Book 38 of the Horus Heresy series, Gav Thorpe’s Angels of Caliban continues the Dark Angels’ involvement in the series that began with Descent of Angels, and caps off the ongoing Imperium Secundus arc. In his role as Lord Protector of Ultramar, Lion El’Jonson focuses his attention on what he considers the gravest threat – the continued survival of his wayward brother, Konrad Kurze. Meanwhile back on Caliban, the Dark Angels tasked with garrisoning the homeworld, led by Luther, Astelan and Zahariel, are a mess of conflicting loyalties, ambitions and mysteries. Secrets abound and questions of loyalty become ever more important.
Prior to this the Imperium Secundus arc had focused more on Guilliman and Sanguinius, so it’s good to see the Lion get his turn in the spotlight. Likewise the wider Dark Angels story, although it might require a little catching up to be fully on top of things – it’s been 27 books and over 7 years since Fallen Angels, with their story previously continued via a novella and a handful of short stories. It’s good to spend time with these characters again, though, alongside newer names like voted lieutenants Holguin and Farith Redloss. Gav does a good job of bringing all of these characters into focus, as well as expanding upon the early Terran background of the I Legion with some fascinating details of some of the Wings – seeing the Dreadwing in action is particularly fun. There’s still plenty of unanswered questions regarding Luther and co, but the motives of the three key players on Caliban are becoming increasingly clear.
Plot-wise, with the exception of an interesting glimpse back to the Great Crusade this remains focused on the two narratives – the Lion’s hunt for Curze and how that brings him into conflict with his other brothers, and the power struggle on distant Caliban. Even when he’s not around, like in the Caliban scenes, the Lion’s presence hangs heavy over the book – his conflicting virtues and flaws, the implications of his need for secrecy, and his innate ability to be annoying. Make no mistake, he’s a brilliant character – but he’s hard to like. His relationship with Guilliman and Sanguinius is fascinating, and those three together form a large, interesting part of the book as his obsession with Curze begins to damage what they’ve built. Not everyone enjoys primarch POV scenes, and this isn’t going to change their minds, but the slowly widening cracks in their relationship, reflecting the state of Imperium Secundus as a whole, are clearly an important element in the ongoing narrative of the series.
As expected for a Heresy novel there’s plenty of action, and yes we get another Lion vs Curze grudge match…which might not turn out how you expect. Unsurprisingly, however, it’s the character development that holds the greatest draw, and with the odd exception – Zahariel’s arc, for example, which makes sense narratively but feels a bit underdone – Gav handles these really well. Without offering any spoilers, this is clearly a junction novel which kicks various characters off onto new, or more solid paths; in Luther’s case it’s a question of plans coming to fruition, while the Lion’s arrogance and secret-keeping are increasingly challenged, as is the ongoing success – or otherwise – of Imperium Secundus. Overall Gav’s done a great job of tying everything together here into a cohesive book, but also providing a platform for what’s to come next as one arc comes to an end and we take another step closer to Terra.