Thursday, September 13, 2012

Re-Review of Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon

As part of my ongoing re-read and review of the Horus Heresy series from The Black Library, I re-read the Descent of Angels, the six book in The Horus Heresy series. Descent by Mitchel Scanlon was the first book review I wrote on this blog. Part of what prompted me to write my first review was how completely let down I felt by this book. You can read my original review here. Nearly three years later, I feel that my original review is still accurate. I re-read the book for two reasons: to give it a second chance, and to place it in the series chronologically.

Finishing the book a second time really crystallizes how out of sync this book feels with the rest of the Heresy novels. What really stood out is how ludicrous the prelude is upon closer inspection-- a point I missed in my first review.

The prelude goes into great detail about how this is the story of Lion El'Jonson and Luther. It provides a concise summary of all the events leading up to the arrival of the Emperor. The whole prelude is also in italics so you know it is from an unknown narrator.

In an ironic twist, the narrative doesn't mention Luther or the Lion for nearly the entirety of the book. It also replays all of the events laid out in the prelude, just from a different perspective. Worse yet, the closing line of the prelude is: "Let us talk of the Dark Angels and the beginning of their fall." Yet, the fall of the Dark Angels is not readily apparent. It is a distinct subtext to the main text. Descent of Angels is perhaps the beginning of the beginning of the Fall of the Dark Angels Legion.

I just simply do not understand why this book was green-lit. There are structural issues with the novel. The prelude, first seventeen chapters and final five chapters feel like three disparate products and do not make a cohesive whole. I do not understand what it was trying to accomplish. It did not push the boundaries of the Heresy by any appreciable amount. It provided very little back-story that was directly pertinent to the Heresy. It had no tie in with any existing novels. All of these items were present in Heresy's previous installments. I do not see how Descent of Angels adds value to The Horus Heresy as a series.

What is really unfair in all of this criticism is that the writing itself isn't bad. If you stripped The Horus Heresy from the cover and replaced it with Warhammer 30,000 then I would probably enjoy the book much more. The first seventeen chapters would have fit this setting perfectly. The last five chapters actually feel like a Horus Heresy novel. I think the conflict with the Saroshi could have been expanded and made into a wonderful novella.

Descent of Angels is not a bad book. It is simply an unsuccessful Horus Heresy novel. In that light, I cannot recommend the book. For readers who simply love everything published by The Black Library and love the Dark Angels Legion, it is worth a read. I was left unsatisfied and wanting more.

The Black Library: Descent of Angels Mitchel Scanlon
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-1844165087