Title: The Flesh of the Angel (Deathwatch 3)
Author: Ben Counter
Publisher: The Black Library
Date of Publication: September, 2015
Approximate Pages: 25
Review by: Anthony
I’ve been waiting for a chance to get back into these Deathwatch shorts for what seems like forever. Usually OCD about these things, I broke the normal continuity of release (even though these are standalones), and went ahead to read Peter Fehervari’s entry before going back to start over. You can read the review for that story, as well as the first two stories, over at the old blog. To be honest, I got stalled because a lot of the Chapters represented aren’t really my top faves (UltraSmurfs, Dark Angels, Space Furries). Also, there is the issue of these covers; which, let’s be honest, really aren’t that enticing. Although, I must say that they look pretty nice as cards in the Deathwatch: Overkill game that these stories are tie-ins to. Anyway, on to the review….
Zameon Gydrael, of the Dark Angels, is currently attached to a Deathwatch Kill Team, who are tasked with removing the ophidian xenos sslyth which infest Phoenicus Peak. unlike other members of his team; Gydrael, as a Dark Angel, has two imperatives: first, abide by the orders of the Deathwatch. Second, he must continue his Chapter’s hunt for those who have shamed the name of the Dark Angels – the Fallen. As luck, or narrative convenience, would have it; just at the moment Gydrael is set to detonate a virus bomb in one of the sslyth’s primaries nests, he comes across one of said Fallen. Which duty will he push to the fore – and what will be the trade-off cost of his action?
The flesh of the Angel is a perfect example of a Counter story. It has vivid descriptions, solid action, and paper-thin characterization. I had never heard of the sslyth before this story; and then suddenly in the first few pages Counter brought them to life in front of my eyes. The duel between Gydrael and the Fallen is outstanding; taking into consideration the differences in fighting styles and weaponry of the two warriors, former brothers with a wedge countless generations wide between them. Counter even packs in a surprise fight as well; pushing the action over the top. It’s very satisfying all around.
But, again, the weak characterization. I wanted to get behind Gydrael as a protagonist, but there isn’t much to work with. I get it that he is dutiful and taciturn, but good writers can make a character sympathetic even when it seems a connection would be difficult to make. It’s fine that this Dark Angel doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, but we needed….something. It’s like Mr. Spock raising his eyebrow. One small gesture, but it tells you that there is actually a soul in there.
As for supporting characters, they are thin as well. Averamus, the Fallen antagonist, is charismatic enough. The rest of the Deathwatch team members are simply names. When one was mentioned, I would flip back to the beginning of the story to refresh my mind as to what their Chapter affiliation was. The most memorable was a Storm Lord, though not in a good way. Every Deathwatch story seems to require a “Let me at ’em” Scrappy-Doo type, and that character is usually a Space Wolf or a White Scar. The Storm Lords are White Scar successors, and this character was pretty annoying. A minor quibble in the midst of good action.
Sometimes, you get depth and character driven stories. Other times, you get stories with vivid detail and crackling action. These are the stories that spark you imagination, and keep it going long after the story is done. Flesh of the Angel did that for me. After putting it down, I was imagining Catachan warriors going blade to fang with the Sslyth in the teeming jungles. Whether the story is driven by the characters, or defined by the action; either way provides a satisfying experience. I wanted to get to know Gydrael better, but at least I got to see him at his best.
The Flesh of the Angel. Check it out. Good for a quick, fun read. That’s really it.
All of the covers in this series are pretty rough. I should be happy that this one shows less face than others. However, that’s a pretty shabby job on the hood. I know, hoods are tough to do. This one’s just a miss.