Read: Dante by Guy Haley

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The Blood Angels have long been my favorite Space Marine Legion/Chapter. Not for the fact that they are VAMPIRES IN SPACE! or that they have some of the most gorgeous models in the game  – rather, I am drawn to them because of their character. Adversity, as the saying goes, teaches us who we are. What more praise could be said of the Blood Angels, who face adversity from within and without on a daily basis, and yet still manage to retain the inherent humanity and optimism that so many other Space Marines have lost or perhaps never had?

I recently dove into Dante by Guy Haley, part of Black Library’s new series of books focusing on iconic members of the Adeptus Astartes. It is a well-written, thoughtful and surprisingly emotional work on the leader of my favorite Chapter.

Haley’s tale interweaves the story of Dante’s recruitment into the Chapter with more current events, specifically the Blood Angels’ defense of their home planet from the Tyranids. Both timelines are engrossing; I am as equally invested in the young Dante’s recruitment and indoctrination into the Chapter as I am with the current day Dante’s defense of Baal. The chapters flow smoothly into each other to depict Dante’s growth and maturity – one chapter he is leading a dozen initiates into a trial, the next he is leading thousands of marines and guardsmen in the defense of a planetary system.

Haley does an excellent job of capturing the very heart of what makes Dante who he is. Every Blood Angel must struggle with the inner Flaw that is the genetic hallmark of their Chapter, but Dante has the added burden of command and the responsibility for the lives of those under his leadership. Added to this is the fact that Dante is old and weary, and must struggle daily with fighting a war he knows humanity cannot ever hope to win. Yet it speaks to his character – and indeed, that of his Chapter – that he continues to do so, simply because it is the right thing to do. Dante wants to walk away from it all, to hang up his axe and pistol and simply let go; but he knows he cannot, because others are looking to him for leadership, guidance, and perhaps most importantly, hope. Haley does an excellent job of capturing this most heavy of Dante’s burdens in the character’s inner thoughts throughout the entirety of the story.

The novel does end rather abruptly, and the chapters detailing his rise in the Chapter ranks once he reaches full brother status are rather quick and lack the thoughtfulness of the first two thirds of the book. The book also leaves out a certain event involving his rank that I had hoped would form the climax of his story, which was somewhat disappointing.

Despite these minor flaws, it speaks to the quality of Haley’s writing that I found myself immediately re-reading certain chapters and passages simply to experience them again – one of the chapters depicting Dante removing his armor and finally finding a fleeting moment of peace is perhaps the best in the book. One of the last chapters involving Dante’s relationship with his personal servant is another highlight. Haley’s Dante is heroic and powerful, but also flawed, jaded, and occasionally even full of doubt – however, like his chapter, he fights on despite the flaws of his flesh and the weapons of his enemies. Not because he desires it, but because others need him to.

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Read: A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill

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(Editor’s note: I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the 30k universe lately, and figured that I may as well throw my thoughts out there regarding some of the books I’ve read. I don’t really read them in any particular order; my book selection process consists of walking into the FLGS, browsing their collection and thinking “hey, I haven’t read this one yet and I’ve always wanted to learn more about X Legion”. The “Read” series will be a quick (spoilerless) review of each novel.)

A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill is my most recent read, and I must say I quite enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I knew next to nothing about the Thousand Sons prior to the book, knowing little more than the fact that it was Magnus’ attempt to warn the Emperor of Horus’ betrayal that resulted in the Space Wolves being sent to bring him in. I must admit that I was a little more hesitant that I usually am when starting this book, as the Thousand Sons didn’t really interest me in the way that more dynamic Legions such as the Blood Angels or Sons of Horus do.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a well-crafted story that asked some interesting questions. Namely, do the ends justify the means? Do the intentions of the actor justify the means by which he reaches his goals? In the context of A Thousand Sons, is loyalty strong enough justification to use evil means to achieve noble goals?

I must admit that GW’s trailer for the Burning of Prospero box, as narrated by Ahriman, did a wonderful job of capturing of what made the Burning of Prospero so tragic – and McNeill captures the injustice of Prospero quite well in this book. Did the citizens of Tizca really deserve the destruction of their homeworld? Did the otherwise loyal Thousand Sons need to be broken for the well-intentioned decisions of their Primarch, especially considering Magnus’ significant regret over what he had done?

You may think it nobler to suffer your fate, but I will take arms against it.
Ahriman

I was further pleasantly surprised to find myself rooting for the Thousand Sons, despite all we now know about their descent into Chaos and their present state in the 40k universe. They are the scholars and intellects who have built a glittering, wondrous city focused on learning and the arts – the Space Wolves are the savages at the door, and yet the Wolves are supposed to be the “good” guys. An interesting contrast from the traditional tropes, and I look forward to reading Prospero Burns to get their side of the story.

The book is a little long (one of the longer Heresy books I’ve read) and could have benefited from a little tighter editing, particularly in the first half of the book as it’s not until the Council of Nikea occurs that the action really picks up (and it was awesome to finally read an account of what happened there). And aside from Ahriman, the other Thousand Sons captains are relatively one-dimensional. But all these flaws are made up for by a well-written story of a Legion’s unwilling descent into heresy; proof that the road to Hell really is paved with good intentions.