Lord of the Night reviews the exciting second novel in the Legacy of Caliban series, Master of Sanctity by Gav Thorpe.
“A superb sequel that improves on story, action and characterization as the focus switches from the secretive Ravenwing to the dreaded Interrogator-Chaplains. Master of Sanctity is a sequel that surpasses the original and sets the stage for an even better finale. One of Thorpe’s finest books yet!” – Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
Master of Sanctity is a book that I was eager to read for quite a while for two reasons. First; I really enjoyed Ravenwing and wanted to see where the story and characters would continue on to. And second; after seeing that Asmodai and Sapphon would be the central characters to this sequel, I was completely hooked. Asmodai is one of the most notorious characters in 40k and to have him finally appear in a novel and as a POV character was something I was really looking forward to. And thankfully I was not disappointed and at several stages I was very surprised by what went on in Asmodai’s head, and by the end I had a very different idea of his character than before I started. Thorpe goes even further into the mysteries of the Dark Angels than ever before in this book and I think it pays off wonderfully as we get to see the Sons of the Lion from more angles than ever and learn a lot more about their inter-chapter politics to boot.
The Secret War continues, and yet another of the ancient Fallen Angels has been brought to heel by their former compatriots in the Dark Angels. Thanks to the efforts of the Ravenwing, two of the Fallen responsible for the Piscina Disaster have been captured and taken to the Rock, but one more remains and as tensions begins to mount between the hardline Chaplain Asmodai and the moderate Master of Sanctity Sapphon over the correct course for the war, one man offers them the chance of a lifetime. To capture the final Fallen and prevent a scheme that could destabilize the entire bloodline of the Lion and expose the secret they have sought to hide for ten thousand years. But with new blood in the Deathwing and struggling to find their place, the Interrogator-Chaplains at each other’s throats and the motivations of their ally a complete unknown, it may well be that the Dark Angels will falter at this momentous step.
The story in MoS continues on from the story started in Angels of Darkness and continued in Ravenwing. The focus shifts from Sammael and the Ravenwing to Asmodai and the Interrogator-Chaplains, who add a very interesting dose of Chapter politics to the series and show just how divided the Dark Angels are on how to prosecute the Secret War. Thorpe also continues the personal stories of Annael, Sabrael and Telemenus as they graduate to the Deathwing, while also nicely explaining just how an “Elite” company can remain elite when considering their unique elevation requirements, and with some very nice segments showing the technical strengths and limits of Terminator armour. MoS also finally explains the motivations of Astelan, Anovel and Methelas from Angels of Darkness and reveals exactly what they had been planning to do before events took control from them, and both their plans and their reactions to said plans being interrupted really ups the ante for the entire series, giving the Dark Angels a new and familiar enemy to face while at the same time keeping the fight a personal one for them. I think that the best parts of the story were the fractitious relationship between Asmodai and Sapphon, where that relationship takes their characters and the Chapter as a whole, and how others are affected by the decisions made at the top. The only flaw is that one character’s story ended with a third of the book to go, which to me felt as if the author had run out of ideas for this character in the book and decided to just put him to one side for later, that particular character’s story would have been better had it gone further and had what happened to him happened nearer the end. I also particularly enjoyed the course of events that the Dark Angels new “ally” took them on as it was unpredictable where the trail would lead, and of course whether or not this ally acted in good faith is a question that even the story’s end didn’t quite answer.
The characters are both returning and new, the returning cast including the proud Telemenus, curious Annael and brash Sabrael. These three all find themselves entering new territory, Telemenus as a Deathwing brother, Annael and Sabrael as Black Knights of the Ravenwing; and their stories focus on how a Chapter that uses knowledge of secrets as elevation requirements keeps it’s standards up, how that knowledge is spread across the entire Chapter, how the secrets are kept now that the main characters are clued-in, or somewhat clued-in at least, and how these secrets and the duties that come with them begin to change how the protagonists view their own duty to Chapter and Emperor. Thorpe does a good job of making each one’s journey unique, yet connected enough that we can see parallels and similarities between them, and see how the same lessons are taught in different ways. We also see Sammael and Malcifer again, only from the eyes of others and we learn a bit about how the former is viewed by others in Chapter Command. As for new characters both Asmodai and Sapphon are the main POVs of the book, both as different from each other as can be. Sapphon himself comes across as the truly sane man among the Dark Angels, the one who knows they must be careful in how they act lest they draw unwanted attention, and yet he is a risk taker in ways that Asmodai is not. Asmodai himself is a character that can be summed up in one sentence; he is an asshole. Often we learn that characters aren’t quite what we think they are, yet here it is not that Asmodai isn’t actually an asshole, because he is, but rather the why behind him is far different than you’d think and by the end my opinion of Asmodai had changed quite a bit. He is an asshole, but why he’s like that was surprising, and in my opinion quite sad. The Fallen also return in the form of Merir Astelan who gets quite a bit of screen-time, which led to some very interesting developments in both story and the interactions between Sapphon and Asmodai.
The action scenes in the book also shift their focus. Where Ravenwing was filled with Bike squads, jet-bikes and fast-attacks, Master of Sanctity focuses more on the Deathwing Terminators and the Interrogator-Chaplains. That is not to say the Ravenwing are absent in the book, we still get plenty of scenes with Bikes and Land Speeders, but MoS also has scenes with Terminators crashing through enemy emplacements, special and heavy weapons tearing apart entire squads, along with plenty of nightmarish enemies and monsters to pit the might of the Dark Angels against. The main battle in the book is brilliantly done, Thorpe weaves the combat styles of the distinctly different Deathwing and Ravenwing together against a very memorable and powerful enemy in a series of chapters that are not only exciting and visceral, but also tense and gripping. Later on more battle scenes continue this theme of the disparate groups working together, and Thorpe does it very well in the scenes that do contain battle. However the first third of the book doesn’t contain any real battle scenes, focusing more on the characters being brought into new circumstances and the Interrogator-Chaplains working through chapter politics and the rivalling opinions of their peers. But I think that the quality of the short battle scenes on both Piscina early in the book, the world where the main and best fight scenes take place, and the final battle scenes near the end are more than enough for the book.
The pacing of the book is nicely done. The first third of the book focuses on establishing new characters and their viewpoints, showing how the events of Ravenwing are affecting the Chapter and what direction it could take them in, how the returning characters are adapting to both new circumstances and new truths, and how the new characters are going to drive the story for the remainder of the book. Thorpe takes it fairly slowly for the first third, letting all of this be established while at the same time keeping the novel exciting through conversations, plot twists, character confrontations and unexpected revelations about said characters. Once the first third is done and Part 2 begins the plot picks up as the Dark Angels are brought into battle, the action scenes being at times fast-paced to represent the Ravenwing’s style of battle and at other times more methodical and powerful to represent the Deathwing. Once the plot picks up Thorpe doesn’t let it slow down as plot twists drive the Dark Angels into the final third of the book where the schemes manifested in the story come to a head and the results make themselves known, and finally the ending where the most shocking twist of all comes into play. The only issue I had is that in the middle part during the battle scenes, those of the Deathwing, the book starts to drag a bit as Telemenus and his brothers spend a lot of time running around and not really achieving anything, and it does feel in the book as if the battle itself is dragging on longer than it should, which was appropriate but also made it a little harder to read.
My favourite quote, unfortunately my favourite one spoils the entire ending so I can’t post it. So instead i’ll post this one that nicely sums up the mindset of the Deathwing and Ravenwing;
“Honour is earned by the completion of the mission. All other considerations are worthless.”
The ending was brilliant, answering quite a few questions about events in the previous books of the series while setting the stage for the dramatic finale of the Legacy of Caliban series. The final few pages were absolutely shocking, something occurring that I had definitely not seen coming and was floored by when it did happen. Without a doubt this is quite possibly the most dramatic thing that Thorpe could have done in the series and I for one can’t wait to see how such a momentous event will impact the Dark Angels in the final book, Unforgiven, and how it could change the Secret War as well. The ending to MoS doesn’t close the story or end any particular character’s personal story, rather it feels like Part III of the overall series, including Angels of Darkness, has come to an end and we must wait for Part IV to begin and the story to come to it’s natural conclusion, rather than each book feeling like one adventure in a series of connected adventures this series feels like one big adventure, which makes it more epic of course and lends to the cliff-hanger ending of MoS that was a way to finish the book off.
For an enjoyable story that had plenty of unexpected twists, characters that were all much more than they appeared to be on the surface, action scenes that were exciting and gripping from start to finish, and an ending that stunned me and left me eagerly anticipating the final book in the series, I give Master of Sanctity a score of 7.8/10. Truthfully this book is done quite well, the only real flaw of note I have mentioned in the story section, other than that the book simply falls into the quality category of Good in my opinion, it falls short of Very Good by a thin margin. I suppose most of the early parts of the book were more interesting than they were exciting, which isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t quite glue you to the page as exciting does. If you are a Dark Angels fan I would very much suggest you read Master of Sanctity, any fan of the Dark Angels should be able to enjoy this book and series as a whole, if not I would still suggest it as it’s a fine Space Marine story and one that may just make you a fan of the Dark Angels. But if you dislike the unique nature of the Dark Angels and their secretive war, then this isn’t the book for you.
That’s it for this review. Thanks very much for reading, until next time;
AVE DOMINUS NOX!