Saturday, September 5, 2009

Book Review: Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels by Mike Lee is the tenth book (ignoring the collection of short stories called Tales of Heresy) in the Horus Heresy series and acts as a sequel to the sixth book Descent of Angels written by Mitchel Scanlon.

Since Fallen Angels is a sequel to Descent of Angels, it seems stupid not to talk about it a little bit. Descent got a lot of flak for having very little to do with the Heresy and revolving way too much around Pre-Imperial Caliban. Stepping outside the realm of the Horus Heresy series for a moment, Descent of Angels was not a bad book (although the ending felt abrupt and... weird). Looking at it from the Horus Heresy series point of view, however, it seems out of place and irrelevant to the time-line. Mike Lee battled this with Fallen Angels and did so very effectively.

Fallen Angels is based around the two main characters from the previous Dark Angels book, Zaharial and Nemiel. Zaharial is currently a Librarian-in-training and Nemiel is a Chaplain. From the beginning of the book straight to the end, Mike Lee did a great job keeping the story moving at a quick, but manageable, pace. This sucked me right into it as I read and made the story quite exciting. Every chapter switches places from Caliban to Gordia IV and later, Diamat. As with nearly all of the Horus Heresy books, the end of each chapter holds a pretty good cliff-hanger that wants you to read more; however, Mike Lee was able to make each story (both on Caliban and Diamat) so interesting that after reading either chapter, you wanted more. This is very different, in my opinion, than other books where one chapter is about the Space Marines and you want more of that, but have to trudge through boring crap about remembrances before you can satiate your need for power-armored super-humans. Mike Lee did a brilliant job keeping your attention throughout every part of the book.

Now let's talk more about the story: it's interesting, to say the least. We learn many things about Caliban and the Dark Angels stationed there leading right up to the fall. I was hoping for an epic battle that ends up in Caliban being destroyed (with Luther and Johnson duking it out) but alas, no such event occurred - more on that later). Zaharial, as we remember from Descent of Angels, is stationed on Caliban and Nemiel is with Johnson on the Emperor's Great Crusade. Zaharial has become Luther's right-hand man and, likewise, Nemiel became Johnson's. Mike Lee did a great job characterizing the Lion and Luther and you really become attached to both. Johnson quickly became one of my favorite Primarchs towards the end, despite a gross miscalculation (which was pretty ironic, truth be told) and I have a lot of respect for him both as a Primarch and as a tactician. A lot of the Lion's actions have further implications in the overall story of the Horus Heresy itself which makes the book that much more interesting.

Luther, and all of what will end up being the Fallen, are easy to relate to (despite being genetically enhanced super-humans with the ability to decapitate you with the flick of a finger). It is easy to be sympathetic towards them and their cause as they begin rebellion against the Imperium, but here is where I find a flaw in Mike Lee's writing: Zaharial's character is very idealistic and he is incredibly loyal to the Emperor and the Lion. His Librarian trainer, Israfael, is a mentor to him and Zaharial has the utmost respect for his counsel yet in the space of a page and a half, Zaharial completely changes and turns his back on the Imperium, the Lion and his mentor. The transition makes sense and is bound to happen, but it feels way too quick. It was still a good scene, just far too abrupt of a personality change in my opinion.

One of the most interesting characters was Cypher. You get to know more about his personality and his background and, suffice to say, I am a pretty big fan of him post-heresy now...

Now for the bad: as I mentioned, Zaharial's personality change was incredibly abrupt but the same goes for all of the Dark Angels. One minute they're all "We love the Lion and the Emperor" and then the next Luther is turning traitor and the Dark Angels all say "Ok, whatever, For Luther!". Seriously, the change in all of their thought processes was so abrupt it was as if Mike Lee jumped out of the book, slapped me across the face and yelled "that's for enjoying good character development!". Though I feel as if I'm being a bit too harsh. The seeds of discontent had been planted throughout the book and the charachters were all bound to tread down that path. The thing is, instead of being a line-graph (in that they get proportionately traitorous as the book progresses) it acted more like an exponential graph so the characters slowly got more and more unhappy with their situation and then it just exploded. If this was fixed, the book would've easily been one of my favorites in the series. Some smaller problems, setting aside grammar because Black Library doesn't understand the meaning of the term "proof-reading", was some of the cheesiness Mike Lee decided to add in. One of the instances that stands out is when Lion El'Johnson is talking to Brother-Redemptor Nemiel and says "You have the makings of a good Interrogator, brother". A definite face-palm moment there. Really, the Dark Angels Chaplains become Interrogator Chaplains? Who woulda thunk it? To be honest, though, I'm just nitpicking here but I think it was worth mentioning. One more thing I want to add is that the ending wasn't what I expected nor hoped for, but it was pretty cool and, well, unexpected. Kudos to Mike Lee for a very ironic twist!

Now a quick summary for those of you who don't feel like reading:
THE GOOD: Story is easy to follow and engaging, understand the Fallen and the Lion much more, very good ties to the overall story of the Horus Heresy, interesting ending.

THE BAD: Abrupt personality change in the Fallen, disappointing end (despite it being interesting, it wasn't what should've happened. The Fall of Caliban is what it should've ended with).

Overall, I rate this book 7.5 stars out of 10. It was a great book and I highly suggest reading it, but it is not the best book in the series (though certainly up there). The reason it doesn't score higher is because of the character change with the Fallen (as I've harped on a lot already) and how it really needs another book to finish the story. Sure, we know Caliban gets totally destroyed, but I want to know about Luther and the Lion's epic duel. I want to know about what happened when they confronted eachother, the conversation, the emotional toll fighting one another took on both of them. The ending was cool, just not as good as it could've been. It's like a video game: great story but a disappointing ending (personally, I have not played a game that had an ending that made me crap myself due to the awesome. Books: yes. Video games: no.)

I hope you enjoyed this Book Review, and expect more in the future!


Dictator said...

kev when you joke about the part where the lion speaks to the "to-be" chaplain, are you talking about the fact that it is obvious that Dark Angel Chaplains are Interrogators? Or is it that pre-Heresy there would be absolutely no need for "Interrogator" chaplains because there were no Fallen? Or something else and I am an idiot :D

Dictator said...

Also... I need to call you tomorrow (wink) (wink)

Kevin said...

The obvious part about DA Chaplains being Interrogators is what I was joking about. 'Twas quite lame :p

I am excited for the call. Usually the "wink-wink" means something incredibly bad ass, exciting or something along those lines. Am I right?