REVIEW: Dante by Guy Haley
This novel is so much more than that though and I was blown away by the surprising angles taken to explore the Lord of Angels.
Dante by Guy Haley is part of a series of ongoing explorations of well known characters within the Warhammer 40k setting, and I’ll admit, I thought it was just going to be a simple bolter filled Space Marine story at first. It’s so, so much more than that though and I was blown away by the surprising angles taken to explore the Lord of Angels and the excellent writing.
I was lucky enough to have been sent the limited edition version by Black Library, and the cover on this is pretty cool. It’s a faux leather effects, with a bunch of Blood Angel iconography all over it. If you’re a fan of the regular cover art though, don’t worry, because it’s printed on an interior page, so you still get to enjoy it. The limited edition version also has a forward from the author, which I always find pretty interesting, as well as a short story involving one of the Blood Angels’ past High Chaplains on a “diplomatic” mission to one of their successor Chapters’ home worlds. It’s a pretty cool little story, and gives you a bit more backstory to a throwaway line later in the book, but isn’t essential for enjoying Dante.
The main story itself is actually split up into two separate storylines, one of which takes place at the end of the 41st millennium with the Blood Angels reeling from the Tyranid onslaught in the Cryptus system near Baal, and the other following Dante from before he was even a recruit within the Chapter. I was utterly enthralled by the story following young Dante, who went by Luis before joining the ranks of the Blood Angels. We meet him as a child, about 1,500 years ago (remember, Dante is the oldest living Space Marine in the galaxy) on Baal Secondus, one of the moons that the Chapter recruits from. There are some really cool insights into the culture of the moons of Baal and how they perceive the world. Baal Secondus is a blasted wasteland, devastated by nuclear war even before the arrival of Sanguinius. As such, the humans who live there have a hard life, and Luis’ is even harder than others. He’s part of a nomadic tribe that scours the salt wastes for salt deposits. Oh yeah, the salt wastes used to be this moon’s oceans. It’s not often we get to see a Space Marine back when they’re a normal human, and here we even get to see Luis’ family. One fateful night he decides that his destiny lies with the Blood Angels, and steals off into the dark against his father’s wishes to head to the testing grounds.
Over the course of his journey we see just how hard life is on Baal Secondus, but he also makes some friends along the way. Once they arrive at Angel’s Fall, a spar of rock they must jump off of to glide miles to the testing grounds on pairs of homemade “wings,” things get even more intense. Over the rest of the book we get to see Luis Dante endure the various trials of the Blood Angels and eventually we start moving forward in the timeline, so we can see him as a Scout, a Battle Brother, a Company Captain, and eventually his accession to Chapter Master. Those last few parts though are generally only about a chapter a piece, so most of our time is spent with him venturing to the trials and competing to become a Blood Angel. I could read a whole book just about this. I’ll admit, there were times when there was a bit of a young adult vibe to this chunk of story, but I think that’s just because we are so used to stories about teenagers in post apocalyptic worlds, and Baal Secondus is most definitely a post apocalyptic world. Also, keep in mind, Luis is only about 11 or 12 for this, since that’s the age that Space Marines recruit at.
The story in the 41st millennium opens up with the closing battle on Cryptus, as the Blood Angels are forced to retreat, but not before rescuing as many people as they can, and then blasting the planet from orbit. This is the most “typical” battle in the book, the kind you may be used to from Black Library Space Marine stories. After that, most of our time is spent with Dante as he tries to figure out what he must do to ensure the survival of his Chapter. The main fleet begins its journey back to Baal, and along the way we get to see several important meetings, as well as a visit from the Sanguinor, a rather important and prophetic figure in Dante’s life. The most fascinating parts of this storyline though, at least to me, is when we get quieter, more reflective moments with Dante. He’s a 1,500 old Space Marine, and he’s starting to show it. It’s a little shocking at first to hear a Marine described as being old, but it’s happening to him. In fact, at this point he barely removes his helmet around others anymore since he doesn’t want them to think less of him for his age. Keep in mind, that he probably only looks like he’s in his 60s or something, but that’s fairly old looking considering most Marines stop visibly aging around the 40 year mark.
My favorite bits are when he’s talking with his personal serf, a man who is well into old age himself, but still much younger than Dante. The bond they share is something unique for a Space Marine, and he’s one of the few people that Dante trusts enough to let his guard down around. The humanity Dante shows makes for a great read, and I really grew to like him over the course of this book. Perhaps it is the advancing storyline and the introduction of the Primaris Marines, but I’m starting to become a lot more invested in these older Space Marine characters, like Dante, Calgar, and Grimnar. I can’t wait to see how Guy Haley’s version of Dante deals with the changes in the galaxy, and luckily, we’ll get to see just that with his follow up book, The Devastation of Baal. This will mostly deal with the Tyranid assault, but I hope at the end we will get to see the arrival of Guilliman and the Indomitus Crusade. It’s interesting to think that Guilliman is really only around 300 – 400 years old since he had been in stasis for 10,000 years. This makes Dante much more experienced than the Primarch. It’ll be an interesting dynamic to see for sure.
There are several action scenes in here, but the main focus is definitely Dante as a character. The transformation of Luis from Baal Secondus into Dante the Chapter Master is entirely convincing, and at several points, slightly heart breaking. They really must sacrifice so much to become Space Marines, and the choices they are presented with are pretty horrible. The supporting cast of characters in the trials storyline is great, and you really grow to like all of them, even Lorenz, who at first you’ll probably strongly dislike. It’s sad to think about how all of Dante’s friends from his recruitment days are all dead by the 41st millennium, leaving him truly alone and isolated. It’s probably the best character study I have seen in a 40k novel alongside Guilliman in Dark Imperium, which is also written by Guy Haley. I was not expecting this novel to be anywhere as good as it is, but wow, I was really blown away by it. This has definitely got to be one of my favorite 40k novels now. The amount of depth that is given to Dante, both in his adolescence and in the twilight of his life, is pretty amazing. I highly, highly recommend you give this a read, even if you’re not a fan of the Blood Angels. I would even say this is a great book to recommend to someone who isn’t entirely familiar with Warhammer 40,000. Luis’ progression through the trials to become a Blood Angel is a great introduction to just how grim dark the galaxy has become. Now, I must resist the urge to paint my Primaris Marines red.
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.