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Dark Angels in Black Library's Horus Heresy Series

Horus Heresy Novels Black Library Descent of Angels Fallen Angels Dark Angels Literature

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Helpful bit of pre-reading to get familiar with some relevant topics.




The Horus Heresy series will always have some mystery to where details, plot points, and how they are presented or pursed come from because it’s a collaborative work. I recommend reading the Afterword to Guy Haley’s The Lost and the Damned because it offers a view into how the sausage is made. In addition, there’s information and events from preexisting sources which had to be accounted for in one way or another. The salient pieces of information about the Dark Angels in the Horus Heresy give starting points for designing arcs (for the legion and individual characters).


1) Luther is placed in charge of Caliban and the recruitment-training cycle.

2) Luther and the Dark Angels on Caliban turn against the Lion.

3) The Lion and Leman Russ are part of conquering Dulan. The Lion kills the Tyrant, whom Russ had vowed to kill, and the two end up in a massive brawl. The Lion wins when Russ starts laughing about how silly the whole thing is.

4) The Warmaster orders the Dark Angels to the outer edges of expanding Imperium to get them out of the way for the initial stages of his rebellion.

5) The Dark Angels and the Space Wolves make their way to Terra together. Russ insists on breaking every rebel force on the way. When they arrive too late at Terra the Lion holds Russ personally responsible and stabs him when Russ refuses an honor duel.

6) The Dark Angels return to Caliban and are fired upon. They fight on Caliban among orbital bombardments which proceed to break apart the planet (with warp shenanigans weakening the planet). Luther psyker powers gets the better of the Lion, but he has a moment of regret and doesn’t kill the primarch. The Dark Angels recover the largest remaining shard of the planet (the Rock) and Luther, but there is no sign of the Primarch (he’s in stasis in the Rock).


The information does not have to be taken at face value, but one must then be careful of subverting expectations. For example Frank Herbert’s Dune establishes the enmity between feuding families by relating how one family was accused of cowardice for refusing to cross a bridge during a battle. The context and expectation is it’s a physical bridge, but a prequel reveals it was a metaphor for disobeying an order to fire on innocent civilians. The time and elegance put into an explanation can go a long way how well an explanation of “how” is received. Compare Logan’s amnesia (X- Men movies) via one minute of action and a single adamantium bullet to the state of the world in Planet of the Apes and via a three movie prequel trilogy each of which deftly built off the previous prequel.


Each of the previous examples also illustrate how character-driven events require motivation and actions require explanations. There are more than a single option and the difficulty is on how they are addressed. Why do the Dark Angels on Caliban fire on the returning fleet? How do the Dark Angels and Space Wolves meet up on the way to Terra? These give way points or end points, but there must also be a beginning. The choice of beginning has a major impact on world building and character arcs. Imagine Harry Potter except the story begins with Harry just arriving at the train station and his encounter with the Weaselys; we no longer have the context as Harry-the-Orphan or his abusive family. On the other end, if the story begins earlier then one has to have the appropriate narrative of how Harry doesn’t end up as a stew of neuroses and unhealthy coping mechanisms; by skipping all that, we – the reader – just go along with the long-standing “good-natured British orphan who ends up being important” archetype (Arthur, Oliver, etc).


Thus we establish the first question: How does Dark Angels’ tale begin compared to the other legions? The Dark Angels have a unique start. Other legions are already established when we are exposed to them. The POV and world building focuses on the legions and their role(s) in the Great Crusade (and for some, Heresy). This is the first hurdle raised by, “The Warmaster orders the Dark Angels to the outer edges of expanding Imperium to get them out of the way for the initial stages of his rebellion.” The Dark Angels did not have a previously established role in the beginning of the Heresy and so there was much room for choosing where they would first be seen. The Horus Rising trilogy and Fulgrim established expectations for introducing a legion and getting to know its culture.However, instead, in Descent of Angels and Fallen Angels, our POV focus is on Caliban and an inter-order war.


The problem is that, in breaking the pattern, the readers come in expecting to learn about the Dark Angels and their primarch, but barely do so. The social conventions and history we’re given about Caliban subvert expectations. The Order is not the governing planetary body under the Lion, the knights of Caliban are riven by factionalism, and the beasts of the forests are almost all eradicated. In this, the book does an excellent job of setting up a clear theme of schism.


The focus on schism, however, robs the narrative of any immediate import to greater tale of the Heresy, because the confrontation on Caliban does not occur until after the Siege of Terra. The narrative is continued haphazardly through short stories and the B-plot in other books. Yet it’s the equivalent of a not important cameo; like if Han Solo showed up to deliver mail in The Mandolorian. The presence of the Calibanite faction has not added any depth to the character arcs or world building upon which the Horus Heresy rests.


Next up: Short stories and Angels of Caliban

Edited by jaxom, 03 December 2019 - 08:33 PM.

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Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Horus Heresy, Novels, Black Library, Descent of Angels, Fallen Angels, Dark Angels, Literature

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