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The Unforgiven: a review and play-by-play spoilers

Inner Circle The Rock Caliban The Fallen Cypher Tuchulcha Dark Angels Chapter Consecrators Chapter

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#1
Phoebus

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Bottom line up front: The Unforgiven is the most important book written about the Dark Angels. If you care about the history of the Dark Angels, you need to read this novel. Additionally, it ends on a note that may very well be the boldest, gutsiest move by a Black Library author in a very long time. Not too many genre authors try to rock the boat too hard with the existing canon. Thorpe did so once already by daring to suggest the Lion was a traitor, and I think those who read The Unforgiven will agree with me that the ending of his latest novel ups the ante in that department.
 
Digest that for a moment.
 
That having been said, The Unforgiven is not the best piece of fiction written about the Dark Angels. Point of fact, I'd humbly offer that it's not the best piece of fiction Gav Thorpe has written about the Dark Angels.
 
Before you move on, PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING: I've put what I felt were actual spoilers in, well, spoiler tags. That having been said, simply discussing certain elements of the story will inadvertently make some revelations known.  This review assumes you've read Angels of Darkness, Ravenwing, and Master of Sanctity. If you haven't, elements of those stories and The Unforgiven will be spoiled for you.
 
Tread with caution.
 
Two things became abundantly clear to me before I was even halfway through with The Unforgiven. (This is obviously my personal opinion, so mileage may vary. Reader beware.) The first is that Thorpe has a mind ripe with wonderful ideas for the Dark Angels and all their Unforgiven brethren; the second is that Thorpe is inconsistent when it comes to translating those ideas into a good story.
 
THE CHARACTERS
 
One of the biggest problems of The Unforgiven has been following this novel since Book One of the Legacy of Caliban Trilogy: Ravenwing. That is, its supporting cast. That's being generous, though. While Annael, Sabrael, and Telemenus can't be described as important in the grand scheme of things as, say, Azrael, Belial, or Ezekiel, the fact of the matter is that they feature just as much as those worthies of the Inner Circle - if not more so.
 
And therein lies the dual problem. The newly-inducted Black Knights and their cousin in the Deathwing aren't just not very interesting; they exist within a Chapter whose doctrine demands that they be kept at a considerable distance from the conflicts that drive this story. The benefit you get - seeing battle-brothers rise through the Ravenwing and the Deathwing - is ultimately just not worth it. The insight you gain is minimal compared to what Azrael alone reveals in just a handful of paragraphs in Book Three of this trilogy.
 
It's not as if Thorpe is scared of tackling the big characters, either. He hasn't shirked from writing about Asmodai, Belial, or Sammael in works for Games Workshop and Black Library alike. The perspective you get from Azrael is easily some of the best in The Unforgiven. It very nicely gives you an idea of the challenges the Supreme Grand Master faces, of the internal conflict that the competing priorities of the Hunt and the Imperium create. Most bizarre, if a "coming up through the ranks" perspective really was necessary, Thorpe demonstrated how capable he was of telling a story through flashbacks in Angels of Darkness. This could thus have been accomplished via the characters actually driving the story - Asmodai, Azrael, Belial, Ezekiel, Sammael, and Sapphon - but instead we must continue with the limited perspective of Annael, Sabrael, Telemenus, and Tybalain.
 
A balance could still have been struck, but the fact of the matter is that - as mentioned above - these characters don't even play a part in the main plot until the last third of The Unforgiven. To put it in perspective, Part One of The Unforgiven clocks in at right around 88 pages (in the standard iBooks format). Of those, 39 (!) are devoted to the Black Knights trying to find Sabrael. Their mission has no impact on either the battle for Tharsis or the efforts to get Cypher aboard the Penitent Warrior. By contrast, only a couple of sentences were used to let the reader know that ...
 
Spoiler

 
... A development that would have a profound impact in the storyline.
 
Those same characters play virtually no meaningful role in Part Two of The Unforgiven. While the actual movers and shakers of the Chapter seek to determine just what it is that Cypher wants, what his role is in their Chapter's history, and what they should do with him, Annael's page count is quite literally devoted to showing complete menial tasks as part of penance.
 
In fact, the Black Knights aren't actually are-introduced in the key storyline until late in Part Three. Even then, the mission Azrael gives them requires a stretch of the imagination - even if one is to accept that the bulk of the Dark Angels were needed elsewhere at the time.
 
Telemenus' story, at least, was written more elegantly. His tale is just as irrelevant to the main plot as that of the Black Knights, but Thorpe at least gets you to care about him.
 
WHERE ARE THE VILLAINS?
 
The antagonists are almost entirely absent. For instance, Anovel isn't actually shown until roughly halfway through the novel. He gets three-four pages to do the standard Fallen schtick ("You know nothing of honour, bastard of the Lion!") before ...
 
Spoiler

 
Typhus, whose presence has been teased since Master of Sanctity, doesn't make an appearance until the ultimate hour.
 
Astelan is actually never shown in the entire novel.
 
This goes beyond having a pointless bad guy cameo, or serving up a villain to stand in as the victim of the Dark Angels' wrath. The story itself suffers because it's not just the antagonists that are absent, but their motivations as well. This is a problem that plagued not just The Unforgiven, ut the series as a whole.
 
The first hint that the Legacy of Caliban Trilogy might involve something more than the hunt to get the remaining villains of Angels of Darkness isn't even made until late into Ravenwing. Typhus isn't even implied as being involved until the end of Master of Sanctity. Even when the aim of the Fallen is revealed - halfway through The Unforgiven - it's only shown in the broadest of strokes.
 
THE STORY BOWS BEFORE THEMES; LOGIC BOWS BEFORE BOTH
 
It's difficult to express how convoluted and unsupported by the story they ultimately end up being without getting into spoilers.  Let me give you an idea of it, by way of metaphor:
 
Imagine you're reading a Spider Man story. It starts off with our lovable web-crawler going after someone who is dangerous, but ultimately within Spidey's ability to deal with - someone like, say, Electro. Except, suddenly, Electro is teaming up with the Red Skull and Doctor Doom, but he's smart enough to fool both of them into not realizing he has his own master plan to destroy the world.
 
Got it? Good.
 
Warhammer 40k is supposed to be absurd on many different levels, but the key thing to remember is that it's absurd within a certain context. Inquisitors burn entire worlds suspected of heresy, for instance, because Chaos is capable of doing incredible harm to the Imperium at large. With that in mind, it's not easy to choose which examples to use to show just how secondary logic is to this story - there are quite a lot to choose from.
 
The worst part of it is that these stunts seem to be a calculated effort to keep the reader in the dark. That's all well and good if and when the storyline rewards the reader's patience with a revelatory climax, but this never happens. The reader ultimately has to fill in the blanks and make pretty significant assumptions as to what the antagonists were trying to do and how they were going to do it. It feels less like a nod to the theme of secrecy that pervades the Dark Angels and more an effort to avoid the seriously hard work of playing out a devious plot for your audience.
 
THERE IS GOOD STUFF, TOO
 
The concepts Thorpe comes up with for the Dark Angels is top stuff. Probably the greatest contribution he's made is the degree to which the Inner Circle brainwash and indoctrinate their battle-brethren. It's a breath of fresh air to see an intelligent, nuanced take on how a Chapter can ensure its secrets are kept. We saw a bit of that in Master of Sanctity, but its application in The Unforgiven is a revelation.
 
The insight on the Watchers in the Dark is likewise huge. Their relationship with the Inner Circle, and the means by which they reveal secrets and set things in motion is very apropos.
 
Thorpe also shows a great degree of generosity in sprinkling helpings of Dark Angels lore and history. The origins of the Inner Circle, the Deathwing and the Ravenwing are touched on, for instance. Some scant light is also shed on Cypher's surprising history with the Chapter, as well. 
 
Telemenus's storyline, regardless how divorced it was from the larger plot of The Unforgiven, is - I thought - quite beautifully written.
 
The ending? Again, it's probably the gutsiest, most grimdark ending I've seen in a Warhammer 40k novel. I saw it coming a chapter out, but it still left me with an "Oh, wow" look on my face.
 
MY TAKE
 
I enjoyed The Unforgiven, but not nearly as much as I wish I could have. That having been said, it can't be denied that this novel should change the Dark Angels forever. All but two Dark Angels may never know just what occurred in the climactic action at the end of it all, but if Azrael and Ezekiel allow the Unforgiven to go back to "business as usual" after the events of The Unforgiven, it will be a massive disappointment.
 
My next post will be a "play-by-play" of the action of the novel. It will all be spoilers, so click at your own peril!

#2
Jazzhands

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Good review and I think you are right on most points.

But it was worth it for the final revelation

#3
HaSY

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Love your take and review. Now we have to wait for Angels of Caliban HH novel

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#4
Petitioner's City

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The worst part of it is that these stunts seem to be a calculated effort to keep the reader in the dark. That's all well and good if and when the storyline rewards the reader's patience with a revelatory climax, but this never happens. The reader ultimately has to fill in the blanks and make pretty significant assumptions as to what the antagonists were trying to do and how they were going to do it. It feels less like a nod to the theme of secrecy that pervades the Dark Angels and more an effort to avoid the seriously hard work of playing out a devious plot for your audience.

 

 

I think you are right on this; and maybe we should applaud Thorpe for, by using characters outside the 'know', accurately reflecting the levels of obsfucation the DA and their successors inhabit. But I also think you are right - I tried to read Ravenwing after the mostly ok Angels of Darkness... ugh! Although there was some nice plotting (+I guess nice ties to Dark Vengence I noticed with the 5th company featuring) and I loved the hypocrisy of Samael & his cadre upon encountering Boreas's message, it was quite dull and I wished there was more literary techniques of obscfucation going on rather than just dull time with dull marines who do cliche things with one another and dull diversions and too damn much fighting. 

 

Whilst some of what happens in Unforgiven sounds exciting...I really think it sounds like a poorer execution of the ideas explored in other texts, whether by BL (Ahriman!) or from literature more widely. 


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#5
HaSY

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Hypothetically, if ADB or Dan wrote DA trilogy, Lion knows what will happen

On the record, Corswain by ADB become superstar in an instant

Astelan gonna go fulfil his dream of raising his own legion/warband

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#6
JustShowMePictures

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If ADB or Dabnett wrote the trilogy, the whole time Azrael would be pining for a female Watcher having an affair with a chapter serf, and the Dark Angels would be jobbing hard to the Night Lords.



#7
SvenONE

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Full disclosure, I've read none of these books.  Spoilers aren't really a big deal to me as I've always been interested in the how something gets to where it is rather than the destination itself. 

 

There isn't a single Thorpe book that I like.  It might be a harsh assessment, but I see his writing as high-end fan fiction.  So to me it's a little unsettling that he's been given such power to issue such a canon declaring idea outside of the actual codex.  That's especially after it's been released so close to it.  There's nothing terribly bold written in the codex beyond the standard stuff, so to hear about it happening somewhere else is well... a little weird to me.  But that's just me.

 

I guess GW is going to get what they want as I'm now forced to read these! Based on past posts and your ability to convey your ideas so succinctly, I have to respect your assessment on this Phoebus, so if you say so.  I'll have to read further!


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#8
Augustus

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Great review Phoebus! Thanks

I look forward to your further reviews of it.

 

I also really enjoyed the hypno-indoctrination.


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#9
Master Sindiferous

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Agree with nearly everything you have written, and can't believe with such an impact it wasn't added to the new codex.

The only thing I can honestly imagine is that it leads GW into the WH41k jump some have talked about rather sooner than later.

Some of the finer points I caught included DW symbol being a symbol from ancient Caliban. So where did the winged sword come from?

Cypher has been caught by the Unforgiven how many times. That in itself is worth a 3 to 7 part story from Black Library, and I am tempted to start one for next time they have a readers works contest.

Will the watchers finally awaken the Lion with a jump into 41K after Cypher brings the sword to dinner and the watchers use it to unlock his chamber.

Lastly the question of how Azrael continues down the same path as before, IMHO he can't but where does that leave us? Again the codex needed this and could have expanded so much more into it.

Overall a good read, even if it is just thrown together. With the big impactful events and slight delving into inner workings it is almost a must read. If not stay tuned to the thread for more.

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#10
Chaplain Lucifer

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I'm halfway through. Azrael is a worthy Chapter Master. I was afraid he was obsessed by the Hunt, but no, he is leel headed and despite the titanic burden on his shoulders he is able to chose what is best for the Chapter.

Asmodai and Sapphon are like bad cop/good cop but Asmodai's single mindedness makes him short sighted, Sapphon actually uses his brains and gets better results, IMHO.

Annael is a cry baby. I am left under the impression that only dumb luck led him to progress the hierarchy.

So far it's the best attempt by Gav at DA. Not perfect and some stuff still baffles me but it think it's his best so far.


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#11
Sun Reaver

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Just finished reading the book and I am a bit confused on the ending. I don't know if I read it right, but I didn't really understand what Ezekiel said at the ending. He mentioned 4 forces fighting in the battle at the end. Also, what is the significance of Ezekiel's response to Azrael below? 

 

 

“Am I right? Did I witness what I thought I did?’ he asked his companion, his voice a whisper. ‘The destruction of Caliban. The scattering of the Fallen. The cause of our shame.’

 

Ezekiel pulled back his cowl, revealing a scalp pierced by cables and pipes linked to the psychic hood built into his battleplate. There was no hint of energy in his eye now, just his usual piercing stare.
 
‘Not just witnessed, brother,’ the Chief Librarian replied in a taut whisper. ‘It would be much easier if we had been merely witnesses.”
 
Excerpt From: Gav Thorpe. “The Unforgiven.” iBooks. 

 


'By his Blood I am made.

By his Blood I am armored. 

By his Blood shall I triumph.'

 

-Catechism of Blood

 

 

 

 


#12
Jazzhands

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Significant because the modern day da are responsible for both the warp storm that destroyed caliban and scattering the fallen

#13
Chaplain Lucifer

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Yep, seems to be a sell-fulfilling prophecy. The warpstorm in 30K was actually 40K DA using Tuchulcha(sp) to try and save the Lion ...


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#14
FerociousBeast

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GAV! Ya done gone and did it. You. did. THAT.

 

That ending. A corker. I'm not sure I know how I feel about it.

 

The book as a whole is the worst of the three Legacy of Caliban books. I have an inkling I know why, though. It's been a year since Master of Sanctity. In that year, Gav's put forth quite a number of books and short stories. So, if it feels like The Unforgiven got short shrift, I suspect it's because all the shrifts Gav had at hand were short.

 

But short or long or medium-sized shrift, the book is a disappointment. I shall count the ways.

  1. Cypher. Cypher schemes and double-crosses and lies and drives the plot of the book and... seems as bland as white rice. He's an important character in the book--and the last glimpse we get of him is actually really good--but how could you take Cypher and make him seem so colorless? Of all people.
  2. Sapphon and Asmodai. After their great interactions in Master of Sanctity, they are less than a sideshow in The Unforgiven, and the characters that were so carefully and well built in the previous book are gone, replaced by much more genericized versions.
  3. The uninteresting cast of secondary characters. I agree with Phoebus on his summation of the Black Knights and Deathwing in the story. I'd extend the criticism really to Belial and Sammael as well. I also agree that Telemenus, as an exception, is a good little side story in the book.
  4. The action scenes. This is one of my common complaints with Gav. He's much better when he's describing character conflict than battles and violence. (With a few very notable exceptions. I just love the Land Raider charge in Master of Sanctity for some reason.)

How, however, is the book good?

  1. Watchers in the Dark. A great and mysterious presence in the novel. Eerie, important, utterly silent.
  2. The last third of the book. (Make that the last sixth.) Mind blowing.
  3. The ending. Ends on such a good note. By "good," I mean awful, harrowing, terrible. If I were Ezekiel, I'd grab Azrael's bolt pistol from him before he did something desperate. 
  4. Hints about the Chapter's involvement with Cypher in the past. As powerful as this ending is, you get the idea this isn't the first time something of this scale has happened.
  5. The last glimpse we have of Cypher--actually the Thunderhawk Cypher has stolen--as it flies into the distance into <<<REDACTED>>>
  6. Gav's workmanlike efforts to show us the details of the Chapter's operation. This is the source of Phoebus's complaint about the odd rabbit trails and things. While it does not do any favors to the story, it gives the fans a welcome glimpse into the way the Chapter operates that we wouldn't otherwise have.

Dark Angel Codex Project:
Project Redemption/Project Unforgiven: The Bolter & Chainsword Dark Angel Forum's effort towards updating the Unforgiven

FB's Greatest Hits:
My Beef with Codex Space Marines: Constructive criticism and proposed solutions
Fear and the Fearless: Just what do the Dark Angels and their primarch fear?
The Role of Terminator Squads in Codex: Space Marines: An analysis

#15
Angel of Solitude

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Amazed that this book hasn't been discussed more in this forum! Just finished reading it, and suffice to say, I had to re-read the end just to make sure I understood exactly what had taken place.
 
A couple of thoughts/and observations that I have in all their spoilerific glory:

 

Spoiler

Edited by Angel of Solitude, 23 July 2015 - 07:10 PM.

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#16
WellSpokenMan

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Amazed that this book hasn't been discussed more in this forum! Just finished reading it, and suffice to say, I had to re-read the end just to make sure I understood exactly what had taken place.
 
A couple of thoughts/and observations that I have in all their spoilerific glory:

 

Spoiler

All of this is my opinion, and as much should be considered fact tongue.png

 

Spoiler

 

I burned through the book and I enjoyed it for the most part.  The trilogy in general was far more interesting than Purging of Kalidus, but not as good as some of the other 40k books I have read.  The real loser in the whole series for me was Belial, who does not seem to be a worthy successor to Azrael.  Only Ezekiel seems to come close to being capable of leading the chapter should Azrael fall.  I liked Sapphon and Sammael, and I learned to appreciate Asmodai.  The side stories hit a bit of a wall in the 3rd book I think.  The whole Sabrael affair made me cringe.  No elite soldier would defy a direct order to save a comrade.  By the same measure, a guy that had only one fight as a DWT suddenly becoming a Venerable Dreadnought was too big of a leap for me.

 

I wouldn't hesitate to read another Thorpe book.  I was entertained.  I would not recommend the trilogy (it's really 4 books) to someone who wasn't already into the Dark Angels though, as I would the Night Lord trilogy or the early HH novels.  I give it 6/10


Edited by WellSpokenMan, 23 July 2015 - 08:03 PM.

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#17
Angel of Solitude

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Spoiler

 

 

What I had picked up was Typhus saying to Azrael "My bargain with Luther died with him". So while what happened to Luther has yet to be revealed, I'd expect that there will be some link to Typhus, and possibly Tulchulcha too.


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#18
Grand Master Raziel

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I read Angels of Darkness.  My takeaway was Gav is a terrible author.  That book never would have gotten published if GW didn't have its own in-house publishing company.  I can't imagine any of Gav's other books are any better.  So, I completely disregard anything he's written as having any bearing on the fluff.


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#19
WellSpokenMan

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I read Angels of Darkness.  My takeaway was Gav is a terrible author.  That book never would have gotten published if GW didn't have its own in-house publishing company.  I can't imagine any of Gav's other books are any better.  So, I completely disregard anything he's written as having any bearing on the fluff.

Good to know


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"Only in death does duty end.  Only in death can justice be earned" - Sammael, Grand Master of the Ravenwing


#20
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I finished the book last night and have plenty to say, which I'll have to dribble out over a number of posts.

@ Sun Reaver, the four competing powers in the climax are
1. Astelan who wants to use the warp portal to recover the Fallen in chapter/legion strength.
2. Typhus who wants to take possession of Tuchulcha. He first encountered the entity on Perdita at the start of the Horus Heresy, ref The Lion.
3. The Dark Angels who want to thwart the first two and maybe even use the portal to save the Lion.
4. Tuchulcha, whose motives are unclear but I now believe is the reason the Lion disappeared to an unaccessible chamber within the Rock.

#21
Stormxlr

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Belial is a giant disappointment in this and previous books he is supposed to be a tactician and a skillful warrior who uses Deathwing like a sharp scalpel and yet he comes of as a head strong brute.



#22
The Shadow Guard

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I finally finished it. I agree with Phoebus that the third book in the trilogy is the best. 

 

The problem, again agreeing with Phoebus is that Gav has the right sentiments and excellent plot direction but the execution is rushed hence appears inadequate, Character development needs depth and the third book (Unforgiven) has enough content to warrant a trilogy of its own.

 

With so many characters on the playing field he's tried to achieve an "Avengers" movie like impact. Unfortunately the "Avengers" movie, which also had similar concerns about trying to balance so many prime characters, was preceded by in depth character development for many of the individual characters.... hence the feeling of rushed, supercial writing in thsi novel. Still the best of the three

 

However, additional stuff I liked....

 

Confirmation that the original Unforgive consisted of 12 chapters as noted by the twelve pointed star in the hidden chamber

 

Two new unforgiven chapters names: Knights of the Crimson Order; The Repentant Brotherhood.

 

Names of some of the chapter masters and battle barges:

  • Knights of the Crimson Order, Chapter Master Dane; Ship: Flame of Galandross
  • Consecrators: Chapter Master Nakir; Fortress Monastary: Reliquaria
  • Disciples of Caliban: First Chapter master Orias - killed fighting orks

 

Names of orginal Master of the Deathwing, current master of the 10th Company, Master of the Forge etc

 

Finally the gathering of SEVEN unforgiven chapter fleets in chapter strength along with the Rock.... and the first time the Rock was assaulted directly by the traitors.... but was it it the first time?...... well... perhaps Azrael was still hiding some of the truths..... a long time ago.... nearly TWELVE TERRAN years ago the black filth of Abaddon's thirteenth black crusade spilt forth from the Eye of Terror.... and the Unforgiven mobilised in strength......

 

... and the Rock was assaulted..... Cypher was indeed involved..... and the unforgiven legion gathered in legion strength....a Gathering of Angels

 

Sorry chaps.... nastalgia got the better of me...Those were the heady days of the Dark Angels forum when we took the war to the fallen! :)

 

SG


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#23
shabbadoo

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I have been resisting looking at this thread, but I've finally now read the book.  I think Phoebus nails down the good/bad points of the book, and series, well enough that I feel no need to really comment further on it.

 

What I like about the book is mostly the little details, which The Shadow Guard has mentioned most of above.  I like the description of the Heavenfall Blade carried by the Consecrators Chapter Master, that he wears TDA, and that his personal TDA guard carry greatswords and wear bone white helms as a nod to their Deathwing cousins.  That covers most of of the Consecrators stuff, and they are are some nice details for Consecrators to work with. The introduction of two previoulsy unknown Unforgiven Chapters is a pretty awesome idea.  Just when you thought you knew everything (and there are probably a couple others too)...

 

And, it is pretty obvious what sword Cypher carries.  We don't know its name (if it has one), but we know who it belonged to.


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#24
Phoebus

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4. Tuchulcha, whose motives are unclear but I now believe is the reason the Lion disappeared to an unaccessible chamber within the Rock.

 

A very likely possibility. That having been said, a notable ability of the Watchers in the Dark is to ...

 

Spoiler

 

So the answer to how the Lion got to the center of the Rock may still be the simplest one. Nothing more than conjecture on my part, of course!


Edited by Phoebus, 14 August 2015 - 06:23 AM.


#25
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I thought the ending was the worst written part of the book (which I otherwise enjoyed). Way too unclear and way too many plot holes.
The scattering is apparently caused by Tuchulcha because Azrael says get "everyone" to safety, so it moves the 40k Dark Angels, the Death Guard and the Fallen and leaves behind the loyalist Legion?