Friday, March 1, 2013

40K Friday - Angels of Darkness

This book came out about 10 years ago and for whatever reason I never read it. I have now though and the short version of my take on it is "surprisingly good".

I say surprisingly because I remember Gav Thorpe as one of those faces in White Dwarf magazine. He was usually in the battle reports and I vaguely recall him losing a lot. Anytime you have a game company staffer suddenly becoming an author, well, the results are mixed at best. That said I like this, and it is one of his first, if not his first, published novel.

It's set in the "now" of the 40K universe - the Dark Angels are one of the marine chapters fighting against the encroaching enemies of the Imperium of Man. Their big dark secret is that half the legion turned traitor during a big rebellion 10,000 years ago, and they have turned into a secretive military order that has a hidden agenda - track down and eliminate every single traitorous former member of their legion to purge the stain from their honor. This is a big deal because traitorous marine chapters are ruthlessly purged and they don't want to be purged. This is still an issue because due to the weirdness of warpspace some of those rebels are still alive and they turn up now and again, fresh from the big battle that split the legion. Additionally, it's not enough to just catch them - the chapter also tries to force them to confess their misdeeds. Some do, some don't, but torture is the main avenue for achieving this and they all end up dead in the end anyway - confession just speeds things to the inevitable conclusion.

We begin with a chaplain bringing in one of the fallen for interrogation. This proceeds as you might expect except that the fallen marine has no affiliation with chaos, the usual charge against the rebels. He is convinced that his actions have been right all through history and that the original schism is not so one-sided as the chapter history would suggest. This gets very interesting if you've been a 40K player for a longer time as this is one of the few books where we see a debate over the Emperor, the Primarchs, the history as written vs. someone who was there and just a general questioning of all the standard myths and beliefs of the 40K universe. This rebel marine comes from a time before all the mystic technology trappings and the decline, and all of the cult of the emperor stories and organizations. It's a very different take on things and it was refreshing to see it in an actual 40K novel.

This storyline is interwoven with a separate plot about the same chaplain a few years later who is still grappling with the information revealed in his interrogation as he ministers to a small group of marines in a small outpost on an imperial world. It's a much more introspective story and a more complex look at what you would expect to be the most fanatical of all marines, a chaplain. Here we find out that he has doubts and concerns about his role, what he has been told, the chapter elders, and what he should do about these feelings.

As the story moves back and forth between these two things we learn more and more about what the fallen knows and has seen over the years while at the same time the more "current" plotline has the small group of marines investigating and pursuing a threat that grows rapidly. The resolution of both storylines is very nicely done, with the most surprising insights from the traitor coming right before the final threat in the main plot is revealed, and the resolution of that plot is somewhat surprising as well, as is the nature of the confrontation between the protagonists of the story and their enemies .

This book ended up being much better than I expected. I normally dislike that back-and-forth story structure, but it worked very well here - if it was always handled this well I would probably like it more. I kept thinking "alright In know where this is going to go" only to be surprised, and that doesn't happen very often. The supporting characters are not especially well detailed but the main character, the Chaplian Boreas, and his main opponent, the fallen captain Astelan, are nicely done and have more to them than just the standard "For the Emperor" marine attitude we usually get. It's just a well-done book all the way around.
So if you want something a little bit different than most 40K novels this is a good choice. I think it has more impact if you're more invested in the 40K lore but it's a good read regardless. Even with a different tone I put it right up there with the best of the marine books.

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