The first novel in the brand new Space Marine Conquests series, Guy Haley’s The Devastation of Baal continues the story set out in Dante and brings the Blood Angels bang up to date with the new 40k background. As Hive Fleet Leviathan heads inexorably towards Baal, Commander Dante calls to the Chapters of the Blood, and the Blood Angels successor Chapters answer in force. Tens of thousands of Space Marines stand in defence of Baal against the untold trillions of the Leviathan. In context of the wider galaxy, however, Leviathan isn’t the only threat that the sons of Sanguinius face.
While that sounds like a pretty simple premise, this is a big book (500+ pages in paperback) which covers a lot of ground, making it much more than just one big siege – although if you’re a fan of sieges, this does still have you covered. It’s first and foremost a Blood Angels story, but with so many successor Chapters in play Haley spends a fair amount of time exploring how the different forces interact with each other, how they see themselves, and how 20+ individual armies, normally used to operating independently, figure out how to co-operate. After the Blood Angels it’s probably Gabriel Seth’s Flesh Tearers who get the most page time, but a few other Chapters like the Angels Excelsis and the Knights of Blood enjoy the spotlight as well.
There’s a much bigger sense of scale here than in Dante – unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, it’s not the deliberately concise, carefully paced story that Dante was. There’s still plenty of great character work though, especially with Dante himself whose aching weariness after so many centuries is handled really nicely, and with Gabriel Seth’s involvement with the story (no spoilers). It’s clear that this series is intended as a successor to the Space Marine Battles, so the pacing is ramped up and the action is as intense as you might expect, but in Haley’s hands it doesn’t feel like the action comes at the expense of everything else. Despite having so many Chapters to include, the story remains focused and streamlined – some might want more time with some of those other Chapters, but Haley’s character choices work well to keep things pacy and gripping throughout.
It’s not just the Space Marines that Haley does a good job with, either. Tyranids always come with that base-level sense of inevitability, but here we get a really interesting, and often quite disgusting, depiction emphasising the overall character of the gestalt, from the Hive Mind down to individual creatures and even the creepy nature of their biological weaponry. It makes for a real feeling of threat from the tyranids, contributing to a powerful story, often darkly so, with an intensity that really builds as you get into the final third. Make no mistake, this is a big story, not just in context of the Blood Angels but the whole 40k setting. That crossover between old and new 40k is cleverly woven into the story and doesn’t take away from the power of the main narrative, but just adds an extra burst of excitement. As both the culmination of a major 40k storyline and the start of a major new series, this delivers in spades – well worth checking out.