Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – 1 December 2004)
Series: Blood Angels – Book One
Length: 252 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read. This is actually my second Throwback Thursday post today as I also put up a review for the Warhammer 40,000 novel Xenos by Dan Abnett. However, I have been in an extreme Warhammer mood lately so I figured I would do a double feature and review the other Warhammer 40,000 book I finished this week, the first entry in James Swallow’s Blood Angels series, Deus Encarmine.
One of the main things that really draws me into the Warhammer extended universe is that it contains works from a ton of awesome authors who have experience across the writing spectrum. For example, James Swallow is a highly regarded thriller author who also contributed his talents to several extended universes, including the elaborate Warhammer universe. While many readers may be familiar with his entries in the Horus Heresy sub-series, Swallow’s other major contribution to the Warhammer canon is the Blood Angels books, which provide dark adventures for one of the most iconic Space Marines chapters, the Blood Angels. I managed to grab the first two books in this series from a second hand shop a few months ago and I just finished off the first entry, Deus Encarmine, this week. It proved to be a fantastic and dark read that showcases the Blood Angels in a whole new light.
Out of all the Space Marines chapters who faithfully defend the Imperium of Man, few are as revered, respected or feared as the legendary Blood Angels. The genetic descendants of the angelic primarch Sanguinius, the Blood Angels are proud warriors whose martial prowess and resolve are known across the galaxy. However, their strength comes at a great cost, as the traumatic death of Sanguinius millennia before during the Horus Heresy still lingers in their shared genes and has the potential to drive even the best of them mad.
As the Imperium once again finds itself invaded by the forces of Chaos, one of the Blood Angels’ greatest tests is about to begin on the planet of Cybele. A grave world dedicated to the memory of fallen Imperial warriors, Cybele is brutally invaded by Chaos Space Marines of the traitor Word Bearers legion, who overwhelm the Blood Angels honour guard stationed there and a relief force from the Blood Angels battle barge Bellus. Only an ambitious plan by a young Battle-Brother, Arkio, turns the tide against the forces of Chaos, a victory that is considered by many to be a miracle.
As the Blood Angels follow the Word Bearers back to their base of operations, the conquered planet of Shenlong, more miracles seem to surround Arkio, leading his fellow Space Marines to believe that he is the blessed reincarnation of Sanguinius himself. The only Blood Angel who doubts is Arkio’s older brother, Rafen, who notices strange changes in his sibling that his fellows are too blinded to see. Only Rafen can discover whether Arkio’s gifts are a Chaos plot or the divine will of Sannguinius, but will he find out the truth before humanity’s greatest protectors are torn apart from within?
This was an excellent and captivating Warhammer novel from Swallow that tells a bleak and compelling story of faith, betrayal and family. Making full use of the grim Warhammer 40,000 universe and the focus on the iconic Blood Angels, Deus Encarmine set up this first part of this series perfectly and you come away from this book extremely satisfied.
I really enjoyed the complex and dark story that Swallow featured in Deus Encarmine, especially as there are multiple layers to the narrative that drag you in with clever twists and turns. Starting quickly and effectively with an extended and bloody war sequence, you really get a sense of the Blood Angels’ determination and resolve, as well as some of the deeper elements that impact them. However, the real story doesn’t begin until after the massive battle at the start, as the characters are drawn into a deadly plot based around the Blood Angels’ history and beliefs. Thanks to the efforts of a manipulative Inquisitor, as well as their own arrogance and faith, the Blood Angels are led to believe that the young Battle-Brother Arkio is the reincarnation of their founder, and they decide to follow him on a doomed quest to a Chaos controlled planet. The build up to the invasion is amazing, especially as you get to see the various enemy moves to confuse the Blood Angels, as well as the failed attempts by the protagonists to discover what exactly is going on with Arkio. Everything comes to a head when they reach their target, and the massive and brutal battle that follows reveals some dark truths about the despicable plans to destroy the Blood Angels.
I really got drawn into this awesome and compelling narrative and I loved the many impressive layers that Swallow added to it. While many readers will be drawn in by the detailed and bloody war sequences, the real joy is in the intense manipulations and deceits that the villains unleash as the protagonists find themselves confronted by their own beliefs in dark times. Swallow makes perfect use of the grim setting and the interesting history of the Blood Angels to turn this into an intense read, and you really get drawn in as you attempt to discover the truth behind Arkio and the enemy plan. The author features various character perspectives to really showcase the differing views of the Blood Angels, as wells as the moves of the antagonists, and I loved how everything unfolded. Readers come away from Deus Encarmine very satisfied, although the bleak cliff-hanger ending makes you instantly want to get out and grab the sequel. I also felt that this was a pretty good entry novel for those readers looking to get into Warhammer fiction, as Swallow expertly introduces key elements of the wider universe and showcasing just home grim and deadly the war between Chaos and humanity can be.
Unsurprisingly, this first book in the Blood Angels series spends quite a bit of time focused on the titular chapter of Space Marines, the Blood Angels, who proved to be as awesome as always. The Blood Angels are one of the most iconic and beloved factions in the entire Warhammer universe. While all Space Marines are compelling and contain great potential for exciting stories (see my reviews for Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steven Parker and Space Wolf by William King), the Blood Angels are particularly complex and striking figures. Deadly and honourable warriors, the Blood Angels have a religious obsession with blood which borders on the vampiric, as well as major psychic daddy issues from their dead progenitor that can potentially drive them mad. All this has tugged at the imagination of generations of Warhammer fans and Swallow uses that to full effect in Deus Encarmine. Not only do you see these deadly warriors in multiple battle sequences, but Swallow dives into the history, culture and spirit of the chapter, including all the factors that helped turn them into such efficient and unstoppable killers. All the key aspects of the Blood Angels experience are artfully captured and utilised throughout Deus Encarmine and fans of this chapter will be particularly excited, especially as Swallow adds in a ton of references and homages to various parts of the lore and previous fictional releases (I spotted a couple from Bloodquest). I particularly loved that Swallow featured a Death Company in one of the battles, which was so damn cool as you got to see Blood Angels inflicted with the Black Rage tear apart their enemies one last time. I also really appreciated how Swallow utilised the past and trauma of the Chapter as a key story point, and their faith and dedication to their primarch is used against them by their enemy. All these elements, and more, make Deus Encarmine a must-read for all Space Marines fans, especially those who love to field/read about the Blood Angels, and Swallow had a wonderful time showcasing this faction.
I had a great time with the characters featured in Deus Encarmine and Swallow perfectly set them up and then inserted them into the complex tale. Nearly all the major characters are members of the Blood Angels, and they share a joint history of suffering and bloodshed that binds them together. While their training and history ensures some similarities, Swallow ensures that the central cast had some key differences and personalities. The main character of Rafen was particularly compelling, and Swallow puts an interesting history around him. His constant battle between the needs of his chapter and his loyalty to his brother is a major part of the book’s drama, and it is hard not to feel for him when he is the only one able to see that something is going terribly wrong. The character of Arkio was also a fantastic addition to the cast, and I loved his gradual change throughout Deus Encarmine from a humble warrior to a dangerous religious figure. Other characters, including the arrogant Sanguinary Priest Sachiel, the grizzled and suspicious veteran Koris, and even the entertaining Word Bearers characters who acted in counterpart to the protagonists, were all well written and I loved the elaborate narrative threads that Swallow wove around them. However, my favourite character in Deus Encarmine was probably Inquisitor Stele. Initially shown as an effective, if arrogant, ally, it is slowly revealed that Stele is a manipulative and callous being who is leading the Blood Angels towards a darker objective. Watching him carefully and effectively divide and control the various Blood Angels characters was really awesome and I loved watching his dark scheme unfold. I deeply enjoyed how Swallow utilised his characters in Deus Encarmine, and it will be intriguing to see who survives the deadly events of the next book.
Overall, I felt that Deus Encarmine was a pretty epic read and a powerful addition to the Warhammer canon. James Swallow has written an excellent and captivating read here that perfectly blended intrigue, betrayal and an intense war story with the complex history and culture of the iconic Blood Angels Space Marines chapter. An intense and addictive read, I absolutely loved this first Blood Angels and I plan to check out the sequel, Deus Sanguinius next, especially as I want to see how Swallow ends this fantastic duology.
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