Angels of Caliban by Gav Thorpe is the latest entry in the saga of The Lion, Primarch of the Dark Angels, as the Heresy continues to unfold.
Always one of the most controversial Primarchs, Lion El’Jonson’s character and motives are explored in greater detail in this book, raising even more questions about his motives while eerily mirroring a lot of real world current events.
The last full novel we had gotten for the Dark Angels was Fallen Angels by Mike Lee several years ago. I actually really enjoyed that book and think it did a decent job at redeeming the Legion from the exploits of Descent of Angels. Unique to the Dark Angels, there have been several authors who have handled them, a new one for each book in fact. Ever since Fallen Angels though Gav Thorpe has been the main driver behind them, writing several short stories. The last time we had seen The Lion was in The Unremembered Empire, where Dan Abnett brought him into the Imperium Secondus storyline. Now he is part of the Imperial Triumvirate alongside Roboute Guilliman and the new Emperor, Sanguinius.
No we said *THE* Lion, not *A* Lion…
As a quick catch up, Guilliman believes that Terra has fallen already and thinks the best chance for their success is to establish a new Imperium on Macragge with Sanguinius as the new Emperor, Guilliman himself in charge of all of the governing, and The Lion in charge of all of the armed forces and defenses of the new realm. Lion El’Jonson is obsessed with hunting down his wayward brother, Konrad Curze, whom he brought to Macragge as a stowaway onboard his fleet. After the climatic events of The Unremembered Empire, The Lion sees the Night Haunter’s continued existence as his own personal failure. Hunting the Night Lords Primarch across Ultramar he is drawn back to the capital planet when news of Konrad’s attack on Sanguinius reaches him. This throws The Lion into a rage, as he sees the fact that Konrad was even able to get so close as a complete and utter failure on Guilliman’s part. He essentially argues the case to declare military law on Macragge so he can secure the planet and prevent the traitor’s escape.
This is where things start to get a little eerie concerning current events. Gav wrote this before any of the major political events of 2016 either in the UK or the US occurred, yet somehow it almost seems like it predicted it. The Dark Angels and their Primarch see security as the ultimate goal, regardless of the consequences. They institute a complete lock down on the planet, freezing many of the civil liberties of the populous, and even disregarding their lives in many cases. A lot of this may not seem that odd for Space Marines, but it’s juxtaposed against Guilliman and the Ultramarines, who have a very different view of the role of Space Marines. There is even a scene where some of the civilians are protesting the unfair treatment by the Dark Angels and it leaves the sons of Caliban completely perplexed and annoyed. They just don’t understand why any mortal would stand up to them and their methods and it’s only thanks to the efforts of a local Macraggian guard that the Dark Angels don’t disperse it by force. At one point The Lion muses on the power his office within the Imperium Secondus now grants him and thinks about how he is the new Warmaster in all but name now.
There has been a lot of speculation about where The Lion’s true loyalties lie during the Heresy for quite some time, and this novel does nothing to endear him to me. While I don’t think he is a traitor, his methods are truly deplorable, and he treats everyone around him who disagrees with him or his methods with complete contempt and disregard. He also has no qualms about manipulating others, including his brothers, and using half truths and lies to achieve what he want. He will find any loophole available to him to bend the law as he sees fit. As the plot on Macragge moves forward his methods become only more severe and result in a fantastic final confrontation between the Primarchs on Macragge that could have ramifications throughout the rest of the Heresy, and even maybe in 40k now with the return of Guilliman. The Lion does have a few redeeming scenes, and he does seem aware of how broken he is, but he does nothing to correct it throughout the book.
Meanwhile, this is interspersed with events back on Caliban as Luther continues to pull the Dark Angels under his command to their ultimate fate. Besides Luther, we also get plenty of time with Zarhariel, Cypher, and fan favorite Astelan. I’m really happy that Gav got to write this book and hopefully will get to write the finale to the Dark Angels story since he started a lot of the speculation and exploration with Astelan in Angels of Darkness more then a decade ago. Not all is sunshine and roses between the conspirators on Caliban though. In fact, they all have their own agendas and plans, which are thrown into disarray or sped up due to the arrival of a contingent of Dark Angels sent back by Corswain to gather reinforcements from their home world. As I was reading these parts it was hard not to think of the Calibanite Dark Angels saying phrases to each other like “Caliban First” or “#NotMyPrimarch.” Again, there is so much that mirrors what is going on in the world right now. The similarities aren’t 100% though, and I definitely sympathize with Luther and his cabal at times. The opening scene of the book is particularly brutal for the adoptive father of The Lion and it really makes you feel for him and dislike the Primarch. In the past Dark Angels books the events on Caliban always played second fiddle for me to what the Primarch was doing during the crusade, but here Gav has really made me feel invested in them. Astelan continues to get fleshed out, with his motives becoming murkier and murkier, throwing a lot of his actions in the 40k timeline into a new light. Though the group of Astelan, Zahariel, Cypher, and Luther will undoubtably be considered traitors by the wider Imperium, their motives for it differ greatly, with, I would say, only one of the group directly influenced by Chaos.
I don’t want to give too much more of the plot away, but the end of the story, both on Macragge and Caliban, leaves me excited for what could come next and very interested to see how things get to the points where we know they end up. This was a super solid story that evoked more emotions and opinions from me then any other Horus Heresy story has yet. No matter what your political opinions are, you can’t help but takes sides in this book and find common ground with one side or the other. This is when Sci-Fi is at it’s best, when it takes real world issues and spins them through the looking glass of, in this case, the 31st millennium. In a universe that we know ends up in a pretty despotic place, it’s refreshing to see people arguing on the side of civil liberties, freedoms, and against the callous disregard of human life. Guilliman remains my favorite Primarch after the spectacular job that Dan Abnett did with him, and now The Lion is drifting towards being one of my most disliked. At least the traitor Primarchs wear their ambitions on their sleeves (now anyway). The Lion hides his brutality under the guise of being “right” and “lawful”, and luckily, people are starting to see through his facade and demand accountability from him. To him there are no means that don’t justify the end, whatever the cost. Sanguinius frustrates me a bit in this as he just takes an apathetic stance on the whole issue and lets his brother’s fight it out instead of stepping in with his power as Emperor.
There are a bunch of good fight scenes as well, just in case you thought it was all politics and dialogue. This includes the climatic fight between Curze and The Lion that you see pictured on the cover, and it fulfills everything that fantastic piece of art promises. This is definitely a must read for the Heresy, the Dark Angels, and the Imperium Secondus story. I don’t think you can skip this book and understand what goes on later. There are also a lot of other books you will need to read before this one to understand what’s going on. I would strongly recommend that you read Descent of Angels, Fallen Angels, the novella The Lion, The Unremembered Empire, and Pharos, at a minimum. Without reading those you’ll be pretty lost and won’t get the full effect of the story. This is definitely my favorite Heresy novel/story from Gav Thorpe and probably up there near the top of my favorite Heresy stories all together. I really like the ones that focus more on the human side of the war and the Primarchs instead of just the battles that are going on. All of the Imperium Secondus stuff is pretty good for this to be honest. Gav does an excellent job with all of the characters here, including all of the Primarchs. Everyone feels distinct, even some of the secondary characters like Holguin of the Deathwing and Farith of the Dreadwing, which we also get to see in action here for the first time. Holguin and Farith even represent two sides of the same coin a bit. Both are ruthless, but one is willing to take that ruthlessness to an extreme that it seems the other is not. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up before the Siege of Terra starts, you won’t be disappointed.
Until next time,
Tyler is a life long painter and hobbyist and took home his first Golden Demon award at the 2012 Chicago Games Day with a follow up at the 2013 North American Games Day. More of his work can be found at his blog, Mengel Miniatures.