With news of Horus’s treachery spreading across the galaxy, the Great Crusade grinds to a halt as the Primarchs and their Legions decide where their loyalty lies – with the Emperor, or with the rebel Warmaster. The Dark Angels, too, face a time of testing, both among the stars and on their home world Caliban. Luther, once Lion El’Jonson’s trusted second-in-command, now languishes as an exile in all but name while his master struggles to thwart the traitors’ advance upon the forge world Diamat. But an ancient evil gathers its strength beneath the surface of Caliban, and the First Legion will soon be thrust into a deadly conflict where all that they know will be cast into doubt.
Fallen Angels is the 11th book in the long-running Horus Heresy series and part of my paired/buddy read with Dave over at Wordaholic Anonymous. As ever, I am grateful to have someone accompanying me on the mammoth task that is this series! I shall link his review of Fallen Angels here, once it has been written.
Fallen Angels follows on from the Dark Angels novel Descent of Angels which appears earlier on in the Horus Heresy series. It follows the path of some of the same characters that feature in Descent of Angels and directly continues the story of said characters; albeit a bit further on from when we last saw them.
Librarian Zahariel, Luther and a good handful of the Dark Angels are sent back to their home-world Caliban to watch over the forced industrialisation process that the Imperium has brought with it. While Lion El’Jonson, Chaplain Nemiel and his fellows are fighting Horus’ rebel forces around and on the world Diamat.
Essentially, Fallen Angels follows two threads of story, those of the Dark Angels on the home world of Caliban and those fighting by the Primarchs side. These threads do not intertwine with one another other than the characters, Zahariel and Nemiel, thinking about one another. Each of the stories comes to their own conclusions in the end and they are both well considered and have their own impacts on the Horus Heresy as a whole – which makes me feel a lot better about Descent of Angels in hindsight.
My biggest gripe with Descent of Angels was the lack of feeling it fit into the Horus Heresy as none of the hard work that had gone into the Horus Heresy had any impact on the first book, but that was remedied with Fallen Angels. News of Horus’ treachery against the Imperium is spreading and becoming common knowledge; the Primarchs are all picking their sides and everything is starting to fall into place with the key players. Fallen Angels advances this notion, but also draws on events that have happened in previous books in the series also, specifically, Mechanicum. It is a well rounded offering; despite it’s split plot-line, that advances the overall plot of the Horus Heresy.
The two plots allow the tension to build between chapters as they alternate and lets the author leave the characters on a cliffhanger – which happens regularly – this helps build the pace of the novel as it progresses. This really aided Fallen Angels as it started off somewhat slowly, despite there being a lot of action. It felt somewhat ponderous during the first half of the novel, mostly due to the space-battles around Diamat which felt a little lacklustre compared to the rest of the novel. Once the Dark Angels got onto the ground and the crux of the conflict was revealed this section of the story picked up and the pacing felt easier to contend with.
Personally, I felt the story centring around the Calibanite Dark Angles was the more enjoyable arc. The story on Diamat was certainly more your run-of-the-mill gun-fight, which has it’s merits. However the story involving inner-conflict and questionable loyalties upon Caliban was one that I gravitated towards. This is due to the Black Library reads the ones I enjoy more are the ones that have more than just bolter-shots and explosions.
One of the things I found of particular interest is how personable Lion El’Jonson isn’t. With all the other Primarch they seem to be revered with over-arching awe, but when Lion is spoken too – there is admiration there, naturally – but it is noted that it is Luther, his second-in-command, that has the presence and personality to unite. Lion is a masterful tactician and this part of him is presented well but in the personality department he is somewhat, intentionally, lacking. I found his aloof, secretive nature to be well-presented throughout Fallen Angels and the scenes in which he warms to Brother-Redemptor Nemiel are intriguing; it’ll be interesting to see if this relationship continues.
Contrast to Lion El’Jonsons anti-social nature there is Luther, the man he has banished to Caliban. There are secrets and atrocities on the Caliban home world and I have my doubts that anyone other than Luther could conceal them to the same extent due to the characters magnetism. The chemistry between Lion El’Jonson and Luther was what made them so successful together, apart… who knows where their paths lie. But it is obvious to see there is tension and resentment between the active Dark Angels fighting for the Imperium as they are meant too and those left behind to rot.
I found some of the secondary characters enjoyable, such as the dry-humoured Brother Sergeant Kohl and grim-faces Attias (Who also featured in Descent of Angels) these characters offered light relief from the heavier, brooding main characters and I am grateful for their inclusion otherwise Fallen Angels might have been a bit too heavy in the emotions department.
Fallen Angels does answer some of the questions that are left in the readers mind after Descent of Angels, only to replace them with more questions in their wake. As with the previous Dark Angels book I do hope that there is another in the Horus Heresy series that helps to bring all the loose-ends together and help tie them off properly (even if it is in some vague-secretive way that expected from the Dark Angels.)
I’d also like to give particular mention to the epilogue which made me smile with acute irony – something to look forward to right at the end. But, I don’t want to spoil it for those yet to read the book.
[EDIT] There was something I forgot to mention and was reminded of upon reading Daves review. There is a section in Fallen Angels that was startlingly familiar to the movie Aliens; there’s a species of Xenos in Fallen Angels that brings forth H.R.Giger-esque imagery to the mind but there is a full chapter dedicated to the plot of Aliens. Zahariel and his kin are sent to an outpost with which they have lost contact. Upon arrival no trace of the residents can be seen – no bodies. They are discovered by the use of a ‘computer’ all together. The heroes go to investigate underneath a reactor and are attacked by Xenos coming out of the walls, only to discover that the humans are being used as hosts to breed more of the aliens via the use of a Queen. I am a big fan of the Aliens franchise and at the time of reading this sib-plot really reminded me of the movie. I am still unsure how I feel about this being so blatant in the book as it might be my bias that is making the connections between the two.
Despite a slow start Fallen Angels is an action-packed read with thrilling scenes aplenty. A book that answers as many questions as it creates. The secondary characters are as enjoyable as the main one and there is just enough intrigue amongst the action to keep the two story threads interesting.