One of the classic Warhammer 40,000 novels, Gav Thorpe’s Angels of Darkness was probably the first Black Library novel to really look at the Dark Angels in detail. The story of Interrogator Chaplain Boreas and Fallen Dark Angel Astelan, it cuts to the heart of this most secretive of chapters and shows how their ongoing hunt for the Fallen has come to consume them. Told across two strands, one sees Astelan captured and interrogated by Boreas in a clash of ironclad wills, while the other sees Boreas on the hunt for further Fallen in and around the Piscina system.
It’s a relatively short novel in today’s terms, but between the two strands Gav covers a lot of ground and really makes the most of the power struggle between the two main characters. Astelan (yep, the one in the Heresy stories) is a man out of time who claims to still follow the Emperor’s original goals for the Space Marines from before the Horus Heresy, and despite being the captive holds a strangely strong position over his younger captor. Boreas, meanwhile, is on the one hand entirely in control, but on the other hand desperate for information from Astelan. As the interrogation proceeds they each attempt to out-reason the other, while as Boreas’ mission in the Piscina system progresses he finds himself increasingly affected by recollections of Astelan’s words.
This is a very early depiction of 40k but it’s remarkably accurate in the current setting. Tonally it’s just as bleak and inhospitable a universe as you’d expect (perhaps more so, even) while factually there are a couple of minor oddities, like the specifics of how Marine armour and vox systems work, but overall it feels very appropriate. There’s perhaps a little more emphasis on dialogue and character psychology, and less on all-out action, than you would get these days, which is no bad thing given that this is all about a clash of ideologies. The core conceit, that of the ‘traitor’ Astelan with all the knowledge and the ‘loyalist’ Boreas with all the power, gives Gav endless opportunities to pose questions and ideas only to immediately refute them, forcing the reader to constantly reevaluate their opinions and position.
It’s a really simple but beautifully clever idea, and it’s brilliantly executed. At the time it must have been amazing to see so much of a major chapter’s backstory discussed and questioned, while now – with the benefit of not just hindsight but also the work that’s gone into things lik e the Heresy series – it’s a mind-blowing look back at just how much Gav managed to fit in that’s still relevant today. After so much expansion in the setting, especially with the Heresy, reading this is a reminder of just how much this one book influenced everything after it. Not only that, but it’s a bleakly gripping story in its own right. Without a doubt this deserves the plaudits it regularly receives – it’s a must-read for 40k fans.