Despite being one of the great heroes in Warhammer 40,000, Guy Haley’s novel Dante is the first time the Blood Angels chapter master has been the subject of a Black Library book. Correcting that oversight in spectacular fashion, Haley weaves two narratives together to tell both an origin story and a contemporary tale, which picks up at the end of the Shield of Baal arc. Set 1,500 years apart they show Dante at wildly different stages of his life, but driven throughout by a desire to serve and protect, and are connected by a strong sense of purpose.
Dante’s earliest years form the core of the book, propelling the story forward and building up a vivid picture of his character, while the contemporary arc ties it all back into the major events gradually being revealed in the 40k setting at the time of writing. Countless tiresome superhero films have proven that origin stories can be fraught with risk, but Haley tells an enthralling story that’s carefully paced and beautifully judged. No unnecessary antagonists or rushed, hackneyed exposition here – Dante’s journey is measured and detailed, cleverly entwined with a captivating exploration of Baalite life for both the poverty-stricken tribes that he begins his life with and the awesome but sinister chapter he joins and goes on to lead.
It’s not often you get to see two parts of a character’s life separated by quite this much time. Haley pointedly emphasises the vast passage of years between the two sections of the book, painting contemporary Dante as exhausted and hollowed out, forced to deal with agonising choices that his conscience and sense of honour won’t let him disregard, traits that drove him to reach his hallowed position but now burden him beyond comprehension. This is a dark, powerful story, as we cheer young Dante through his trials even as we know the agonies he’s going to go through in time. Along the way we get probably the deepest exploration yet of the Angels’ flaw and the ways they, Dante included, attempt to control themselves. In a universe of bleak stories this is at once beautiful and horrifying, and hints at worse to come.
There’s no doubt, this is a stepping stone in the Blood Angels’ arc between Shield of Baal and whatever fate awaits them in Haley’s upcoming The Devastation of Baal. That Haley has managed to somehow combine elements of that earlier story, a nuanced and powerful character study, an incredibly vivid depiction of Baal and the Blood Angels, and an effective lead-in to what’s coming next, all in a single coherent piece…it’s a truly impressive achievement. Some might prefer more guns-blazing Space Marine action or more of the other recognisable Blood Angels characters, but that feels like it would be missing the point. This redefines 40k-era Blood Angels from the top down, expanding their culture and customs beyond anything we’ve seen before – it’s hands down the best book about the sons of Sanguinius, and demonstrates once again what Haley can do when he gets his hands on characters like this. Outstanding.
A note on the limited edition hardback – as always it’s an expensive luxury, but luxury really is the word for it. The production values of these exclusives is getting better and better, and this is comfortably up there alongside Fabius Bile: Primogenitor and Warden of the Blade as one of the most beautiful books Black Library has ever produced. The addition of the short story Eminence Sanguis tips it as well; this particular limited edition is sold out, but if you’re tempted to pick one up then this is testament to just how good they are. Really impressive stuff.