Title: Descent of Angels
Author: Mitchel Scanlon
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 29 Sept. 2007
Genre: Science Fiction/War
Source: Personal Collection
“The planet of Caliban exists much as it has for thousands of years – the knightly orders protect the common people, fighting back the beasts that lurk in the depths of the seemingly endless forests. Young Zahariel and Nemiel aspire to join the greatest of the orders, led by the example of mighty Lion El’Jonson and his vision of a peaceful and unified world. But the coming of the Imperium brings new concerns and a new destiny for the Lion as part of the Great Crusade, and the sons of Caliban must decide if they will follow him to glory among the stars.”
As with other Horus Heresy novels, Descent of Angels is part of a paired read with Wordaholic Anonymous and as soon as their review of the 6th offering in the Horus Heresy series goes live, I shall link it here.
Descent of Angels is the 6th book in the Horus Heresy saga and the first to feature the Dark Angels Chapter. The vast majority of the book is a heady introduction to Zahariel – the main character – and the Dark Angels chapter before they became members of the Imperium of Mankind and were known as the Order; under the leadership of Primarch Lion El’Jonson.
First thing to note about Descent of Angels is that it doesn’t follow on directly from the previous book in the series – and the first book to deviate from the main story-arch path. I found this somewhat irregular, but remembered it from my first reading of the book, but I have the same question on my mind now as I did upon first completion; what is this book bringing to the table in the grand scheme of Horus Heresy?
Descent of Angels is certainly a book of two halves (Or more, the quarters and… the rest) the first section of the book follows the backstory of Zahariel and shows us the world of Caliban before it has been brought to compliance by the Imperium. It’s more of a fantasy style novel detailing the knights of the Order (Early Dark Angels) and how certain individuals rise in the ranks of knighthood. I admit, I rather enjoyed the tale of Calibans residents and their struggles. The relationship between Zahariel and his fellows was a little lackluster but enjoyable none-the-less, but there was something of an over explanation of the ‘sibling rivalry’ between Zahariel and his cousin; Nemiel. As if being told that they pushed one another to better things but were rivals was a difficult concept to grasp and the reader needed reminding every time one of Calibans trials effected one of the cousins. It was a little grating to have this forced on me like I’m an idiot and needed to read about it more than once!
While I enjoyed aspects of the novel – the fantasy elements – I did find Lion El’Jonson a little flat during the scenes in which he was involved. Seeing as in previous installments of the Horus Heresy the Primarchs are lauded as these unstoppable, charismatic beings I felt that Lion didn’t quite live up to the same standard as his fellow Primarchs. I found that other key ‘hero’ type characters (Luther) had more bearing than Lion did, which is unfortunate seeing as Lion is the leader & Primarch of the First Legion. Also the constant prefix of ‘the’ before his name got on my nerves – but this is a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things.
Descent of Angels picks up in pace in the last quarter of the novel. We finally have Space Marines and a Science-Fiction element to the novel and it feels like things are finally getting ‘back on track’ but it’s also a bit of a case of ‘too-little, too-late.’ The Dark Angel Astartes (Of which Zahariel and his rival cousin) are sent to Sarosh to relieve the White Scars of a tiresome, bureaucratic compliance – seeing as this is the first time we’re meeting the White Scars in the Horus Heresy I was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t learn more about them than what was offered. Something predictable goes wrong and the Dark Angels finally get to make (a very short) war on the resisting Saroshi – honestly, this part of the book was meant to be something of a saving grace compared to the rest, but it was short-lived and honestly didn’t answer many/any of the questions that arose during the earlier section of the novel.
I know there is a follow-up book to Descent of Angels and I am looking forward to seeing if this offers more insight to the Dark Angels and their role in the wider Horus Heresy story. I feel that despite the rambling prose and repetition a lot was left unsaid. Lion El’Jonson remains as mysterious at the end of the story to the beginning and I’d actually really like to read a novel in which he is the central figure; not some ‘rising star’ that showed little in the ways of development (Other than the obvious and predictable)
Descent of Angels gives a decent introduction to life on Caliban before the arrival of the Imperium and while it won’t be to everyones cup of tea (I men, this is a Science Fiction novel, not a fantasy) I found elements of it enjoyable – hunting down big beasts with nothing but a horse, your sword and your wits is a fun romp – but as a novel in the Horus Heresy series I don’t see the point in it. It adds absolutely nothing of value, no real insight to the key-players that have already been established (They aren’t even mentioned!) and I can only hope that the follow-up Dark Angels book has something of relevance to add that’ll make it a lot more enjoyable to read.