Descent of Angels by Mitchell Scanlon

The next instalment in the ground-breaking Horus Heresy series by Mitchell Scanlon, telling the tale of the civil war that nearly tore the human Imperium apart, ten thousand years ago. The novel explores the dark and mysterious history of the Dark Angels Legion and their Primarch Lion El’Jonson.

When the Imperial fleet rediscovers the planet Caliban, the Emperor is reunited with his missing son the Primarch Lion El’Jonson. As Dark Angels old and new join the Great Crusade, a chain of events is set in motion that will change Caliban, its people, and the Legion forever.

I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for this book and I think I know why. As one of the books in Horus Heresy, Descent of Angels really doesn’t deal a lot with the Heresy itself. I think it would be more apt to call this a pre-Heresy novel.

Maybe at that point in time, Black Library wanted to do something different and decided to show what a pre-Imperium world would look like. For fans coming to this book with the expectation to read all about the Dark Angels’ role in the Heresy, I understand the disappointment. Whereas for me, I’ve always been fascinated by what the Primarchs were like before they met the Emperor so I’m pretty happy with the setting of this book.

The first two thirds of this book depicts what life was like on Caliban before the Emperor arrived. It’s basically a Feudal world with a collection of knights to protect its inhabitants from the vicious beasts in the forests. The book follows Zahariel and his cousin Nemiel as they join The Order and partake in quests to rid every beast from Caliban. Lion and Luther make an appearance here but we are mostly told how great they are through heresay and from Zahariel’s idealisation of those two characters. It would have been more rewarding if the book showed us more of the relationship between the Lion and Luther rather than so much time on the young initiates themselves. Even after reading this book, I couldn’t say I know Lion any better than before.

The last third deals with Caliban’s intergration into the Imperium and the Crusade. Zahariel and the other initiatives are now promoted to full Astartes while some of his older brothers still join the legion but without the full power of a real Astartes. I found it fascinating that fully grown adults can still become part of the legion. I guess Lion just couldn’t abandon some of his most trusted battle brothers.

In the last section we finally get to see some real action from the Dark Angels as a legion. If only this happened sooner, the book might yet be saved from all its scathing attacks!

I’m not sure if Black Library always wanted to tell the Dark Angels’ story in two parts but I feel that it just went too far back and left all the juicy details till the last minute. I think the story would have worked better in a non-linear way with the first section as Zahariel’s flashbacks.

As for the ending, I still don’t quite understand why Lion decided to take Terran born warriors with him on the crusade instead of his Caliban brothers. This book doesn’t make it clear what Lion is thinking most of the time.

This is still an enjoyable book and provides some interesting history of the Dark Angels. The problem is that it just doesn’t fit into the Horus Heresy series. Skip this if you’re looking for a Heresy story but definitely read this if you want to understand the worlds in 40k better.