For a newcomer as I was, it was an extremely rough ride. It is a short book but at the same time, there is a lot going on which related to the background. The Horus Heresy, the splintering of the Dark Angels Space Marine legion. The recruiting trials of neophytes and the correlations of the planetary governments who are hosting the Adeptus Astartes.
It was a smack in the face.
The first thing that startled me were the neophyte trials. The main character, a Dark Angels Chaplain named Boreas, descends with his command squad upon a tribal world. The tribesmen greet the warriors and summon forth several youths who compete for the right to return with the Dark Angels and begin training to become Astartes. After the physically challenging trials, only three are left.
Of these three, one fails. What occurs after was a cultural shock to me. It was a wake up call as to the nature of the society that is the Imperium, and what some feel are the necessities it takes to survive in this war torn future. But like an initiate myself I somehow got over what happened and continued to read, muddled as I was. There were surprises yet in store.
Without giving away any spoilers or surprises, Angels of Darkness was one of two somewhat controversial titles (in an entertaining way), the other being Simon Spurrier’s Lord of the Night. Like Spurrier’s masterpiece, Thorpe’s book revolves around a character who has been alive since the Horus Heresy, and who provides a unique first hand perspective about the events.
The historically connect character in this book was a prisoner of the Dark Angels, a man named Astelan. A former lord of a planet and one of the Dark Angels’ coveted fallen, half the book is spent covering the torture and interrogation of Astelan, who insists on his innocence. One of the most powerful character moments in Black Library history occurred when Astelan was offered a choice, and the decision he chooses comes at great personal cost.
Another similarity between Angels of Darkness and Lord of the Night was in the manner it was told. The two books went back and forth between two different perspectives on the chapters. The different was that while Angels of Darkness involved the same characters at different times, Lord of the Night involved two different characters at the same time. Thorpe’s work bounces back and forth between the past and the present. The present offers another, different plot which loosely connects to the past. However, the present story seems pale and of less importance to the revelations that occur during Astelan’s interrogation.
I cannot claim in good conscious that Angels of Darkness is a great novel for fresh fans. People who know and understand enough of the background will find an unforgettable story that rocks what they know to the core. But the newcomer will be lost and confused, like being dropped in white water rapids when they don’t know yet how to swim. But for those of us who consider ourselves Warhammer 40k fans, Angels of Darkness is a must read.