Angels Of Caliban, by Gav Thorpe, holds the distinction of being the best novel of the Horus Heresy series to have the word ‘Angels’ in the title. However, after the disastrous “Descent Of Angels”, and the better, yet still mostly incomprehensible, “Fallen Angels”, this is less of a plaudit than a relief.
Angels Of Caliban tells two stories; one set on Macragge and one set on Caliban. The narrative switches frequently between the two, without a specific pattern, sometimes alternating chapters but often not. This has the effect of allowing you to get invested in what is going on before frustratingly switching perspectives. I lost count of the number of times I thought to myself, ‘Hey, this is getting good,” before immediately putting the book down when faced with the prospect of being forced to read more about what was happening on Caliban.
This is essentially, the problem with the book. Both plotlines have their moments, for sure, but fundamentally the Macragge/Ultramar/Imperium Secundus element of the story is both interesting and relevant to the wider Heresy and the Caliban element is confusing, a little pointless and often very dull.
It seems that the Dark Angels have a much firmer identity in the annals of Space Marine lore than they used to, and that identity is that they are the Legion that is both inhererently conspiratorial and needlessly secretive. Given that they were created by the Emperor of Mankind, and that so many of the other Legions and Primarchs seem to exemplify an aspect of His personality, it makes sense that one of them would embody his notable trait of inscrutable dickishness, I guess.
It’s on proud display here though, with Lion El’Johnson never living up to his name more (literally: Lion, The Penis) and, in a scene which may be the mother of all frustrations, the sight of four Calibanate Dark Angels, all with different hidden agendas, each struggling to work out whether the latest unforeseen occurence helped or hindered each of their indiviudal plans. I can tell you honestly that at that point I had totally lost track of what it was each of the characters wanted to achieve, and I firmly believe the characters themselves had too. Astelan, in particular, seems inclined to conspire with anyone who suggests it, to a point that, to paraphrase Community, he isn’t even conspiring at all, he’s just doing some things. That character had a lot of potential, and I feel it’s mostly wasted.
More positively though, the action which occurs in Imperium Secundus is thought-provoking and enthralling. It has been a noticeable, but not infalliable, feature of the Horus Heresy series that the quality of a story tends to be proportional to the number of Primarchs in it, and this tale boasts four of them, almost constantly engaging one another in moral, legal and, naturally, physical conflicts. Konrad Curze again shows himself as one of the more nuanced and complex villains of the piece, like Lorgar, and not a one-note comic book villain, like Angron.
All in all, this book was enjoyable, even if the stylistic conceit of having two story-strands which never intertwine created an inevitability that one of them would seem the lesser, and, indeed, the inevitability that the one which would seem lesser would be the one set on dull, dull, dull, Caliban. I suppose someone out there must like it. Maybe what we are seeing here is much akin to WWE booking. “Fine,” say those in charge, “You can have your Kevin Owens and your AJ Styles, but we happen to like the rich and complex culture and history of Caliban, so you’re getting that too. You’re an idiot for not enjoying it.”
In this example, Caliban is Roman Reigns. Yep, I think that fits. It’s not bad, per se, it just also isn’t good, and it’s featured way too prominently.
In spite of some flaws, I really do recommend this book if you are following the series. The developments in Ultramar are top-notch stuff, and vital to the ongoing mega-plot - this is not one of those HH novels that you can just skip and not miss anything. Gav Thorpe remains one of Black Library’s better writers, and his easily-read style ensures that the Caliban sections of the book are not as much of a chore as they could have been if penned by a less able author.
The march towards Terra continues...