Publisher: Black Library
Series: Legacy of Caliban (#1-3)
Genre: Grimdark SF
Publication Date: 2018
For ten thousand years the Dark Angels have guarded a devastating secret, that members of their own chapter are among mankind’s greatest foes. Now, as the Fallen make their move, that secret is in danger of being revealed . . .
On the face of it, I shouldn’t enjoy a book about the Dark Angels. On the one hand, they are Space Marines, the archetypal Big Stompy Hero that I have never had any time for. On the other hand (which looks a lot like the first) they are edgelords even by the standards of Warhammer. Obsessed with their own shameful secrets, stalking around the battlefield in robes, brooding a lot. A Dark Angel is essentially a collection of tropes that annoy me. Given all that, you might be wondering why I read this book. After all, nine hundred and forty pages is no small commitment. The answer is twofold. First, I wanted to expand my knowledge of Warhammer 40,000, and that means delving into parts of the setting I’ve previously overlooked. Secondly, this book is by Gav Thorpe. If anyone can make a band of brooding edgelords interesting, it’s him. You only need to look at his work with Warhammer Fantasy’s Dark Elves in The Sundering trilogy for evidence of that. And you know what? I enjoyed this book a whole lot more than I expected to.
Thorpe’s writing grabs you from the start, and it helps that the opening volume of this trilogy is the best. It’s a lot more accessible than some of the other books I’ve been reading lately, being action-centred and with a plot that’s nice and easy to follow. Especially coming off the back of the Ahriman trilogy, it’s refreshing to have a plot that’s linear. Yes, things become more complicated in books two and three, but Ravenwing is a fast and furious read. I was surprised by how little some of my peeves about Warhammer 40,000 bothered me here. Superhuman soldiers in mech suits? Why, here we get to see a little depth as to what it’s actually like to wear one. Said superhumans riding motorbikes into battle? Sure, I’ll go for it. Legacy of Caliban treads a fine line between the ridiculousness of the setting and the gritty realities of war.
There are faults however, and they’re substantial. As the novels progress, the plot becomes more twisted, and for someone who’s not overly invested in the setting, the big reveals fail to land. The fusion of science and magic at the heart of Warhammer 40,000 is the one part of the setting I’ll never get on with, and any time it comes up I’m liable to start losing interest, which was sadly the case here. But that’s a personal issue with the genre as a whole. On a more general level, I found that a lot of the characters weren’t terribly distinct from one another. It makes sense in-universe that an army bred for war would be similar in outlook (like the clones in Star Wars) but in a narrative sense it means that the protagonists are largely interchangeable. Couple that with names that sound alike, and there were times I briefly forgot who I was reading about.
Overall though, Legacy of Caliban is one of the better Space Marine omnibuses out there, proof that even the worst archetypes ca n provide some interesting stories, and I’d be tempted to pick up another Dark Angels book if Gav Thorpe was at the helm.