Warhammer 40K: Angel of Fire by William King. Book review

WARHAMMER 40K: ANGEL OF FIRE by William King, The Black Library, h/b, €25.00, http://www.blacklibrary.com/all-products/angel-of-fire.html

Reviewed by David Rudden

‘Angel of Fire’ is the first 40K book William King has written for Black Library in quite a while. I’ve never been overly fond of his work; they’re serviceable but not exactly imaginative, so I wasn’t approaching Angel with a lot of expectation. I was looking forward to seeing someone take on the Lord Solar Macharius. With a forty-millennium fictional backstory there are plenty of larger-than-life characters to take on, and Macharius is the Black Library’s answer to Alexander the Great. (complete with edge-of-the-known-world sobbing incident, but no-one’s ever accused the Black Library of not stealing gratuitously from history)

As it happens, there’s a lot to recommend ‘Angel of Fire’. The first-person view and narrative style are reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s war stories, and there’s something charming about the common-man banter between the characters. I enjoy universe-ending peril a bit more when it’s being dealt with by real people, not a nine-foot tall ubermensch. These are men who signed up because it was the best way to avoid a life of hard labour, the only way off-world. They’re not heroes; they’re men doing a job.

There are some great moments in ‘Angel of Fire’ but one thing that was slightly disappointing was their portrayal of Macharius himself. The set-up here’s similar to Bernard Cornwell’s Arthur books; a rank-and-file soldier gets caught up in the rise of a charismatic leader, providing a portrait of military genius from another angle. Unfortunately there’s a bit too much telling and not enough showing going on.

There are plenty of points that could have done with expansion. Like far too many of the Black Library novels, there isn’t a captivating antagonist. It’s your generic ‘army of cultists, summoning-afoot, handpicked team of named characters must stop the extra-dimensional nasty before people’s faces are eaten’ story.’ The story would have worked much better with a proper villain, someone we can enjoy not rooting for. There are also still a few kinks that need to be worked out with the observer-style setup as well; at times the main character, and by association the audience, get sidelined.

It seems like they’re playing the long game here, (this is the first of a proposed trilogy) and there are plenty of hints at some sort of ‘hidden truth’ about Macharius which will have some sort of payoff down the road, but right now there’s not a whole lot going on in Angel of Fire to make this heroic general and warrior stand out against every other heroic general and warrior in 40K.