The Devastation of Baal

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Well folks, it took me long enough, but I’ve finally made it to the end of this book! That’s not to say that I wasn’t enjoying my time on the Blood Angels’ homeworld during a Tyranid attack – the book is actually really good, with some tremendous action scenes, as well as being quite thought-provoking.

I think the main reason I found this heavy-going at times was just how arduous those action scenes can be. We get about 200 pages of space marines fighting Tyranids, and it did become a bit much after a while. There is enough peppered throughout to keep interest, don’t get me wrong, but I just found it difficult to want to return to that melee day after day.

Another reason why I found this to be quite heavy-going is the simple fact that I’m not that big of a Blood Angels fan. For sure, I enjoy the sons of Sanguinius as much as any other casual space marine fan, but I’m not overly interested in them to the exclusion of all else. And I think this is a major point for this book – if you’re a Blood Angels fan, you’ll absolutely love it. There’s nothing but wall-to-wall red armour where everything is named something to do with blood. We get a lot of Commander Dante, and learn what it’s like to be the oldest-living space marine of the Imperium.

So, the story is basically the attack on Baal from Hive Fleet Leviathan, in what often feels like a follow-up to the Shield of Baal series from 2014. Oddly, though, while it does feel like a follow-up, a lot of what is referenced comes from the campaign books, and not another novel, which just feels a little disjointed to me! Anyway, after a long preamble where the various successor chapters of the Blood Angels gather to accept Dante’s leadership, the Shadow in the Warp descends and the Tyranids begin their attack. After a gruelling battle, where Baal and its moons is basically devastated (well, it’s in the title…) the xenos are beaten back and Guilliman shows up with loads of new Primaris Space Marines.

A lot of people have already been talking about how Guilliman saves the day yet again, and have voiced their complaints that the novel falls down because of the over-use of this device. However, I have to say that I don’t really share this view. True, the Tyranid attack stops and the Indomitus Crusade shows up, but it doesn’t truly feel like Guilliman actually defeats them. Dante and his combined Blood Angels forces do the vast majority of the fighting, and Guilliman himself actually ascribes the victory to Dante. Instead, Guilliman really only shows up for the clean-up. The main turning point comes when Cadia falls, light-years from Baal, and the Cicatrix Maledictum basically destroys the Hive Mind’s synapse long enough for the Tyranids to actually be beaten back.

Leaving entire chapters-worth of Primaris marines behind does feel a bit like a forced ending, of course, as we essentially have the Blood Angels updated for 8th Edition. Now you too can field countless droves of Primaris marines in your Blood Angels army, because Guy Haley told you it’s what happens! Seriously, it’s not the worst way of bringing this development into canon. There is an interesting scene near the end between Dante and Gabriel Seth of the Flesh Tearers, where Seth calls the Primaris replacements for the marines, and their lack of the genetic flaws of the Blood Angels means that, while they may wear the colours, they will never be true sons of Sanguinius. Which is an interesting way of looking at things, to be sure.

Dante’s reaction is similarly thought-provoking, as he seems to have a bit of an epiphany whereby his attempts to preserve the Chapter almost cause Baal to be lost to the xenos. It makes the reader question whether space marines are too caught-up in their own past glories, and whether they really are willing to lay down their lives in service of preserving the Imperium. It’s a subtle point, but I really found it intriguing.

Of course, fans have been endlessly discussing the scene between Dante and Seth, and whether there will be a civil war between the old marines and the new. While we’ve been seeing fractures already like this, I don’t think GW is going to go down this route too much, as I can see it causing further problems with the integration of the product line. People already hate them, it seems, so why encourage that divide? Doubtless, it would be interesting, but I don’t foresee anything too much just now.

Anyway, overall this was a good book, and fans of the Blood Angels will of course love it more than anyone!

6 thoughts on “The Devastation of Baal”

  1. Just finished reading this one myself and I’m pretty much in agreement with you throughout. I actually really enjoyed the whole intro section with all the scene setting descriptions and character introductions but, although I also found the latter part of the book to be swamped with battle scenes, I actually found there wasn’t a real sense of darkness or impending doom in the siege itself. We were told often enough that the Angels were doomed but I didn’t often feel it myself. It might have been nice if the book had been longer (and I know it’s hardly short to begin with) – spacing out the battle scenes with more character building so that we readers felt drawn into the inevitable doom of the protagonists rather than just being thrown from one fight to the next.

    That said the only thing that really bothered me was the handling of the Knights of Blood. To me they’ve always been one of the most interesting and underexplored of the Blood Angels successor chapters and a lot more could have been done with them, but instead when their moment in the spotlight finally arrived they were rendered quite superficial and primarily used as a devise with which to frame Seth and the Fleshtearers. It felt like a bit of a waste when they had so much potential in their own right and that will never be tapped now.

    Overall though an excellent read – and a really good and well written review!

    1. Thanks very much!
      Yes, I think a bit more character development spacing out the battle scenes would have been good. I suppose I’d also have liked more from the other side – fights against Tyranids are always hard-going for me, because they’re usually one-sided reports due to the nature of the Hive Mind. Having the Lictor here helps a little, but I always feel it’s difficult to read these sorts of things as opposed to other armies.
      You’re right about the Knights of Blood just being there to show Seth in a good light. I always get that awkward feeling from certain characters in 40k, like Seth, who are supposed to be super-badass-types and we’re supposed to be deeply impressed because they’re so brutal or somesuch. So I did appreciate the fact he was given more pause here. I also had the feeling that these new novels that tie more directly into the storyline of 8th are trying to eradicate certain aspects of the lore that may seem dated or something, and I got the impression that Vampire Marines were no longer desired by GW, so the Knights must be eliminated. Makes me wonder what we’ll be seeing from the upcoming novels around Space Wolves and Dark Angels, anyway!

      1. I wondered about the eradication of the vampire marines myself actually. Between the near annihilation of the old Blood Angels (and their successors) and all the talk of the new Primaris versions not suffering the flaw, feeling the thirst or succumbing to the Black Rage one is left feeling that from here on they’re just Ultramarines in red armour (as Seth himself says I think). In some ways this seems a bit odd given the way GW have been bringing other old ideas out of the archives lately (Wulfen, genestealer cults, even Squats). Why are werewolf marines ok but vampire marines must be consigned to the dustbin of history? Of course I may be reading too much into it, it’ll be interesting to see where GW go with this.

      2. Part of me does wonder if they don’t have something up their sleeves with the Primaris stuff. Like you say, there’s all kinds of things in the archives that have made the various marine chapters different, so with having them basically bland drones now, are they really gearing up for some kind of civil war between the old guard and the new drone marines? Werewolf marines may yet be discarded too – the next of these Space Marines Conquests series deals with them, and I think is either out already or coming out at the weekend. We might see the neutering of all the old chapters, which leaves me wondering – then what?

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