Fallen Angels by Mike Lee, much like the Legion it follows, is both good and bad. On one hand, the storyline on Caliban is nuanced and interesting. And on the other, we follow the Lion on Diamat and that one is bland and predictable. Like two sides of the same coin, one seems to require the other. And while I’ve never been a massive fan of the Dark Angels, the space fantasy western vibe they give off goes a long way. So is Fallen Angels a worthwhile follow up to Descent of Angels? Let’s take a closer look.
Fallen Angels picks up after the events of Descent of Angels and is set between the events of Istvaan III and V. The Lion is suspicious of Luther and Zahariel, so has shipped them back to Caliban under the pretence of training more Astartes. Lion El’ Johnson and Nemiel continue on to Diamat, a forge world, after learning of Horus Lupercal’s betrayal. Throughout this plotline, the Dark Angels have to deal with the local residents and Mechanicum forces based on Diamat to help repel Horus’s troops and reclaim the world for the Imperium. However, what plays out is a fairly standard story of shooty bangs with a few predictable twists and turns. If you like your Warhammer books to be all about shooting guns and taking names, this plot will appeal to you. But for most, I imagine these parts will leave you wanting more depth and eager to see the book move back to Caliban. I will, however, admit that the ending of this strand is fantastic and builds nicely into the wider Heresy.
Back on Caliban, things are completely different. Here Zahariel has to temper political unrest as the planet sees rebellions springing up and Chaos worming its way into the people of Caliban. This plotline is by far the most interesting, as you steadily uncover the truth behind the uprisings and how Luther and Zahariel are going to fit into the events to follow. You are constantly left guessing and excited to find more. There’s a lot less action, but still enough at the right times to keep you hooked. The action feels more earnt and built up while following Zahariel because of the time we’ve spent getting to know the world of Caliban. This story feels more important because of the role Caliban and Luther are set up to play in future books, meaning every revelation foreshadows something intriguing.
And while I’ve bashed the Diamat side of the story, there are some interesting elements. Such as the time we spend with the Lion, learning who he is as a Primarch. The idea that he can’t relate to normal humans or even Astartes lends itself well to the idea that the Primarchs are seen as demi-Gods. The fact that Luther was the one who rallied people under his banner, and that with him gone he’s struggling, shows the importance of humanity over raw power. I would have liked more time spent on this, but maybe that’s because I don’t particularly like Nemiel and we spend the entire Diamat story looking at events through his eyes.
On the other side, Zahariel isn’t much more interesting but at least he has moral and emotional quandaries to deal with. Nemiel’s biggest worry is not being shot, which is far less interesting than Zahariel’s concerns over who to shoot. This two sides of a coin analogy runs throughout Fallen Angels to showcase how splintered the Legion is becoming. We see it again in Luther and the Lion as they take very different approaches to similar situations. All the while never realising that they would be stronger together rather than apart.
If you’ve finished the Tales of Heresy anthology, then you’ll see the familiar face of Astelan. This is a nice nod to the short story, ‘Call of the Lion’, and helps you feel like the Horus Heresy is a rich tapestry of events. While I was quite harsh on that story and found it somewhat forgettable, Astelan plays an interesting role in Fallen Angels during his time on Caliban. As such, it will be interesting to see where his character goes next in the series.
Fallen Angels is a difficult book to recommend. On one hand, I found that the Caliban story was some the Horus Heresy’s finest work but found the Diamat tale fairly standard and boring. However, as a follow up to Descent of Angels it still leaves me a little cold. This is because a lot of the distinct setting, with the sci-fi fantasy western edge, is gone. This was one of my complaints about the latter half of Descent of Angels and it’s a shame not to see it return here. That being said, Fallen Angels leads the Dark Angels nicely into the rest of the Horus Heresy and does so in style, it’s just a shame the book fluctuates in quality.
Thanks for reading. If you want some non-Warhammer book reviews, Gav has started exploring the Star Wars book universe. It’s a deep, dark place so take a look at his work to see which novels are worth checking out. Alternatively, if you want some Warhammer video gamey goodness, then I’ve got a review of Sanctus Reach.