Although Descent of Angels is the sixth book in the Horus Heresy series from The Black Library the story itself is really more of a prequel to the Heresy timeline. Those looking forward to reading about what happens next with Horus and the Imperium of Man will possibly be frustrated by this fact but if you are willing to take this book for what it is, a stand-alone book that tells the origin story of the Dark Angels Space Marines, this is a very enjoyable read.
I decided to read this book directly after reading Horus Rising because I knew it was a prequel and because I wanted to know more about the Dark Angels in preparation for the Savage Worlds Campaign we here at the Goblin
Beat will soon be playing. As such I went into reading this book with a clear understanding of what I was getting myself into and more than a little excited to read about the origins of one of my favorite Space Marine Chapters. Like Horus Rising this book is told from the perspective of a relatively minor player in the overall story of the Dark Angels, this time a young man named Zahariel.
The majority of this book takes place on the world of Caliban, and is more post-apocalyptic fantasy than science fiction. The book opens with the story of how Zahariel is accepted as an Aspirant to The Order, a knightly organization run by Lion El’Jonson and Luther. The Lion is already a giant of a man and leads The Order in fighting the Great Beasts, creatures mutated by the Warp or some other power into man-killing beasts of mythical power.
The turning point in the story comes when the Imperium arrives on Caliban and the Lion finds out that he is in fact not a normal man but a Primarch, created by the Emperor of Mankind to lead his Adeptus Astartes (Space Marines) and from who’s very genetic code new Space Marines would be modeled. Here Zahariel is brought fully into the world of Warhammer 40k and the world of Caliban is forever changed from a world covered in trees and home to knights to the home-world of the Dark Angels.
The author does a good job showing the relationship between Luther and El’Jonson and mirroring that relationship with Zahariel and his cousin Nemiel. Both relationships are a blend of brotherhood with an undercurrent of jealousy that slowly erodes.
There is a genuine sense of loss at the end of the story as Luther is sent away in what amounts to exile on Caliban where he and a selected group of Dark Angels are to oversee the training of new Space Marines. This schism sets the stage for the eventual destruction of Caliban and the loss of the Lion.
I truly enjoyed the depictions of Caliban and the humanity given to all of the main characters. It was interesting to see a Primarch trying to live life as a normal man with no understanding of his true origins or destiny and then to see him lifted up to the purpose for which he was created.
As with the first book I read in this series I found myself excited to read more. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Space Marines, especially the Dark Angels. This novel does more to give background and depth to the overall Horus story than it does moving the actual story forward, so for those only interested in the core Horus Heresy story-line it would be okay to skip this novel but I would urge you to at least give it a chance.