Master of Sanctity by Gav Thorpe (Book Review)

Gav Thorpe is rightly considered Black Library’s resident Dark Angels expert, for he has written more about them than any other author and he even had a hand in shaping their lore back when he worked in the Games Workshop Design Studio on the Dark Angels codex, among other things. Last year, he started a new Dark Angels series called Legacy of Caliban that followed on from one of Black Library’s best novels to date, Angels of Darkness, and continued the tale of the Knights of Caliban as they sought out their traitorous brethren from the days of the Horus Heresy itself and brought them to justice in the innermost deeps of The Rock. Ravenwing was an excellent novel in many ways, and the wait for the sequel was a long one for me, especially since I dropped off on my Black Library reading this year.

But I read Master of Sanctity earlier this month and the wait has been quite fruitful indeed. Gav made the long wait worth every moment since the novel is a brilliant follow-up to what he did in Ravenwing, giving a more thorough insight into the many mysteries of the Dark Angels and exploring their many secrets. The duality of the Dark Angels, in their oaths to the Imperium and to themselves to hunt down the Fallen wherever they may be found, is at the heart of this novel, and our primary lead-in this time is none other than the chapter’s Master of Sanctity himself, Grand Master Sapphon, and we even get a look at the fiercely conservative Chaplain Asmodai, with whom Sapphon clashes again and again in the novel.

Legacy of Caliban - 02 - Master of Sanctity

Ravenwing focused primarily on the warriors of the Ravenwing, the Dark Angels’ elite Second Company that was tasked with hunting down the Fallen, acting as a metaphorical scouting force that corralled the enemy until the First Company, the Deathwing, could be called in to take the foe away. The Dark Angels operate by way of hierarchies of knowledge and this means that each successive rank of warriors knows more than the ones below them and that even among the elites of the Deathwing and the Ravenwing there are layers of these mysteries and knowledge withheld. The Dark Angels manifest one of the more famous quotes of the setting, that “Knowledge is power, guard it well”. They embody it and base their entire lives on these mysteries, to protect both their brothers from the temptations of falling to Chaos or treason, and to protect the Chapter itself.

Ravenwing came to an end by the titular warriors hunting down a Fallen Librarian and with the ascension of some of the battle-brothers. Annael and Sabrael were promoted to the ranks of the Black Knights, the elite warriors of Grand Master Sammael’s personal guard. On the other hand, Telemenus, Daellon and Menthus of the Fifth Company are promoted to the Deathwing under Grand Master Belial. These five warriors witnessed the Fallen on Thyestes and even heard his declaration that he was once a Dark Angel himself. Normally, the secret of the Fallen is jealously guarded by the Dark Angels’ senior cadre but since these five were witnesses and they could not be simply… taken care of… Belial and Sammael make the decisions they feel are necessary, both to harness the rage of their lower-ranked brothers and to give them direction and a greater purpose in the service of the Chapter.

And in Master of Sanctity we see what the results are.

The novel focuses primarily on Sapphon, as I’ve said, but it also deals with many other characters and in that it casts a much wider net than Ravenwing did. We see how the Deathwing, the Ravenwing and even the Dark Angels’ Inner Circle work and what mysteries, what secrets guide them all. When Annael and Sabrael undergo the Seventh Rite of the Raven and are told of some of the darker secrets of the Fallen, you can feel the characters’ anger and their determination to do right by the Chapter and its glorious ten thousand years of history, ten thousand years of hunting down each and every Fallen and bring him to account for his grave sins. When Telemenus, Menthius and Daellon are formally inducted into the Deathwing and undergo the special training necessary to operate as one of the Tactical Dreadnought-armoured brethren of the Chapter, you get to see how driven they are. The focus at all times in such scenes rests solely with Annael and Telemenus, but you do get a collective sense of what they are going through and what they want to achieve, which is where Gav excels.

But the heart of the novel belongs to Sapphon and he was my favourite character in the novel. As the Chapter’s Master of Sanctity, he is one of the most highly-placed within the Chapter and it is his task in the novel to break the Fallen Merir Astelan. Astelan is an old character, first introduced in Angels of Darkness and then introduced in the Horus Heresy series as well. In Angels of Darkness he portrayed himself as a loyal Dark Angel who was betrayed by the then-Legion’s Primarch Jonson himself, a fiction he has maintained in the long years of his confinement at The Rock. Much of Master of Sanctity navigates his truths and half-truths as Sapphon and Asmodai seek to learn what caused him to turn against the Primarch and the Emperor, and what plans he made with other Fallen who were responsible for destroying a contingent of the Chapter’s warriors on Piscina V and even how he could be used to bring in the most reviled Fallen of them all, Lord Cypher.

I loved every moment of this novel, from start to finish. It is engaging on a novel beyond even what Ravenwing and Angels of Darkness were able to accomplish and part of that is that we get to see so much of the Chapter’s inner mysteries. Sapphon clashing again and again with Asmodai on how best to break Astelan and how to use him for their own ends is a captivating narrative that really pulls you in. There’s never a wasted moment in the novel and part of the journey is following Sapphon as he drawn further into a web of madness and deceit woven by the Fallen that he might not be able to escape after all.

As always is the case with Gav’s writing, the action scenes are varied and impressive. From the scenes set on Piscina V as the Dark Angels fight to take back control of the world to a daemon-world near the Eye of Terror and then to a place of confrontation that once defined Astelan, we see all the different ways that the Dark Angels wage war, whether as warriors of the Deathwing, or the Ravenwing, or the Battle Companies. I love the diversity of the Space Marines in general and in the Dark Angels, that diversity is magnified given their special formations.

If you are looking for a great Dark Angels novel, then Master of Sanctity is what you should be reading. Along with Purging of Kadillus, Angels of Darkness and Ravenwing, this novel tells a much larger story than is apparent at first glance. Rooted in the disastrous events of the Horus Heresy, the novel is one of the best I’ve read from Black Library and it is certainly one of Gav’s best as well. Not to mention the mind-blowing ending which totally shocked me. I didn’t expect something like that to happen and it just goes to show that Gav isn’t above playing mind-games with the reader.

Awesome stuff!

Rating: 9.5/10

More Dark Angels: Dark Vengeance, Malediction, Ravenwing.

More Gav Thorpe: Honour To The Dead, Catechism of Hate, Crown of The Blood, Crown of The Conqueror, Deathwatch: Mission Purge, Howl of The Banshee, Sanguis Irae, The Raven’s Flight,

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