An interesting, action-packed WH40k novel
The shrine world of Divinatus Prime has become lost to the light of the Astronomican and no ship can piece its veil. Only the Lord of Death himself, Blood Angels Chief Librarian Mephiston, has any hope of discerning the fate of this once pious world. After enacting a powerful blood ritual, Mephiston and an honour guard of his fellow Blood Angels reach the stricken shrine world to find it seized by religious civil war. Each faction fights for dominance of a potent artefact, the Blade Petrific, said to be wrought by the Emperor Himself. Yet there is more at work here than a mere ideological schism, for Mephiston believes Divinatus Prime could offer answers to how he became the Lord of Death, he who resisted the Black Rage, and possibly even a way to end the curse of ‘the Flaw’ in all Blood Angels.
It’s been quite some time since I last read something by Darius Hinks. I enjoyed what little of his work I have read (of particular note: Razumov’s Tomb and Sigvald). I’ve also recently been reading and enjoying a fair number of BL’s Space Marine Heroes/Legends novels. The Blood Angels have always been of interest, but never as much as the mysterious Dark Angels, or Norse/viking-inspired Space Wolves. This changed after I read Guy Haley’s Dante and James Swallow’s Fear to Tread. And so, when I learned that Hinks was writing his own Blood Angels novel, Blood of Sanguinius, my interest was piqued.
There’s a lot to like in this novel, but it is also quite different from many of the others I’ve read that focus on this particular chapter. David Annandale was the first author to write any substantial fiction about Mephiston. But, while I ordinarily very much enjoy Annandale’s fiction, his take on the character didn’t quite click for me (I just can’t figure out why, which is a little frustrating). Hinks takes an interesting approach to the character: melding the patrician aspect of the Blood Angels with the more brutal, horrific aspects of their nature. They are, after all, vampires. Speaking of vampires, while reading Mephiston, I was put in mind of Anne Rice’s vampires. The Angels are “physically perfect”, yet horrific at the same time.
“The black fire was rippling across Mephiston’s skin and Antros’ instinct was to recoil, but Mephiston’s touch was corpse-cold. It was also dreadfully significant, like an accusation.”
One thing that really stands out in Blood of Sanguinius: the big psychic displays. Mephiston is staggeringly powerful, able to wield some truly impressive, pyrotechnic abilities, and conjure etheric wings (a surprising and pretty bad-ass ability). As someone who reads more set in the Horus Heresy era, when the Imperium was still hesitant about psychic displays, this came as a bit of a surprise. Some scenes felt Matrix-esque, as Mephiston deals out an impressive amount of punishment.
The story itself is interesting, too. This is not your typical WH40k novel. A small group of Blood Angels head to Divinatus Prime, led in part by Mephiston’s visions, but also at the urging of some prophets of the Imperial church. It’s a story of corrupted faith; the eternal, tricksy machinations of agents of Chaos; and the fury of the Blood Angels.
We also learn more about Mephiston himself. The only member of the Legion to be afflicted by the Black Rage and come out the other side, his abilities enhanced dramatically. Through the eyes of a young Librarian, we are introduced to Mephiston’s life and duty: he is chief librarian, sure, but he has his own mission as well.
“I have escaped the curse. The tales are true. However furious the fight, the usual hunger does not haunt me – my heart no longer pounds with those terrible lusts. I have escaped the doom of our Chapter. I am unfettered, free to finally prove our nobility. I have the power to avert the grim fate that hangs over us – this slow, gnawing decline, this gradual death.”
Hinks gives us a glimpse of Mephiston’s personal mission, but doesn’t overdo it. There is a fair amount of introspection, but it never rises to the level of adolescent navel gazing. Instead, it’s very well grounded in the setting — the Blood Angels are struggling with their dual nature, and Mephiston is confounded by his survival and recovery. He is determined to save the rest of his legion, to allow the Blood Angels to unlock their full potential. His heightened abilities post-recovery have convinced him that the Angels could do so much more, to reflect even more the perfection of their Primarch. His powers do not appear to be without cost, however, as he also seems to be afflicted by a strange malady: his skin appears to be shrouded in black flames, and as he expends ever-greater amounts of psychic energy, the flames seem to spread further.
Overall, I enjoyed this quite a bit. There were moments that felt just a shade on the excessive side (as if each new action scene has to be bigger and more explosive). I’d be interested in reading another novel about the character by Hinks, to see where he takes him next. I’m just not sure there’s much distance available — if Mephiston succeeds, after all, then the Blood Angels’ greatest weakness (and complexity) would vanish.
If you’re a fan of the chapter, and WH40k fiction in general, then I think you’ll enjoy Mephiston: Blood of Sanguinius.