Blood Angels: The Second Blood Angels Omnibus by James Swallow – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

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Bane of Kings reviews the hefty collection that is the Second Blood Angels Omnibus, containing the following novels, Red Fury and Black Tide, as well as the short stories Redeemed, Heart of Rage and Bloodline. All are written by James Swallow and published by Black Library. This Omnibus was first released in February 2012.

“An exciting, enjoyable and action packed Omnibus that sees Swallow improve massively from the first. Not to be missed for any Blood Angels fan.” ~The Founding Fields

Warning! This review contains spoilers for The Blood Angels Omnibus by James Swallow, which contains the first two novels in the series. SO don’t read this review until you’ve read that, unless you don’t mind the spoilers. 

I first read The Second Blood Angels Omnibus over the Black Library Live 2012 week at the beginning of the month, and would have reviewed it sooner except I had other priorities to get out of the way, and that I also forgot about writing the review for this, If I’m being honest, which is partly why it’s up so late. But, I aim to review most novels that I read eventually, and I was determined that The Second Blood Angels Omnibus would most defiantly see a review.   After all, I enjoyed it, so why not?

Before we go any further with this review, I’d like to point out the awesomeness that is the cover art of this Omnibus. In my opinion, it’s far better than the one that was on the first Blood Angels Omnibus, and it captures what I believe a Blood Angel, a battle-scarred one in particular, should look like. It’s one of my favourite Space Marine covers that Black Library have produced, and yeah – this, among other reasons was why I chose to read The Second Blood Angels Omnibus as soon as I could. Because, I for one, haven’t read any,of the novels or short stories that appear in this Omnibus, with the exception of the once-audio drama Heart of Rage, which has appeared in numerous short story collections in the past, so this one won’t be getting a review I’m afraid. I might review it on its own later, but until then, I’m just going to be covering Redeemed, Red Fury, Blood Tide and Bloodline in this review. So, without further ado, let’s look at the first piece of fiction in the Omnibus: Redeemed, following on from the events in the previous Omnibus, and bridging the gap between both of them.

Redeemed

Redeemed is a very well constructed opener to this Omnibus, and informs us that Swallow is once again on top form. I haven’t read a book that I haven’t liked by this author, and whilst I was having some doubts about enjoying The Second Blood Angels Omnibus, the first short story, Redeemed, quenched them. Swallow isn’t a hit and miss author in my opinion, and he’s one of my favourite Black Library authors when it comes to writing Space Marines.

What a way to kick-start this Omnibus, I must say. We’ve got the Blood Angels still struggling from the aftermath that was the Civil War between their Chapter, and the sibling battle between Arkio and Rafen. that was explored in Deus Encarmine and Deus Sanguinius, and we’re reminded as to how badly the Civil War shook the Chapter. I’m also pleased to say that Swallow doesn’t immediately refill the Blood Angels losses without much information, as this would be a pretty major case of deus ex machina, even in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe. This is a Space Marine Chapter we’re talking about folks, one can’t rebuild its losses in a day, no matter how much the Chapter Master would like to.

Redeemed is, like all of Swallow’s works, (with a couple of exceptions, including Nemesis), fast paced and enjoyable, and even features a guest appearance by Astorath the Grim, who fans of the Blood Angels will know as the High Chaplain of the Chapter,  as well as the Redeemer of the Lost. The action’s well-written, and Swallow will have you hooked right from the get go. A superb start.

Verdict of Redeemed: 4/5 

Following the tragic events that led the Blood Angels to the brink of civil war, the Chapter’s strength has been badly depleted. The Blood Angels must act, and act quickly, before their enemies learn of their weakness and attack. With tempers flaring, and mutants running wild on their homeworld, can the Blood Angels and their successor Chapters put aside their rivalries and rebuild the Chapter before it is too late?

Red Fury is the first full novel in the Second Blood Angels Omnibus, and again, it shows that Swallow has not dropped the awesome-ness factor that belonged in the first Blood Angels Omnibus, and has included a titanic cast for this novel, with everybody from Rafen, to Lord Dante, and even Gabriel Seth of the Flesh Tearers. We learn for the first time what the Blood Angels successor Chapters view of them, and we are given insights once more into the world of Rafen and his brothers.

If there’s one thing that I didn’t like about Red Fury was that it lacked predictability, at least in my opinion. Swallow is including several important figures in the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game, and we know that these guys are too important to kill off, so that robs a bit of suspense.

The action in Red Fury is very fast paced indeed, and although it takes time to get going in my opinion, once it does, Red Fury is almost certainly a novel that will have you hooked right until the very end. I was unable to put it down. The action was well written, the  battles were gripping, and you’re made to root for the Blood Angels over the enemy, which is a relief, as some poorly written Space Marine novels have me often rooting for the bad guys.

The novel, in my opinion at least, was a very fun read. Sure, Swallow may not be the equal of Abnett in the Warhammer 40,000 universe yet, but one thing that he can do is write an enjoyable, bolter-porn filled novel. I believe that Red Fury was a lot better than the first  two Blood Angels, and it shows how Swallow has improved as an author.

The characters are not that well developed in my opinion, bar Rafen, but this was partly because so many of them were already there for Swallow to build upon. We’ve got almighty figures such as Dante and Seth who have so much lore already written about them that it would be a tough challenge for Swallow to present them in a new light.

Verdict for Red Fury: 3.5/5

Having prevented the ferocious Bloodfiends from bringing disaster to their homeworld of Baal, the Blood Angles go in search of the renegade who almost destroyed them-Fabius Bile. Tracking the Chaos traitor down to his secret base on Dynikas V, a world beset by alien tyranids, the Blood Angels find horrors more terrible than even they can imagine. And with a sample of primarch’s blood in his possession, the Blood Angels must discover what nefarious plot Fabius Bile is bent on.

Following directly on from Red Fury, Black Tide is the fourth novel in the Blood Angels Series, and in my opinion, is just as good as its predecessor. Sure, we’ve got another all Space Marine novel, filled with bolter-porn and scenes of constant action, but Swallow writes them well. Making us root for Rafen, and despise the enemy, we’re thrust into an enjoyable novel that although you know who’ll come up on top, you can’t help but want to read more.

If there’s one problem that I found with Black Tide though, is that the Blood Angels in this novel were virtually indistinguishable from any other Chapter. I mean, sure they’re hunting for Sanguinius’ blood, but other than that, there’s nothing really that could prevent the Blood Angels from being either say, Salamanders, Ultramarines or Raven Guard for example. There’s nothing that gives them a distinct feeling that they’re Blood Angels Space Marines, and that’s what really let Black Tide down for me.

However, if I had to pick between Black Tide and Red Fury, it would certainly be Black Tide that clinches it for me. I know we get pretty much every Blood Angels character in Red Fury, but Black Tide however gives us a lot more time to focus on Rafen, who is probably one of my favourite Space Marines.

Black Tide is again predictable, and right from the get go you’ll know who’ll emerge on top. Rafen is a character who is probably going to overcome any situation that you throw at him, and although the stakes are certainly high, Rafen manages to make it seem, and look easy. Swallow could have, and should have, made it a bit more challenging for Rafen himself, which in my opinion, would have made the book even more enjoyable than it was.

Verdict for Black Tide: 4/5 

Bloodline

Blood Angel Sergeant Rafen is on the verge of death, torn apart by a raging torrent within him – the raw power of the blood of Sanguinius. His only hope of survival lies within the Chapter sarcophagi, where his physical wounds may heal. But another battle entirely is being fought – within his mind, Rafen must fight for his very soul. In the strange landscape of his subconscious, he must overcome shadowy enemies and delve deep into his strength and courage if he is to ever return to the Chapter. There he will come face to face with the past of the Blood Angels and the dark history that shook the universe ten millennia before.

Bloodline is the final entry into this Omnibus, and was initially released as a Chapbook for Games Day 2010, and is the shortest here, standing in at thirty-two pages in total, and helps to set up Swallow’s upcoming Horus Heresy novel Fear to Tread, focusing on the Blood Angels which now, having read this Omnibus, I’m really, really looking forward to. Plus, the cover art looks awesome, and indeed, it was even my desktop wallpaper for a short period of time.

But this review isn’t about Fear To Tread, it’s about Bloodline, and this in my opinion, is one of the best short stories that I’ve read not only by Swallow but also in the Black Library Universe, and is quite firmly ranking in my Top 5. (I might do a Top 5 BL short story post on my own Blog at a later date, so stay tuned for that). I just loved the way that Swallow portrayed Rafen’s interactions with what he found in the Chapter sarcophagi, and managed to create several myths of the Horus Heresy despite being, essentially a Warhammer 40,000 novel, and for the first time in a novel written by Swallow that I’ve read, there aren’t that many action scenes. Even though there aren’t many though, there are some, as this is a universe where ‘There is Only War‘, and shows the development of Rafen as a character, and Swallow’s written something that’s  heavily character-focused. The pacing is well constructed and not uneven, and is a satisfying conclusion to The Second Blood Angels Omnibus, leaving us only wanting more from Swallow, and more from Rafen. And, as mentioned in the author’s introduction, Rafen will be back – and I’ll be waiting for his return to the realms of Black Library, although sadly – it doesn’t look as though it will be for 2012. Maybe 2013, then, Mr. Swallow?

Verdict for Bloodline: 4.5/5 

Verdict for The Second Blood Angels Omnibus: 3.5/5

The Blood Angels Series by James Swallow: Deus Encarmine, Blood Debt (Short Story) Deus Sanguinius, Red FuryHeart of Rage, Black Tide, Bloodline

More by James Swallow: Garro: Oath of Moment, Garro: Legion of One, Flight of the Eisenstien, Nemesis, Fear To Tread (September 2012), Red & Black, Faith and Fire, Hammer and Anvil. 

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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