For a while, I’ve found space marines to be the least interesting faction in Warhammer 40k. They are quite often reduced to big men with guns and swords that bash up the rest of the galaxy. There’s a lot of ‘my brother!’ and their chapter specific lore is quite dense for a newcomer. This meant that while I’ve enjoyed space marine heavy books like Dark Imperium and The Horus Heresy series, they have rarely been for the space marine-y bits. Dark Imperium for the Death Guard and Nurgle and The Horus Heresy for this ever expanding conflict that shows the fall of the Primarchs. Both have interesting characters but never has a space marine story grabbed me and made me pay attention. And then there was Dante, which completely changed my opinion of space marines, especially the Blood Angels.
Dante is the story of the man who would go on to become the Chapter Master of the Blood Angels and one of the oldest most revered Astartes of all time. We follow his journey from boyhood and flash forward to the present as he rallies his chapter and other sons of Sanguinius to fight off the Tyranid horde invading their home planets. Swapping between the two timelines works excellently as it shows the distance and years Dante has travelled. This makes the struggles he goes through in his youth all the more important as you see each adding towards the man he will become.
So far so glowing, but before I go on I want to get my criticism out of the way. Firstly, we start this book with the Blood Angels working with the Necrons, which is very confusing. There is a short story, Word of the Silent King, that explains why this truce happened but none of that is explained in this book. This means that the start of the story is a bit off putting as you aren’t given context for the events that are happening. However, it isn’t a major part of the book and doesn’t last very long so make sure to push past this section.
Secondly, the post Dante becoming a neophyte section is a bit too blow by blow. What I mean by this is that rather than having impactful battles or character filled moments, the book falls back on “and then he shot a gun” style storytelling. This is such a shame for a story that up until this point has been so laser focussed on Dante’s character and hasn’t worried about not having enough explosions. While this final part Dante’s journey isn’t bad, it is a noticeable departure from the previous sections.
Alright, now back to the good parts. Watching Dante, or Luis as he was known as a child, grow and seeing that drive to fight for the Emperor humanises this character to an extent that I wasn’t expecting. Before experiencing Dante (the book), I glossed over the Astartes as burly men with guns, but thanks to this book I see so much more. I’d never thought of the Astartes as children who were taught to fight from a young age and steadily moulded into fighters. You normally only see the end result, so watching Dante’s journey gave me a newfound respect for the angry men with guns.
Jokes aside, Dante’s story is reminiscent of classic fantasy books. He’s a low born child with no reason to strive for greatness and yet he does. He shows that he has the mental fortitude (and occasional plot armour) to succeed and ends up becoming the hero of the story. And when you throw in the Blood Angels flaw of having to drink blood and the danger of falling victim to the black rage, then you have some excellent consequences to fighting – the thing they are designed to do.
The story of Luis, Dante, is fantastic. It got me to change my mind about space marines and almost got me to start an Astartes army. It also builds up to a major conflict with the Tyranids in Devastation of Baal by centring on the man who is drawing all the Blood Angel Successor Chapters to him in defence of their home. It humanises Dante and gives us a peek beneath the golden mask. It often doesn’t ‘feel’ like a Warhammer 40,000 story in all the best ways but at the same time remains true to this ongoing narrative and ties everything back to present Dante and his upcoming battle.
Thanks for reading. While I’m finally starting to like Space Marines, I’ve always liked Chaos Space Marines and Talon of Horus is an fantastic showcase of why, so go read that review. Alternatively, why not check out our Battlefleet Gothic: Armada review.
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