Continuing with the Horus Heresy Review Series, next up is Book 11, Fallen Angels. This book is a follow up to Descent of Angels, and follows the same characters. While I think Fallen Angels includes enough review that a reader wouldn't be totally lost if they skipped the previous book, it certainly helped. As a result, this book helped me appreciate Descent of Angels a bit more. After the jump I'll get into some of the details (aka Spoiler Alert) but I actually really liked this novel. I was a little leery of continuing a story arc that I hadn't enjoyed overmuch, but the story is generally well crafted and pretty fast paced.
To set the stage, the book's Epilogue traces Zahariel and Luther's return to Caliban and sums up some of the action from Descent of Angels. The main story arc then occurs decades later. The two main story arcs follow Zahariel on Caliban, and his cousin and childhood friend Nemiel, who has been elevated to a chaplain, fighting along side Lion El'Jonson.
The chapter by chapter rotation of the two stories of two idealistic friends under two powerful leaders does a great job comparing and contrasting the leaders in particular. That is, we see both the nobility and potential for deviousness in both Luther and the Lion, with little to clearly distinguish who has Fallen and who is righteous. It is only at the end that Luther is shown as a traitor, in an arc and with reasoning mirroring that of Horus. And yet, his motivations are understandable, though his conclusions and actions may be flawed. On the other hand, the Lion's actions are inexplicable for the most part, and end up all being for naught.
Luther's betrayal of the Lion and the Imperium mirrors that of Horus; they both have been abandoned by their glorious, god-like leader. That said, Luther's aspirations are much more reserved and his motivations more understandable - he wants to secure his planet's future, and sees the uncaring nature of the Imperium that will treat Caliban just like any of the other myriad planets in its domain. Luther also concludes that the Lion knows of Caliban's destined fate to be destroyed by the Imperium because of the taint it possesses. Unlike the Lion, Luther cannot abandon his planet and its people to this fate and strives to save it, though in the end he attempts to use dangerous powers to do so.
Unlike Horus, Luther's goals are admirable, and his desire for power appears to be motivated by the desire to protect his people and uphold his knightly oaths.
Meanwhile, the story arc that shows the Lion shows him to be enigmatic and flawed. Nemiel realizes that the Lion cannot read people very well and relies on confidants. This of course is revealed to be a terrible flaw for the Imperium, as the Lion undoes the work of his secretive mission by handing the warmachines he sought to deny Horus to Perturabo of the Iron Warriors. This interaction in the Epilogue, while brief, holds a lot. The Lion is petitioning Perturabo for his support as the next Warmaster, but the entire situation shows why the Lion was not selected as the Warmaster in the first place. His inability to read people or maneuver them subtly is in sharp contrast to Horus's abilities shown in Horus Rising. The Lion may be an excellent tactician in war, but he cannot read or use people well.
In the end, while it is assumed that the Lion is still loyal, his flaws lead to increased damage to the Imperium - his inability to read his people and others results not only in Perturabo getting the siege-engines he would need to break the Imperial Fists' fortifications on Terra, but his rejection and dismissal of Luther could reasonably be considered to be a direct cause of Caliban's fall and eventual destruction (from what little I know of Dark Angel history).
All that doesn't even touch on the main actors of the story, Nemiel and Zahariel. To some degree they are tools to show the two leaders in contrast. That said, Zahariel harbors a secret at the end of the novel, which makes his loyalty unclear. He hides a secret from Luther, and it's not clear if his motivation in doing so is because his loyalty is still partly to Lion El'Jonson and the Emperor or because he has other aspirations. While the latter would be out of character, there is evidence that he is not entirely himself. I would lean toward him having ongoing loyalty to the Imperium, but I am not sure what secret he discovered and what he will do with the secret.
Fallen Angels clearly sets up a trilogy for the Dark Angels, with at least one more novel needed to bring their story arc from before the Heresy to the mystery-shrouded group of the 40k universe. While I didn't really cover the actions within the novel and focused more on the conclusions I drew, the plot was well paced and interesting. Nemiel's story was mostly classic "bolter-porn" while Zahariel's story offered more implications into the nature of Caliban and a few hints about the Watchers in the Dark.