Dark Angle on the Dark Angels

pod-angels-of-darknessFinally, the Dark Angels are big news. Okay, they’ve been pretty popular for many years, but with their inclusion in the most recent Warhammer 40,000 boxed Dark Vengeance set they’ve become the focus of a lot of attention. Also, Codex: Dark Angels has just hit the shelves, including lots of lovely background material both old and new.


More importantly, this week sees the release in e-format of my first Dark Angels novel, Angels of Darkness. This tale of Interogator-Chaplain Boreas and former Chapter Master Astelan is also available from Black Library as a print-on-demand product if you feel the need to have something to hold and put on the shelf.

To celebrate this, I have also written a new Dark Angels story, Battle Brothers, that ties in with Ravenwing, charting an episode in the life of Sergeant Cassiel that happens ‘off-screen’ in that novel.


With this in mind it seems like an ideal time to talk a little about how I see the Dark Angels, their character and their motivations. That’s a lot to cover in one go, so instead I’m going to break it down into a series of posts. This one was prompted by an email I received a while ago (apologies to the fan identified as ‘AVLMP’ for the delay!)

There’s been a question festering in my head, giving me its share of fanboy grief and forum trolling bilious discharges: Are the Dark Angels heartless scumbags who divert precious scant Imperial resources to play huntsman across the galaxy? […] Lately they’ve been portrayed in a rather… alien way to what I imagined them to be though. Or maybe I’ve been nursing unreal expectations, I don’t know at this point. So, to rephrase the original question: do the Dark Angels (in their current iteration) ever engage in conflicts for the sake of the Imperium, or is the Imperium just a tool to utilize in the Hunt?

There is no short answer to this question, but the simplest answer is that for 99% of the time (and for 80%+ of the Chapter’s members) the Dark Angels are as much an Emperor-serving, xenos-slaying, mutant-loathing, witch-burning Chapter as the next one (or the Ultramarines). If you want an example of this, amongst many fine stories, you might like to try The Purging of Kadillus. However, for 1% of the time (and for 20% of their members) they have their own agenda: the hunt for the Fallen.

Dark Angels Fun

Doing the alien-smiting part of the job on Piscina IV.

The Fallen is the flaw of the Dark Angels, every bit as debilitating and shameful as the Red Thirst is for the Blood Angels. The different with the Dark Angels versus their brothers from Baal is that their taint is self-inflicted and spiritual rather than physical. A long, long time ago their leaders faced a choice and, for reasons that hopefully will be explored at some point when we’re done with the Horus Heresy they decided to keep a secret. A really big secret. And they lied.

The problem with lies and secrets is that the longer you keep them, the worse it becomes if they get out. Thus, on occasion those of the Dark Angels who understand the truth about the Chapter’s past have gone to extreme lengths to protect the sanctity of that secret. It is important to remember that the Inner Circle keep the truth of what happened at the end of the Heresy from the battle-brothers, and even the whole truth from the Ravenwing and Deathwing. It’s my view that no one individual knows entirely what happened after 10,000 years of mystery and ritual. The various roles within the Inner Circle exist to keep the secret, even from each other sometimes. Your regular Tactical Space Marine has no more clue about past events than anybody outside the Chapter and is a faithful, zealous servant of the Emperor.

Some people ask what is the big deal and point out that nearly all, if not all, of the legions had some members turn from the Emperor. The big deal is that the Dark Angels chose to hide that fact and from this decision has stemmed 10,000 years of paranoia, lies and manipulation. For the most part the leadership of the Chapter, and their successors, are concerned with the day-to-day violence and mayhem that is all part of the fun of being a Space Marine, but now and then an opportunity arises to catch one of the Fallen, and that’s when priorities get skewed.


Being a little more flexible with their priorities, whilst also purging heretics and aliens.

It is part and parcel of the Chapter’s leaders that they exist within this dichotomy, not fully understanding the true nature of their own treachery; they are unable to step outside the story they have created and see themselves for what they really are. To even question whether it is right to keep the Chapter’s secret is to invite heresy, and a Dark Angel is no more capable of that than an Ultramarine is of tossing away the Codex Astartes and saying ‘I think those Space wolves are on to a good idea’. It is literally unthinkable that the First Legion could be disloyal, because by their very nature they are the guardians of the truth and thus the arbiters of what constitutes loyalty.

That’s my approach, what do you think?

Next topic, coming soon: The Lion, what’s up with him?

Published in: on January 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm  Comments (11)  

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  1. Well, I might actually not give away my perpetually unassembled plastic little supermen in tearful disgust after all! Now I just need to find time and motivation to work on them…

    I do wish to mention that, off the top of my head, the Purging of Kadillus is the one novel about the activities that occupy 99% of the Chapter’s time. So uh… Someone has to remedy that. Yes, someone. I wonder who could it be.

    Oh, and I’ll get around to writing that gushing review. I’m halfway through Ravenwing.


    • I suppose it is because the hunt for the Fallen is the Dark Angels ‘thing’. It’s what sets them apart. I also find it one of the most compelling sources of narrative conflict, aside from bad guys with big guns. It’s like Ultramarines and the Codex or Blood Angels and their flaw – you want to reference it to assure readers this is a Dark Angels story rather than somebody else’s. With the expansion of background and new troop types in the new Codex I believe it is simpler now to write a DA-flavoured story without having to involve the Fallen.



      • Hmm, on the topic of background expansions, I noticed the successor Chapters were left considerably unexplored in the new Codex. Any hopes of seeing some of their shenanigans in future publications?


  2. I’ve only really fully read Purging of Kadillus (which i very much enjoyed) and am halfway through Ravenwing. The thing that bothers me with the Dark Angels is not that they are conflicted, or that they are hiding a secret, but the nature of that secret. I am never really sure which side is the good side and which the evil, and who is trapped in that bottom-most cell at Dark Angel HQ. Is their Primarch good/bad, was Luther good/bad. I find it somehow difficult to get into the Dark Angels as much as i would like with this overshadowing ambiguity. I have not read the Heresy books – i tried the first but it was too much like a Knight’s story without some of the good stuff (comic squires etc) so apologies if the ambiguity has been cleared up in one of those. I thoroughly enjoyed Purging of Kadillus, particularly the interaction between the scouts (Naaman) and the Ravenwing and the puritanical hypocrisy and enthusiastic vigour of Boreas.

    How do you see the ambiguity of their secret and how this affects the DA? Also how do you see the fact that at the heart of the DA secret lies xenos influence if that is what we want to call the Watchers?


    • I’ve read in my codex that the Lion sleeps in The Rock and only the Watchers have access to him and Luther is imprisoned with only the Supreme Grand Master having access. I suppose Luther is kept alive to try and gain access to the secrets of the Fallen and no other can see him because only the Supreme Grand Master would risk not subordinating himself to Luther. Still, what if he did… would the Lion wake up to stop this…. but if the Emperor knows all of this then it must be all OK because if the DA were subordinated to Luther he would know and get something done about it right?


  3. On the other hand I’m more of a Fallen fan, than a Dark Angel one, they way I see them as a faction of the legion that had been mishandled by their Primarch; non’Chaos affiliated in the 40k timeline, though some of them are pawns of Chaos knowingly or not.

    I have to admit though that the whole thing with lies, secrets, half-truths all the time, which do not give us specific answers can be very tiresome in the end and makes you lose interest.

    In every novel/story, PoC aside, there are new swcrets which lead to more secrets and we never get anywhere. That’s why I prefer Aod, above all else. It did give answers. If you wanted to believe them it was a matter of perspective and flavour.


    • Technically, the Fallen are still a bunch that was mishandled by the Lion. For some reason he thought putting people with grievances in charge of his daemon-infested HQ was a good idea…

      And I actually agree with you in that every answer leaves even more questions to be asked. Good for hooking on the readers for future installments, bad for the blood pressure.


      • Regarding the daemon-infested HQ I’m not so sure. Maybe we’ll see (or most probably not – hehe!!!).

        It’s not only bad fro blood-pressure; it’s starting to get boring. All questions and almost no clear answers, it stops to be interesting from a point onwards.


  4. Reblogged this on The Shell Case and commented:
    Gav Thorpe waxes lyrical about all the Dark Angel awesome he’s penned for the Black Library…


  5. It’s a bit hard to question whether it is right to keep a secret that you don’t really know the whole of and where you in fact know you don’t know the whole of it. I guess there has to be a certain amount of trust in superiors and an understanding of what the secret is in general. I am almost at the end of Ravenwing and find the Dark Angels quite insubordinate as far as chapters go. My perception before reading this book was that they were likely to be very twitchy to the slightest hint of insubordination but rather they seem to tolerate an awful lot and have measures to hold it in check. If anything for me they are a very self-regulating chapter. They keep themselves in check an awful lot rather than subjecting themselves to the judgment of the Imperium. Is this a sense of responsibility for their own indiscretions or worry that their secret might get out. Probably a bit of both. However, as to fear of the Inquisition well there are other loyalist chapters with insubordination, rifts, and self regulation but not as much as the Dark Angels – other chapters may be watched for heresy but i guess their rift is not quite as large as that of the Fallen. Take the Space Wolves, they have part of their legion that got out of control, not as big a part i admit, they are intolerant of too much interference by the Inquisition, and some of their members are known to have joined organisations like the Red Corsairs, so why are the Dark Angels so bothered. That the flaw may extend to the Primarch is not something certain and not something anyone in their legion knows but i think in the end rather than it being in their nature to not question, it is absolutely in their nature to do so, but they keep their secret through a mixture of self-regulating responsibility and fear of what might happen if it gets out, whatever it is that their secret is. Stubborn bunch. p.s. i really like the finish of Ravenwing – now to read that copy of Angels of Darkness.


  6. Hey Gav,

    Just finished ‘Ravenwing’ this evening; very decent indeed. I very much liked the ‘House of Cards’ approach to the lie(s) they’re keeping, it makes them seem incredibly conflicted and atrophied in their functionality. Whilst 99% of the time they’re ‘doing normal stuff’, that 1% leaves the door wide open to some pretty bonkers happenings. A part of me feels fairly strongly that maybe, just maybe, the Imperium would really be better off without them. Maybe it’d be a mercy to them if the Inquisition found out, eased their suffering.

    It’s not a terribly attractive or useful view to take with regards to them being a serious Chapter in game and setting terms, so I suppose the view described above can’t really be favoured too much – it’s too strong, too pessimistic and, for the dedicated fans, a bit of a kick when they’re down. It also totally overlooks the drive to salvation: just a few more lies and we can stop lying. Whilst it’s easy to write it off as never-ending, there’s also a rather endearing, hopeful element to it: what if, one day, they succeed. Imagine, a few millennia further down the line… free, all those resources, all that insight and practice that can be loosed on the other enemies of mankind.

    (I’m still inclined to poke fun by maintaining they’re a waste of resources…)

    Following this line of thinking, and always with an eye to ‘extras for the omnibus’, I’d be mightily keen to see a bit of a side-show/off-screen a la ‘Battle Brothers’, but looking at the preparation a Dark Angel is forced to undergo, the added hoops, lies and rituals that have to be maintained when, say, one is sent to the Deathwatch. Or, more obscurely, when a Dark Angel is sent to (or sent back from) Mars. How does the Master of the Forge factor in? What happens when Fallen are encountered in serious tech-heresy or with Legion relics? Perhaps an opportunity to allow for a bit more of a flowery or extravagant/indulgent story, but also tied right into the heart of the raison d’etre of the Dark Angels – as you said, 20% of them are pre-occupied with the lie, 80% of them, by implication, have to suffer the consequences.

    A simple case of ‘shut up and take my money’, I’m sure!



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