BLACK LIBRARY REVIEW - Dante by Guy Haley
Lord of the Night reviews the captivating origin story of one of the Imperiumís greatest heroes, Dante by Guy Haley.
ďA captivating and true origin story that not only explores the humble beginnings of one of 40kís most recognizable heroes, but also gives his Chapter a much needed injection of background. One of Haleyís best works yet!Ē Ė Lord of the Night
Dante is a novel that I was interested in from the instant it was revealed, a little because the Blood Angels are my favourites of the Imperium, but mainly it was because Dante has never been the focus of a novel before. True heís had plenty of cameos here and there, some short story appearances, and he was a side-character in the novel Red Tide by James Swallow, but weíve never seen inside his head before now. I expected a novel that would tell Dante's story through flashbacks, showing some pivotal moments while the focus would be a battle set in the present day. So I was completely surprised by instead getting an epic journey that took me from Dante's humble beginnings to the legend of 40k, it felt as if I walked through Dante's life with him. This combined with some revealing lore additions and explanations about the Blood Angels and Dante becomes one of the best novel releases from Black Library so far this year.
Dante, Lord Commander of the Blood Angels. A name that is known across the galaxy as a paragon of virtue, a byword for heroism and valour that brings hope to the beleaguered in an age of darkness and insanity. But even this legend was once a young mortal boy who looked into the sky of his broken home-world and dreamed of being an angel in service to the God-Emperor. As Dante reminisces on his earliest days, those days when he trekked across the desolate surface of Baal Secundus and faced the Trial of Angels, when he rose to become an angel and came face to face with the darker nature of the ascended, and the battles that made him who he is one-thousand and four hundred years later, he wonders how much longer both he and the Imperium can endure as the end of days approach.
Dante is I think a first for Black Library as it is a true origin story. Weíve had flashbacks to a characterís beginnings in previous novels and excerpts from their past in short stories and the like, but weíve never had a novel that was solely devoted to showing how the hero became the hero, and not just how they rose in whichever Chapter/regiment/etc that they belong to, but how they got there as well. Dante is a truly character driven story and it works because itís never been done before, the whole point of the novel is to tell Danteís story, and one of the best parts of this is that Haley sticks to it throughout. Thereís no battle to provide the main story with Danteís past as the secondary offering, the book is his and everything that happens is secondary to the overall story of his life. Haley chooses just the right moments to focus on though, Danteís life as a young boy receives the most exploration as it is fundamental to who he is, and we also see his early days as a Space Marine and how they further shaped him. But this isnít just an origin story, it also shows Dante in the current time and gives the reader a long-awaited look into just how Dante views everything around him and how he deals with the myth that has been created around him. With this kind of novel itís critical that the character be interesting, and Haley has definitely achieved that, but itís not just Dante that makes this an interesting book. We learn a lot more about the Blood Angels as a Chapter, get the first real look at their home-worlds that weíve ever had, and a glimpse into their future that will have readers on edge to see where the Blood Angels are going, and itís these things in addition to Dante that really captivated me throughout the book.
With the character cast Haley keeps true to the focus of this novel, Dante is the only main character and heís also the only POV, which I think was necessary as any others would have detracted from the whole point of the story, which is exploring Dante as a man and his past. Dante himself is a fascinating character, like others in the 41st millennium he is a hero to billions, an ideal to strive to, a name that reminds you there are still good guys in the grim darkness. But where Dante differs is not just the fact that even among these heroes he stands out due to his venerable age of one-thousand four-hundred years old, but the fact that he is aware of it and doesnít deny it. Not from vainglory, but the knowledge that people need heroes to give them hope, and he takes that on as a duty as sacred as battle, to inspire those around him and keep them fighting even in the face of death. But that kind of weight takes its toll and it produces a really complex character, Dante has doubts that he can never show, he struggles with the feelings of hopelessness but must bring hope to others, he feels his age every day but must appear ageless, and he wonders at the point of it all but must convince others exactly what that point is. After some thought I find that where Danteís outlook truly differs from other characters is that his can resonate with the fans, he has seen more than any human (except for a certain Dreadnought) still alive and un-daemonic and he wonders if there is any hope left, any reason to keep going when it just seems to be so unrelentingly grim, and fans can wonder the same thing. For that reason it really feels meaningful when Dante thinks these things, but still puts on the mask and goes on, despite wishing he could stop. Haley takes the myth of Dante and reveals him as the man he really is, and while for some that may make him less interesting, for me it only makes him more so and I would definitely pick up anything that features Dante as a protagonist again.
The action scenes in the book are few in number, as I have said above Dante is a character-driven story and doesnít rely on battle sequences to provide breaks from story and character development. But itís a 40k novel and having no fighting at all would be weird. Haley pits the Blood Angels against a few foes in Danteís recollections and he does capture the assault-focused doctrines of the Chapter in the scenes where such a strategy would work, but the best part for me was that Haley managed to get the right balance of Space Marine indomitability and casualties, the Marines feel like powerhouses that can take on waves of enemies, but enough fall to remind us that they are not immortal. Itís a tough balance to strike, too few marines die and they seem unbeatable, too many die and you wonder how a company of one-hundred of these guys is meant to be enough to take on armies, but Haley does it well here. Really the most striking part was that even the battle sequences serve as character building for Dante, his leaping into every fray and making sure to be seen by friend and foe alike is another part of the myth he has built, itís not often that battle serves as character exposition, so itís quite enjoyable here.
Itís a surprising fact to realize but despite the fact that they currently have their own separate Codex, have had multiple Black Library books written about them in the past, and are without doubt one of the five most popular Space Marine Chapters in 40k, the Blood Angels have a strange lack of background information beyond what weíd expect. We know their battles, special units, characters and history, but unlike the Ultramarines and Dark Angels we didnít know what their homeworlds are like, what their Fortress-Monasteryís name is, what they do day to day, and even the tidbits we did know we never really saw, like their supposed passion for artistic endeavours. But Haley doesnít just explore Dante here, he gives the Blood Angels all these things and more. We finally find out what the wastelands of Baal are like, see the beautiful halls of Arx Angelicum, learn about the Angelís Graces and Warriorís Virtues, and much more. Itís this and the superb character story that makes Dante such a compelling novel to read and substitutes for the lack of focus paid to battle scenes, really all of this just makes this novel more of a mandatory reading requirement for anyone who calls themselves a Blood Angels fan. Anyone can enjoy this book, but a true 40k and Blood Angels fan will enjoy it all the more.
Dante is quite a sedately paced read for a Black Library book, since it relies so much on being a character story rather than a battle focused one, the story keeps to mostly the same pace throughout, moving along through Danteís life at the same pace he does. Because of this the book is quite an easy read, one that had me turning the page eagerly to know what came next. At around 300 pages Dante is about the average size for a Black Library book, but this is a novel where I dearly wanted more pages just so we could see more of Danteís long life and travails through one-thousand four-hundred years of unending warfare against the alien, mutant and heretic, but what we got is enough and I finished Dante in a good amount of time for my own reading speed (around two days I believe).
My favourite quote is one that I find nicely sums up what Dante believes and why he keeps striving to be what everyone perceives him to be,
ďHope is not always enough, Corbulo, but while there is blood, there is strength.Ē
The ending to Dante is not really an ending since Danteís own story is far from over, as the man himself often thinks, but Haley closes the novel off on a nice note that I think can apply to the real world as much as it does 40k. Much more is to come in the future for both Dante and the Sons of Sanguinius and Haley teases some of it, and judging by information floating around on the internet is also writing it in a future Space Marines Battles novel, The Devastation of Baal. But with Dante the point, as I have said above, is to explore Dante and Haley more than achieves that by the end, we understand a lot more about Dante than we ever have and the Blood Angels have gained a great deal of background information that only make them more compelling. Now all we can do is wait for the aforementioned sequel and imagine what comes next.
On the whole I would give Dante by Guy Haley a score of 9.5/10. As I said above, if you consider yourself a fan of the Sons of Sanguinius, this is a novel that you must read. It expands on the world of the Angels wonderfully and contains an incredibly compelling character story that will pull you in and keep you there until the end, and even then youíll want to know what comes next. Itís quite a different sort of book than what usually comes from Black Library and itís a great sign that they can release a book like Dante, we can hope that more such stories that focus on making the characters more than just extracts of lore and minor side-stories rather than flashy battles and are on their way. So in summation I would give Dante a rank of Excellent.
Well thatís it for this review. Thanks for reading if youíve made it this far, until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!
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