I read two more Games Workshop novels, one about Dark Angels, and the other about the Thousand Sons.
The Space Marines aren’t just a bunch of fanatic supersoldiers in power armour. Each Legion has a different character; the Dark Angels are medieval knights with a Dark Secret, whereas the Thousand Sons are a bunch of sorcerous nerds with an Egyptian fixation.
In Fallen Angels, the story starts off after half the Dark Angels have been sent home by their leader, Lion El’Jonson, because there’s something wrong with them. The thing that’s wrong with them may be that they’re bossed around by a bloke called Lionel Johnson, who was a joke from 1987 when Warhammer 40,000 was first launched. There’s torturous retconning going on to explain how the name means “the Lion of the Forest” which is odd, because it so obviously means “the Lion of the Johnson” (oo-er) if it means anything at all. It’s really strange that, as Games Workshop squished the humour out of Warhammer 40,000 and turned up the grimdark to 10,they kept this. And removed the earlier idea that the Dark Angels were American Indians In Spaaaace, although on consideration that was probably much more offensive as far as cultural appropriation goes.
Anyway, half the Dark Angels are on a forge world somewhere with old Lion’el, fighting the traitorous forces of Horus, and trying to keep siege weapons from him, while the unloved Fallen Dark Angels mope at home, and occasionally fight giant satanic worms in an overgrown version of the power station from near the start of Aliens.
Johnson’s Angels (fnarr fnarr) are trying to protect the cyborg nerds of the Adeptus Mechanicus, so they can make more giant guns and such, but in a plot twist telegraphed from miles off, the Adeptus Mechanicus are in league with the traitor Marines and are trying to kill the Angels.
The book ends with the Angels successfully fighting off the traitorous Sons of Horus and killing the traitor Mechanicus as well, and then handing the siege weapons to somebody who (spoiler alert) they shouldn’t have. Well, it’s a person for whom, unless you are already familiar with the whole story of the Horus Heresy that these books tell, you won’t see any significance. It’s one of those moments where the cliffhanger provides nothing but a “huh?” from any regular reader.
Would a regular reader by reading this book? I dunno.
Meanwhile, tired of fighting satanic worms, the Fallen Dark Angels turn out to be using heretical knowledge and power to help them fight the worms, which proves they were bad Angels and were fallen all along, although hang on they wouldn’t have been fighting giant satanic worms if they hadn’t been sent home early so it’s hardly their fault… Oh come off it.
Basically, I didn’t enjoy Fallen Angels very much. Does that show?
And then A Thousand Sons. These killer nerds are a colossal cosmic joke. They start off being planned to have 10,000 of them, but so many die that only 1,000 are left. Hence the name. Then, every time the legion grows back to its planned 10,000 strength, some catastrophe knocks them down to 1,000 again, like an Egyptian-obsessed genetically enhanced supersoldier version of a Wile E Coyote cartoon.
The Thousand Sons are full of themselves, totally convinced they are the cleverest people in the universe. I hate them, as do the Space Wolves (Angry Vikings in Spaaaace, obviously). You’ll hate them too, because although usually it’s the politicking and human drama that drives these books, not the warfare, the Thousand Sons are so stuck up and obsessed with being know-it-alls that it isn’t until the climactic battle where they get wiped out that there’s anything really interesting.
And there’s another couple of faux-cliffhangers, when the Sons go to hang out on a planet where careful and attentive readers know they’re going to get punished, and the end of the story, where another plot device from way further on is mentioned.
Along the way, we find that the Emperor is probably a terrible father, treating his sons as no more than tools, and with horrible fates planned for some of them. Then again, he is trying to secure the human race’s fate in an unkind and hostile universe, so a bit of infanticide is really no biggie.
And there’s a few nods to HP Lovecraft here, like squamous and rugose mutations, and the frankly idiot savant Thousand Sons having a statue of Alhazred (the mad writer of the Necronomicon, do keep up at the back there) just standing around.
Good things: the Thousand Sons are all psychic, and don’t realise their psychic abilities are turning them into mutated freaks and gateways for enormous evil to enter the universe. Which is nicely redolent of the end of Ian Tregillis’ Milkweed Triptych, among other things. I guess I just love watching things go wrong.