Almost as soon as we posted the video to our voxcast announcing that Devastation of Baal was our next book, our favorite Random Imperial Citizen highly recommended that we read Dante by Guy Haley first. I already owned Dante, and I planned to read it eventually. It was never going to be a book club book just because only one of us digs the Blood Angels. (Spoiler: that is me.) I decided to take his advice—he wasn’t wrong about Watchers of the Throne, after all—and I jumped into Dante feet first.
I didn’t know what to expect with Dante. From the back cover, it sounded like it was going to be similar in structure to Shrike. That book was a chronicle of the Ravenguard Chapter Master’s career as a Space Marine, from his trials before he was a supplicant to his time as Chapter Master. More specifically, it focused on the times that he was thrown together with a particular ork war lord. It wasn’t until Shrike was Chapter Master that he finally defeated his arch nemesis.
Dante did have some similarities in that manner, but I’d argue Guy Haley’s method of presentation was superior. Instead of telling Dante’s story chronologically, from trials to Chapter Master, he intertwines these flashbacks with what Dante is going through in the present. At this particular present, the Blood Angels are dealing with the tyranid invasion into their system. And hey, what a coincidence! Devastation of Baal takes place right after these events!
Another Ugly Duckling Story
In something that should surprise no one, Dante was the skinniest, smallest kid to ever show up at the Blood Angels trials, much less become one. Dante was from the Great Salt Wastes of Baal Secundus. No one from that region ever attempts to go to Angel’s Fall for the trials for two reasons:
- It’s the farthest region from Angel’s Fall, and journeying across Baal Secundus is no joke.
- People in the Wastes are some of the most malnourished, and thus scrawny, on the planet. (I know it’s technically a moon, but work with me here.)
The trials don’t officially start until the Blood Angels welcome the boys at Angel’s Fall, but in reality, the journey getting there is the first trial. Dante has to travel across expansive desert with only a few water bottles, survive against the savage wildlife, and float with man-made wings for hours on end. He nearly perishes a couple of times and reaches Angel’s Fall mostly unscathed on luck alone.
Of course, our hero reaches Angel’s Fall, and despite his size, he passes all of the Blood Angels’ tests. He almost didn’t survive his blood transformation, because the Blood Angels were ready to kill him in his sarcophagus due to his Black Rage thrashings. And somehow, despite all of these odds (heavy on the sarcasm here), Dante is the longest-serving Chapter Master in Space Marines’ history. Fifteen hundred years as a Blood Angel with the last one thousand as the Chapter Master.
His journey to becoming a Blood Angel isn’t even the most interesting part.
Don’t Mess With the Old Man
As I’ve already mentioned, the dude is old, like possibly older than Roboute Guilliman in terms of centuries actually living. In the Horus Heresy books, Loken comments that the Space Marines are immortal, but no one has lived long enough to test that theory. Enter Dante. However, he has grown old.
His hair is white. He’s not as muscular and dapper. The lines on his face run deep. As such, he’s embarrassed he looks this way. I can’t tell if it’s vanity or if he fears he’ll lose respect from new recruits if they see how old he looks. As a result, he always wears his Sanguinius battle mask around the other Space Marines. Only his equerry and Mephiston ever really see him without the mask.
My first thought was, “Dude. You’ve lived over 1500 years. You’ve earned every wrinkle and white hair. Flaunt it!” Which, I suppose, is easy for us mortals to say on the outside since we’re not part of Space Marine culture.
However, after reaching the end of the book, I’m now quite certain he had another reason for hiding behind his mask. After a certain (horrific) incident fighting against the Purge Traitor Marines, he swore to never drink living blood ever again. That was well before his Chapter Masterhood, so one thousand years prior at least. When he confides his doubts as a leader, old man, etc to his equerry, his equerry slits his wrists for his master. He was nearing the end of his life, and he wanted to go out serving his beloved master one more time. Dante initially refused, multiple times, but the equerry insisted this was his last wish. When Dante honored the wish, and drank his life blood, his youth was restored.
Perhaps the reason why he was hiding was to protect the other Blood Angels and possible innocent lives? If they saw what happened when you didn’t drink living blood, that you aged, perhaps they would succumb to the Red Thirst more often and willingly? The more I think about it, the more chilling it gets.
I’d say about three-fourths of the book made me say, “That’s nice.” It was all good information, but it wasn’t earth-shattering lore. Then the last one-fourth hit and smacked me upside the head and into the feels. Yes, the equerry’s sacrifice was part of it, but it wasn’t all of it. Something something about Sanguinius predicting Dante’s arrival and what he would do for the Chapter or something.
I’m beyond pleased I picked this up before diving into Devastation of Baal. For one, I liked the book; two, I liked learning more about Dante; and three, it leads directly into our book club book. So yes, big thanks to you once again, Random Imperial Citizen.