 'Savage Weapons' which are found in the Novels The Primarchs and Age of Darkness respectively. I would advise reading them first if your memory is as foggy as mine. 

In addition I have to say that although by no means dull, the Caliban set parts of the book are where  Gav seems to stray back into his typical Dark Angels pattern where needless intrigue and mystery are inserted in an apparent attempt to revert to the Angels of Darkness template. That's not to say that there are not highlights here  There are some standout scenes which are excellently done, and Luther is portrayed as a likeable but conflicted character. This said, events right at the end of the book cast him in a more unsympathetic light even though there is some question about who is manipulating who. This is clearly something that Gav intends to continue and only time will tell if he can pull it if without resorting to the tricks he has previously.

So that's Angels of Caliban. Despite it's brevity it is a very solid Heresy book, a typical Gav Thorpe effort. Easy to read and executed with an adroit elan that I was not expecting though the writing still falls short of the very best of the Black Library authors. Gav deftly juggles two completely separate narratives with no small amount of skill and concludes one satisfactorily whilst opening another up for future expansion. He does a great job of moving the important pieces where they need to be for the end stages of the Heresy and the book acts very well as a stopgap or bridge. It was a pleasant surprise and I would certainly recommend picking it up even though I couldn't hand on heart say it was one of the best in the series.

7 Disgruntled Calibanites out of 10.

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