September 7, 2019
It's the Blood Angels. And the Word Bearers. And a Blood Angel Relic. All what you would expect with a twist you don't.
Guess what sports fans! I read another book about Blood Angels! I know you’re all super shocked. This book, Blood Rite by Rachel Harrison, is a novella that I finally decided to read after flying through Lords of Silence. I’d say I flew through Blood Rite as well, but considering it’s only 150 pages, that’s not hard to do.
In many ways, Blood Rite is your stereotypical Blood Angels story. Word Bearers are up to no goodniks with one of the Chapter’s precious relics. Also, everyone in the Eighth Company is keeping their eyes on one battle-brother who appears to be teetering between sanity and Black Rage. Nothing new, right? Same shit, different book.
But. What makes Blood Rite magical is how Rachel Harrison presents the story, and she does so while keeping me guessing throughout three-fourths of the novel. It was brilliant.
Here’s the Story, About a Lovely Standard Bearer
The story begins with the Company’s standard-bearer, Thaneod Darrago. As he’s stitching up the banner after their most recent mission, an unnamed Blood Angel comes in his quarters and questions him on what happened on this mission. The simple version is that they had to stop the Word Bearers from defiling a chalice Sanguinius himself gave to the people of Sanguis Gloria. The Word Bearers are on the planet, summoning daemons, converting thousands of the shrine guards, and generally being Word Bearers.
The mission was a success, as we knew it would be. The fact alone that Darrago is stitching the banner proves they were successful. (Otherwise, they’d be dead or still hunting Word Bearers, you see.) While Brother No-Name does want Darrago’s version of the events, he’s most curious about Sergeant Addicio Sanyctus. The questioning all comes back to him. What was his demeanor. Was he watching him. Why was he so devoted to help him. What was he saying. And on and on.
As such, you become invested in the story not for you to see how they stopped those evil Word Bearers, but to learn what happened to Sanyctus. There are zero real clues in Darrago’s testimony that give a clear picture of what Sanyctus was going through. Was it the Black Rage? The Red Thirst? Something even worse?
It’s a Story, About a Captain Named Donato
Just as things get good, the story switches to Captain Donato’s point of view. Now this unnamed brother is questioning Donato on the events and what happened to Sanyctus.
It’s in Donato’s story we learn that he’s fought these Word Bearers before, but he failed to finish the job. He’s been holding on to this guilt for over 50 years, and he’s determined to stop them this time, no matter the cost. The Word Bearer leader, Zalak, has been goading Donato specifically to come, because he wants to use him as the final sacrifice and one last kick in his crotch.
However, after seeing Sanyctus and sensing the Black Rage/Red Thirst/Flaw within him, he’s decided he wants him instead. So now Donato has to protect Sanyctus as well as stop Zalak. It’s a lot for a Captain who has lost brothers in this battle, watched the last few loyal Guardsmen die, and continues to feel crushing guilt as a failure. Not to mention, when he sees the holy chalice of Sanguinius, he knows it’s beyond saving. They must destroy a holy relic in order to save everyone. There were quite a few Blood Angels who clutched their pearls at this order, including Sanyctus.
Once again, just as the battle is at its most intense and Sanyctus reaches for the chalice to complete the blood rite, the book shifts gears again.
Till the One Day When a [redacted] Met [redacted]
If I tell about the third section, it will spoil absolutely everything. Suffice to say that we do learn who the unnamed brother is, and it wasn’t who I suspected at all. We also learn what happened to Sanyctus. Either let your imagination wander or read the book. I recommend reading the book, personally.
The third section was a complete surprise overall. And it was delightful. The best part has to be when Sanguinius tells the Blood Angels (is it a vision or is it real?) that the relics are just objects and not his legacies. He said that his legacies are in the Blood Angels themselves. Basically, Daddy is telling his sons to stop being idolaters.
While it’s doubtful the message will extend beyond the Eighth Company, it’s nice to hear from Sanguinius himself that the Blood Angels need to stop with the relics already. I know it’s something fans have been saying for awhile (at least the redditors do), and it’s something that has bothered me since picking up my first Blood Angels story.
They Knew it Was Much More Than a Hunch
This is now the second story I’ve read by Rachel Harrison, and while it irks me she writes in present tense, I can’t deny she is a masterful storyteller. My dislike of the present tense doesn’t mean it’s not well written; it’s very well written, she just uses a technique that doesn’t jive with me. Regardless of her affinity for present tense, I’m looking forward to additional books from this new author, and I do hope she writes more Blood Angels.