Some fifteen years ago (five days to the fifteen-year anniversary as of the writing of this review!), Gav Thorpe and Black Library gave to us an innocuous novel called Angels of Darkness which featured a long-interrogation by an Interrogator-Chaplain of the Dark Angels of a traitor Space Marine called Merir Astelan. That novel, in a hundred little ways, was a serious game-changer as the years unfolded, not only because of the groundwork that it and Gav laid for future Dark Angels novels in M41 but also for what would later become the Horus Heresy series and the Dark Angels’ role within.
With Angels of Caliban, Gav continues many of his earlier plotlines that were introduced in the Horus Heresy series, some of which are actually offshoots of what we learned in Angels of Darkness, and that’s perhaps the best compliment for the book itself. This is a watershed moment in history for the Dark Angels as the veil behind some of their deepest mysteries is finally pulled back and we learn just how close the Legion skirted towards damnation. And not only that, but we get some epic scenes involving Guilliman’s Imperium Secundus, the beginning of the fall as it were and get deeper into the mind of the Lion and those closest (and furthest) from him.
Note: This review may contain some minor spoilers for the book.
There are two main storylines in the novel, each of which carries on threads that were introduced in the previous Dark Angels stories that we’ve seen so far, such as the novels Descent of Angels and Fallen Angels or short stories like Call of The Lion, By The Lion’s Command, Master of The First and others I’m forgetting right now. Suffice to say, despite some initial missteps, the story of the First Legion has improved considerably in the last few years and I hold Angels of Caliban to be the culmination of that entire effort as it is a significant turning point in the narrative of the First Legion during the Heresy.
First, we have the entire plot taking place on Caliban as Sar Luther continues to take control of the Legion elements on his homeworld with the assistance of Zahariel and Astelan, although not all is as it appears and there are deeper mysteries at play here than any of them could have realized. To be honest, part of this larger plot left me feeling a little disappointed because I felt as if the motivations of the three above-mentioned characters weren’t really laid out properly that would make the context of their turn in loyalties matter as much as we know matters. And I also felt that Sar Luther was far too passive in taking control of the Legion forces on Caliban, leaving others to do his work and that the big twist involving Zahariel, Caliban and the Watchers in the Dark wasn’t explained properly.
However, what we did get was a nicely choreographed betrayal that hearkens back to the “origins” of the Legion in Descent of Angels. The Order has always been a major player on Caliban, being the dominant martial authority on the world for countless centuries, and the influence it has over the First Legion isn’t insignificant either, despite the integration of the two under the Lion. It’s like… you know how things are going to turn out eventually and you are just so utterly fascinated by how it is happening and just get entirely lost in that process. And certainly, the biggest moment for the Order’s betrayal of the Dark Angels is when Chapter Master Belath arrives on Caliban for reinforcements for the war against Horus and Luther is faced with his biggest decision yet. Like I said, it is fascinating and you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop and are just spellbound as the pages turn and events unfold.
For old Zahariel, there have been some big changes since we saw him last, for now he is utterly committed to the idea of Caliban as a living entity that yearns for freedom from the shackles placed upon it. How this meshes with Luther’s decision to secede Caliban away from the Dark Angels Legion and the Imperium is what most of Zahariel’s arc is about and there are some very juicy tidbits of lore dropped regarding this, and I loved every moment of it. The overall case of the Legion’s “corruption” and the civil war that destroyed Caliban itself gains a new dimension with these revelations, and I have to say that all of it hearkens towards the inherent contradiction of the Dark Angels Chapter as we know it in M41 and how despite being utterly loyal there are plenty of cases of treason as well, as well as the persistent breaking of the limits placed on Space Marine Chapters by Guilliman himself at the end of the Heresy.
And related to that, Gav starts off the novel with a fantastic prologue that I absolutely loved. It is very much a prologue to the series itself, and focuses on the Luna Wolves’ campaign to bring to compliance the world of Zaramund a second time after it seceded away from the Imperium. Caught up in his campaign were elements of the Death Guard led by First-Captain Typhon and Dark Angels led by Luther’s disgraced warriors from Caliban. It sets the tone for the Lion’s conduct later in the novel and helps provide some more context for Luther’s own conduct and the “little cuts” that later magnified and turned him away from his adopted son and the First Legion. And it brought back some great Luna Wolves characters like Tarik Torgaddon and Garviel Loken, whom I’ve missed enormously since they died during the betrayal at Istvaan III. Learning some more about Horus’ Mournival didn’t hurt either and was a real dose of awesome.
The second main plot in the novel is the Lion’s vendetta against Konrad Curze of the Night Lords as the declared Lord Protector of Imperium Secundus hunts for the traitorous Night Haunter, to bring him to account for his transgressions upon Macragge (covered in The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett). However, as we already know from events that transpire in Guy Haley’s Pharos, the Night Haunter is not abroad in Ultramar, trying to evade capture by the Lion, but on Macragge itself, and the Lion is out on a wild goose chase that grows more frustrating with every day that passes. And that’s ultimately what this plot is all about in this novel.
The opening of the “loyalist” Dark Angels in Angels of Caliban is when they relieve a world of Ultramar that has suffered occupation by a stray force of World Eaters, remnants of Lorgar and Angron’s Shadow Crusade into Guilliman’s star realm. In these opening salvos, Gav introduces entirely new formations of the Dark Angels that I’ve never come across before, four formations other than the “known” Deathwing and the Ravenwing. We learn that there are the Dreadwing for one, akin to the Ultramarines’ Destroyers who wield highly-destructive weapons of war even beyond the arms that have been granted to the Legions. There also the Firewing, who make their appearance in the Caliban plotline above but get no mention otherwise. The introduction of the Dreadwing is not just mere happen-stance for their way of war rears its ugly head later on in the novel when the Lion returns to Macragge after the Sotha beacon is decommissioned at the end of Pharos.
And that’s something that I found fascinating. Sure, much of this information is new and all, but it adds an extra dimension to how the Legions functioned during the Great Crusade and it also informs on how the First Legion itself was structured. Because keep in mind, the First Legion was just that at the beginning of the Great Crusade, the First Legion, and Merir Astelan was the a warrior of the First Legion during that time, when the Emperor himself directly commanded them in war, both at the end of the Unification Wars and during the Crusade itself. The more we learn about the early days of the Legions, the better it is. I realize also that there’s some dissonance here, and those early chapters as Farith Redloss of the Dreadwing leads his brothers in a campaign to liberate the world of Zephath are pretty dense reading and can be confusing as Gav goes into details about the Dreadwing and their organization.
All the same though, there is a payoff for it in the end, and soon we are back on Macragge as the Lion learns just how much of a fool he’s been made by Curze. And that’s when the Lord of the First Legion unleashes his anger and fury, getting into some heated arguments with both Guilliman and Sanguinius, the “Emperor of Imperium Secundus”. But, this is also a tragedy for in hunt for Curze, the Lion advocates martial law and curfews across Macragge and uncovers sedition in one of its cities, something that he doesn’t take lightly and prosecutes a vicious campaign.
Which all brings us to what the Imperium Secundus as envisioned by Guilliman is meant to be. The conflict between the three brother-Primarchs is disheartening for we as readers can see just how much they are being pushed and prodded by circumstance to go against each other and how they struggle to eliminate this conflict. It isn’t easy for either of them for they are all three far too different from each other and fate has placed them in a most awkward situation. But then, that’s what I love so much about Imperium Secundus, and to see it broken down like this is as riveting as it is tragic. It was a great experiment, but the demands of the Heresy and Curze’s presence on Macragge will not let it thrive, and so it all must come crashing down.
Throughout the novel and specifically with the Lion’s story-arc, we learn a lot of Imperial history during the Great Crusade as well as the motivations of the four Primarchs involved. Gav does a fantastic job balancing these post-human genetic marvels against each other, and that ultimately is what I thrive on when reading the series. Not for me the stories about line legionaries or the Imperial Army. The highest echelons of the Legions are what I want to know more about, learn about. That’s where the really good stuff happens. And the epic duel as featured on the cover of the novel between the Lion and Curze didn’t disappoint at all. It had all the hallmarks of a defining conflict and Gav gave it a suitable air of gravitas and effect that lingered on for long after it was over and we moved into the final chapter.
There’s a lot that can be said about how good Angels of Caliban was in finally establishing some real substance to the Dark Angels and fixing their divided loyalties within the context of the conflict raging across the galaxy. On one side we have the traitors led by Luther. On the other we have the loyalists led by the Lion. And we certainly learned a lot more about our many protagonists, whether Luther or the Lion themselves or any of the others ones across the other Legions and even within the Dark Angels itself. There’s so much good new lore about the setting that I was lost in just keeping track of it and going back and forth with a 40k wiki reading about all of it.
Other than some of the rougher opening chapters and some fudging in the middle bits, the only thing that really ticked me off was how the character of the Lord Cypher was treated. He’s been one of the most mysterious of all Dark Angels characters since like forever, and in the Heresy we’ve seen at least two warriors who have taken up the mantle of the Order’s secrets-keeper. In Angels of Caliban there are some significant scenes involving him, especially towards the end, but I felt like we didn’t actually get much in the way of who he really is and what his purpose is within the ranks of the Order both before and after the coming of the Imperium to Caliban. That’s something that could have been improved upon, and given how the book ends, I hope that we get something in the next Dark Angels story, for it is going to drive me crazy otherwise.
Either way, Angels of Caliban was still a great read and I do recommend it. If you’ve been following the journey of the Dark Angels so far, then you absolutely need to read it. It actually makes me want to go back and read Angels of Darkness again because I want to see how far we’ve come in the last fifteen years and how Astelan has changed in that time. Plus, that was the original seed of all of this and it is a truly definitive Black Library publication.
More Gav Thorpe:
- Horus Heresy: The Raven’s Flight (Review)
- Horus Heresy #20: The Primarchs: The Lion (Review)
- Horus Heresy #25D: Honour To The Dead (Review)
- Horus Heresy #31: Legacies of Betrayal: The Divine Word (Review)
- Horus Heresy #31: Legacies of Betrayal: Guardian of the Order (Review)
- Horus Heresy #33: War Without End: By The Lion’s Command (Review)
- Horus Heresy: The Primarchs #5: Lorgar: Bearer of The Word (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch: Mission Purge (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: The Beast Arises #3: The Emperor Expects (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: The Beast Arises #8: The Beast Must Die (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Path of the Eldar #1: Path of the Warrior (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Eldar: Howl of The Banshee (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Eldar: Phoenix Lords #2: Jain Zar: The Storm of Silence (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Eldar: The Curse of Shaa-Dom (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Legacy of Caliban #2: Master of Sanctity (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Battles: Catechism of Hate (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Terminators: Sanguis Irae (Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rise of the Ynnari: Ghost Warrior (Review)
- Warhammer Fantasy: Age of Legend: The Ninth Book (Review)
- Warhammer Fantasy: Age of Legend: Aenarion (Review)
- Warhammer Fantasy: The Doom of Dragonback (Review)
- Empire of The Blood #1: Crown of the Blood (Review)
- Empire of The Blood #2: Crown of the Conqueror (Review)
More Horus Heresy:
- Death of A Silversmith by Graham McNeill (Review)
- #17: The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill (Review)
- Thief of Revelations by Graham McNeill (Review)
- #19: Know No Fear by Dan Abnett (Review)
- #19D: Oath of Moment by James Swallow (Review)
- #19F: Burden of Duty by James Swallow (Review)
- #19G: Legion of One by James Swallow (Review)
- #20: The Primarchs by Christian Dunn (Review)
- #21: Fear To Tread by James Swallow (Review)
- #22: Shadows of Treachery by Christian Dunn and Nick Kyme (Review)
- #23: Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill (Review)
- Butcher’s Nails by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Review)
- #24B: Templar by John French (Review)
- #25: Mark of Calth by Laurie Goulding (Review)
- #25B: Grey Angel by John French (Review)
- #25E: Promethean Sun by Nick Kyme (Review)
- Censure by Nick Kyme (Review)
- #26: Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme (Review)
- #27: The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett (Review)
- #28A: Brotherhood of the Storm by Chris Wraight (Review)
- #28E: The Devine Adoratrice by Graham McNeill (Review)
- #30: The Damnation of Pythos by David Annandale (Review)
- #31: Legacies of Betrayal by Laurie Goulding (Review)
- #32: Deathfire by Nick Kyme (Review)
- #33: War Without End by Laurie Goulding (Review)
- #34: Pharos by Guy Haley (Review)
- #34C: Meduson by Laurie Goulding (Review)
- #34D: The Seventh Serpent by Graham McNeill (Review)
- #36: The Path of Heaven by Chris Wraight (Review)
- #42: Garro by James Swallow (Review)
- #44: The Crimson King by Graham McNeill (Review)
- The Primarchs #1: Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar by David Annandale (Review)
- The Primarchs #4: Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia by Guy Haley (Review)
- The Primarchs #6: Fulgrim: The Palatine Phoenix by Josh Reynolds (Review)