Better known for his Warhammer novels, Darius Hinks turns his attention to 40k with Mephiston: Blood of Sanguinius, a story that’s ostensibly about the Blood Angels’ Chief Librarian’s battle with his own power and nature. When young Lexicanium Antros witnesses Mephiston’s facade of control start to crack, the threads of their fates become entangled, and Antros finds himself accompanying Mephiston to a strange, embattled shrine world. The Blood Angels must journey across a world whose population has been twisted against each other, hoping to find a singular relic that might hold to the key to truly unlocking Mephiston’s power.
Mephiston is a fascinating character, and the opportunity to learn more about him is a tantalising one…which makes it strange that this novel should offer so little actual insight into him. Seen through Antros’ eyes, Mephiston is a remote, almost idealised figure for much of the story, capable of terrifying feats of power but always several steps removed from the reader. There are glimpses of an intriguing vulnerability to him, and occasional moments of development, but we don’t get to really dig into what makes him tick. In fact none of the Blood Angels in the story are particularly well drawn – even Antros gets little in the way of depth; he’s written more like a human than a Space Marine, and has only the shallowest back story tacked on for effect.
The non-Space Marine characters are much more successful, especially some of the antagonistic Ecclesiarchy, and Hinks does a good job of painting a vivid picture of both some juicy warp-based goings on and the creepy landscape of Divinus Prime. There are flashes of what could have been which mostly suggest that a Chaos-focused novel would work better, but they’re overshadowed by a lack of depth to key characters and Hinks’ wearying tendency towards endless unnecessarily portentous, cod-Latin names for places and concepts. The Ostensorio, the Arx Angelicum, the Aedicula Sacrum…a little touch of the grand gothic is appropriate for 40k, but it’s best in small doses rather than rammed down the reader’s throat.
Let’s be clear, there’s nothing here that’s out and out bad. As a simple, straight-up action story it works fine – well paced, with some imaginative set pieces and an enjoyable enough plot. It’s just a little disappointing that it plays so safe and tries so little to really expand upon what we already know; there’s little attention paid to what actually makes a Blood Angel, with even their characteristic flaw barely referenced. Take Mephiston out of the story and the rest of the Marines could be from any Chapter. This is a story that wants to be about big themes, and with a bit more work probably could have been…but in actual fact it’s pretty standard action fare. Check it out if you’re after a dose of psychic-fuelled action, but you’re better off with David Annandale’s Mephiston novella for insight and character development.