Monday, April 01, 2013

Booknote: Descent of Angels

Scanlon, Mitchel, Descent of Angels. Nottingham (UK): Black Library, 2007.

ISBN: 978-1-84416-508-7

Genre: Science fiction
Subgenre: Military Science Fiction
Series: The Horus Heresy, Book 6 (Warhammer 40,000)

After a very good run with the first five books, the Horus Heresy series just falls flat with this one. Descent of Angels was a real disappointment after the solid story, good pacing, and heavy action of the previous volumes. This volume just dragged on and on and on. It is a pity really because the premise behind it is pretty good: a view of the time before the heresy and before the unification of the Imperium of Man. Unfortunately, the delivery is awfully slow, and to be honest, much of the book is just boring.

The book can be divided into three major parts: the time before the arrival of the Astartes and the Emperor; the arrival of the Imperium, and the integration of Caliban into the Imperium and of many of the Caliban knights into the First Legion, which becomes known as the Dark Angels. If you are a fan of the Dark Angels, I bet you were looking forward to reading this book. I think only really hardcore fans will get into it. More casual readers like me can safely skip it because the book contributes little to the Horus Heresy. Even as a standalone fantasy novel, which is what this is for most of the book, from the first part to about middle of the second part, it is not that good of a fantasy novel neither. You see, before the Emperor arrived, Caliban was your basic feudal medieval kind of world. The knights have some enhancements in terms of armor and weapons, due to their long forgotten Terran origins, but aside from that, we are looking at castles and knights. We see the events in the novel through the eyes of Zahariel, a young boy who first becomes an aspirant to knighthood in The Order, one of various knight's orders and the one that will come to prominence.

Over time, he rises to knighthood, and in time, when the Astartes and the Imperium arrives, he will become an Astartes, and a special one at that for it turns out his gift of being able to read people easily is due to him being a latent psyker, so he will become an Astartes Librarian. Personally, I love Astartes librarians, but by the time in the novel I got to that part, I already did not care for the novel overall. You see, to get there, you get almost 220 pages or so of the medieval stuff which is basically the story of boy goes to knight school and succeeds. C'mon, you really did not think he would fail, right? It's the usual knight apprentice stuff done in other fantasies, and it is probably done better elsewhere. Scanlon delivers it in the slowest, most boring way possible. To be honest, the first two hundred pages or so can be skimmed or mostly skipped, and you would not lose much in the story. When you have a novel that you can safely skip big chunks of it without losing much, that is not a good sign.

In addition, this is supposed to be the tale of the lost primarch, Lion'el Jonson, who is to become primarch of the Dark Angels. However, we get to see very little of him in the novel until the last stages of the novel, even though the Prelude of the novel promises that this is his tale. So, that was another delivery failure. Plus, since the novel has to connect with the series, the ending naturally is left open and vague as the Dark Angels are divided. Some are to continue on the Great Crusade, and a few are sent back to Caliban to help train new Astartes. As the Great Crusade is just getting started, you are nowhere near the heresy events yet. So the novel serves mostly to fill background information, and to be honest, I would have kept mostly the part starting with the Imperium arriving on Caliban and tossing out the rest that came before. Overall, the book just does not really feel like a Horus Heresy book. Towards the latter part, it seems to give it lip service, but there is nothing terribly substantial to add to the series. If anything, the latter stuff could have maybe been executed as a longer novella. This 412-page book was about 250 pages or so too long.  If I had picked up this book as my first foray into the Horus Heresy, I probably would not have kept on reading it. Knowing there can be good books in the series, I am willing to take a chance and keep going. However, I do not recommend this one unless the Dark Angels happen to be your favorite WH40K Space Marines or you are a completist who feels a need to read all of the series. Casual readers can skip this one and move on to the next one.

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