Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Descent of Angels

This one has been out for a few years but I just got around to reading it. My resurgence of interest in the boys in black (no green here) has me digging through everything that's out there on them.

This is a "30K" novel meaning it is set before the current era of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The main character is a squire in a knightly order on the planet of Caliban, which will become known as the homeworld of the Dark Angels chapter of the space marines. At the time of the story it is a pre-spacelfight world, having lost contact with earth after being colonized many many years before. Technology has regressed to the point that the knights wear armor and ride horses though they do have low tech firearms. The story follows the main character and some supporting characters, including primarch Lion El'Jonson, through several years where the main character progresses to knighthood, their order fights another, and great quests are undertaken and completed. Late in the book contact is reestablished and a lot changes in a very short period of time for the characters and their world.

I notice over the years that my book reviews have gotten shorter as I don;t think a typical game-fiction paperback really needs all that detailed of an analysis. Continuing the trend, I'll keep this short: I liked it.

To expand a bit:

The Good

  • It's a look at the roots of a space marine chapter before they were a chapter
  • The majority of the book is a exploration of a knightly order on a world where technology has regressed and that's not something I see everyday. There's no worship of old tech, more of a "well things aren't as good as they were in the old days" type of attitude. It's refreshing as a different take on things.
  • Late in the book the Imperials arrive and this leads to a nice picture of the way things were when the Emporium was at it's height. It's a tremendous contrast with the attitude of the "modern" era in 40K.
  • Pacing is good, the characters are interesting enough if a bit bland.
  • Lots of shades of gray in parts of the book, even in this "golden age" story. Makes it feel more real and less of a fairy tale.
The Bad
  • The primarch figures fairly prominently but I would have liked more of how and why he does what he does and the effect he has on others.
  • I felt the same about Luther - he is a crucial figure in the history of the Dark Angels and I felt the book barely scratched the surface of his character as well.
  • The part of the book after the imperials arrive felt truncated. Most of the time I feel like writers of modern series need more editing, not less. In this case I wanted more, to the point I think this could have been two books - one about the pre-Imperial era and story, and one covering the arrival and transition to an imperial world on a war footing and the knights transition into space marines. 
Who might like this book? Well, if you play Dark Angels in 40K you should really already have this and if you do not go get it! Other fans of 40k's Imperial Space Marines in general might like reading about one chapter's transition from primitive to modern. Fans of 40K in general who want to read a novel of the old days without all of that civil war/Horus Heresy stuff will enjoy it as well.

Again, it's not a revolutionary novel but I liked it and it's worth the read if you're at all interested in the subject matter.

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