Two recent novels of the Blood Angels
The Blood Angels are probably one of the most popular Space Marine chapters/legions (depending on the timeline in which you’re reading). In these two novels — one a stand-alone, the other a middle-volume in a trilogy — we learn more about some of the central, legendary characters. Specifically, Commander Dante and Chief Librarian Mephiston. We are also given a glimpse at the Blood Angels’ psyche, and their eternal struggle against the Flaw. I enjoyed both of them.
Let’s begin with The Devastation of Baal. The first novel in Black Library’s Space Marine Conquests series, it pits the might of the Blood Angels and their successors against the ravenous, apparently unstoppable Hive Fleet Leviathan. Here’s the synopsis:
The Blood Angels Chapter and their successors mount a desperate defence of their home world of Baal from the predations of the tyranid hive fleet Leviathan.
After a brutal campaign in the Cryptus System fighting the alien tyranids, Lord Dante returns to Baal to marshal the entire Blood Angels Chapter and their Successors against Hive Fleet Leviathan. Thus begins the greatest conflict in the history of the sons of Sanguinius. Despite a valiant battle in the void around Baal, the Blood Angels are unable to stop the tyranids drawing ever closer, but their petitions for reinforcements are met with dread news. The Cadian Gate, the Imperium’s most stalwart bastion against Chaos, has fallen. In their darkest hour, no help will reach the beleaguered Dante and his warriors. Is this truly then the Time of Ending?
Haley manages to pack a lot into this novel. Perhaps to a fault — through the eyes of a number of Space Marines (famous, infamous, and new) we get a glimpse at the character of the Blood Angels and their successor chapters. Many of the former have deviated from the original Blood Angel template in myriad different ways, adopting certain characteristics of the Founders and forging their own paths along the road of Imperial conquest and war. Some have embraced anger and fury (Flesh Tearers most infamously), while others have leaned more into Sanguinius’s grace and diplomatic aspects. We see clashes between these different approaches, and long enmities boil over at times. It is up to Dante, possibly the oldest Space Marine ever, to bring these disparate forces together in order to face the oncoming Tyranid fleet.
All of them, however, must also contend with the ever-present threat of the Flaw, each warrior careful to avoid succumbing to the Thirst. As the novel progresses, we learn that a long-time antagonist of the Blood Angels — the ancient bloodthirster K’Banda — is attempting to break through into the real world, taking advantage of the newly opened rift following the fall of Cadia. (This is all explained in the various WH40k game supplements, but aren’t necessary for enjoying this novel — Haley provides enough exposition for all readers.) The daemon’s influence over the Blood Angels is considerable, and his presence has a tendency to tip the Sons of Sanguinius over the edge and into the Black Fury.
One of the most interesting aspects of the novel, for me, was the portrayal and explanations of the Tyranids, and how they operate, function, and basically exist. The bioengineering, the hive mind and its ability to fracture, (re-)coalesce, and be disrupted are all engagingly portrayed in the novel. It made me realize that I haven’t read much fiction featuring the aliens. Haley does a really good job with this side of the story.
The novel is brutal. The sheer amount of destruction wrought on the Baal system is incredible, and even though we sort-of know how the novel will have to end, Haley keeps us guessing on the path he is going to take to get there. Sure, there were times when the pacing dipped, and it’s possible the novel could have been tightened up a bit more. However, for long-time readers of WH40k fiction, there is a wealth of new content and understanding to be gleaned from The Devastation of Baal.
Next up, Darius Hinks’s Mephiston: Revenant Crusade, which picks up the story begun in Blood of Sanguinius, and takes place after the events of The Devastation of Baal.
As the Great Rift tears the galaxy apart, portents and darkness beset Mephiston. At the time when he needs his psychic sight the most, the Chief Librarian’s powers are rendered blind by some inexplicable force.
Haunted by the ghosts of the damned, their purpose unclear, Mephiston takes his ship the Blood Oath and the Blood Angels in his charge to the world of Morsus where he believes source of his psychic blindness is to be found. But Morsus is embroiled in conflict too, a longstanding struggle between the Imperium and some of its most ancient foes called the Revenant Crusade.
Hinks’s Mephiston stories are among the best to feature this character. The only Blood Angel to overcome the Thirst, he emerged as something… other. A prodigious psyker, he has acquired near-godlike powers. Space Marines are always somewhat alien to read about — their gargantuan size, supra-human nature ensures a good amount of distance between them and their human allies. Mephiston is something even more distant, inhuman, and aloof. Even his allies and closest confidantes wonder about his nature, and just what he has become. (This is a theme that crops up in The Devastation of Baal, too.) Hinks doesn’t provide answers for this mystery, but does give us plenty of glimpses of Mephiston’s extraordinary power, internal struggles, and fractured psyche.
I don’t think this novel was as strong as the first in the series, but partly because of a structural decision taken by the author: the antagonists on Morsus, the Necrons, only appear in the story about halfway through. They’re an interesting faction (ageless automatons, many of whom are suffering from cognitive deterioration and delusion), but one that, for me, can overstay its welcome. The writing remains strong, as does the characterization of the primary and secondary characters. The pacing was also rather good, and I didn’t struggle to remain engaged.
I’m looking forward to reading the third volume in the series, City of Light, which I hope to do so very soon.
Both of these novels are must-reads for Blood Angels fans; and I would also recommend them to anyone who’s interested in learning a bit more about the esoteric aspects of the WH40k universe.
Both The Devastation of Baal and Mephiston: Revenant Crusade are out now, published by Black Library.