Tuesday 17 August 2021

Trailing Corposant 4 – Autistic Sympathy

Ok, on with the series.  

Book 6 – Descent of Angels 

Hey kids… do you like Dark Angels? 

Well tough shit. Get ready for some quite-interesting characters across some very forgettable books by a spectrum of ablative writers as a series of books about the First Legion and the Lion manages to largely not actually be about the First Legion or the Lion. 



The First Legion in (rough*) Publication Order 


October 2007 - Descent of Angels
Novel by Mitchel Scanlon 

Luther finds the Lion, raises him, goes to space then kinda-nearly-sorta lets him die and is banished back to Caliban.


March 2009 - ‘Call of the Lion’
Short by Gav Thorpe published in ‘Tales of Heresy’ 

An old-school Terran Dark Angel and a Calibanite dick-measure over how to conquer a world. 


July 2009 - Fallen Angels
Novel by Mike Lee 

Heresy happens. Lion thinks ahead and grabs some super-siege weapons which Horus will need to crack the Palace = STRATEGIC GENIUS ONE STEP AHEAD BABY! Then gives them to Pertuabo = AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER. Luther plots on Caliban & gets chaos on him. 


May 2011  - ‘Savage Weapons’
Short by Aaron Dembski-Bowden in ‘Age of Darkness’ 

The Lion has already been fighting Conrad in the Thramas Crusade for a while (when did that happen? = In the Forge World books). Lion and Conrad meet for a mutual (attempted) backstabbing, successfuly in the Lions case. 


May 2012‘The Lion’
Short by Gav Thorpe in ‘The Primarchs’ 

More Thramas Crusade. They have Demons now? They have Demons now. Lion decides its time to start bending rules, wakes up the Librarius and fiddles with somewhat-evil hypertech. He is off to see Guilliman? YOU BETTER NOT BE DOING TREASON ROBUTE (yes I just somewhat-accidentally killed one of my Chaplains in an autistic meltdown but that wasn’t really treason really).


December 2013‘Cypher, Guardian of Order’
Audio drama by Gav Thorpe. 

Spooky business on Caliban. WhOOOoooo. 


May 2014‘Prince of Crows’
Novelette by Aaron Dembski Bowden 

The Lions spooky and creepy schemes actually pay off and he kicks Conrads ass I’M GLAD SOMEONE DID. Unfortunately for us most of this happens in the Forge World books. This story begins in the aftermath as Severtar, the Night Lords one-competent-psychopath tries to un-fuck the situation. 


October 2014‘Master of the First’
Audio drama by Gav Thorpe 

More plotting on Caliban. WhOOOoo. 


June 2016‘Angels of Caliban’
Novel by Gav Thorpe 

The Lion, now working for with Guilliman on Macragge, fights Conrad AGAIN and wins FUCK YOU CONRAD. He did have to phosphex a bunch of civilians to do it, sorry Robute, but at least works out that the Emperor is still alive. More plotting on Caliban, some DA sent back for reinforcements ‘fall down some stairs’ – Luther gets more Chaos on him. 


January 2017‘Leman Russ: The Great Wolf’
Primarchs Novel by Chris Wraight 

Chris Wraight Prequel! Largely about Russ being a fucking incompetent and fighting the Lion. I think this has an interesting poscript describing the Lion arriving on Terra after the siege, realising he made every decision wrong and having a near-total meltdown. Hold on buddy as its about to get worse for you. 


February 2019‘First Legion’
Short by Chris Wraight in ‘Scions of the Emperor’ 

Another Chris Wraight prequel. It’s the Ragandan Xenocides and the 1st are having a tough time when the ‘Alpha Legion’ come offering bright red apples and a large wooden horse. “Hey super-secret guy, we like the way you keep secrets secretly…” 


May 2020‘Lion El'Jonson: Lord of the First’
“Primarchs” Novel by David Guymer 

An actually good novel largely about the Lion! Its pre-heresy. The DA fight super-evil super-psychic ages-old mega-monster Xenos and royally fuck them up. Finally we see the penguin in the water as all the DA masonic conspirital claptrap and low level autism turns out to be useful and quite clever actually fuck you very much. SYMBOLS. 


March 2020Saturnine Mortis’
Siege Novel by Dan Abnett, (the 1st play a bit part in this). 

“But the Dark Angels weren’t at the Siege!” Well this one group was actually! And there are Fallen with him! See THAT WHOLE UNENDING SIDE PLOT WAS RELEVEANT ACTUALLLyyYYY!” 

There is a chapter where the DA retake the Astronimicon, which now has Chaos on it. Will the Fallen do something creepy in future books? Probably/ 


October 2020‘Luther: First of the Fallen’
Novel by Gav Thorpe 

The Heresy is over! Luther is captured by the Dark Angels and kept in a timelocked cage. He is interrogated over 10,000 years and gets to see the Imperium decay into gothic madness. An imperfect book but original in concept and execution. Well done. 


(*Some of the shorts may have appeared before being collected.) 


If ever a man suited a beard it was the Lion


The Lions Timetable 

Ok, beginning the Lions Story in the Heresy, what do we know? Banishes Luther. Thramas Crusade. Not at Terra, arrives late. Fights Luther on Caliban. Goes beddy-bye. 

So it’s a story about someone not making it to the party. Still, with all of the Lions early life and all of the Great Crusade to play with, there is a lot you could do. Sadly largely they do not. 


Conspiracies on Caliban! 

Black Library already has a few books about the Dark Angels in M41 involving the dark secrets of old Caliban, the Fallen and time travel. Plus we have characters who are from that era and talk about it. 

So now we are doing the Heresy, we could close the loop

Caliban is a forested death world beset by monsters which, all unique, are often semi intelligent and are always super-destructive. A bunch of post-apocalyptic Knights defend this place with guns and swords. 

All these different Knightly groups have various levels of secrecy and conspiracy, even one group who, as we later discover, have the spiffing idea that since chaos (the beasts) can’t ever be finally defeated, maybe we should instead try and stabilise the relationship with them instead of trying to annihilate them?. 

Extra bullshit; the world is actually a kind of container or trap for a piece of hypertech called the Ouroboros which might be from the War in Heaven and is definitely somewhat evil and quite chaosy. The little robed fellows who hang out with the Dark Angels are actually anti-chaos aliens who watch over this hypertech. 

After Luther gets banished back to Caliban he starts unfolding this secret history. Luther and the Calibanites have their hands on the 1st Legions make-a-space-marine kit, and are not big fans of the Empire at all.. 

Get ready for infinite plots, identity swapping, mind-worms, conspiracies inside conspiracies, mixed loyalties, hidden flaws, cunning plans and Luther spinning about a million plates as he tries to keep the whole thing going while quietly shitting himself over what’s going to happen when the Heresy ends. Someone  has to win right? 

Not necessarily terrible as a set of stories about Old Night, a non-imperial look at the Imperium, and good if you like secret plotting and LORE, but largely not very interesting or deeply related to the main Heresy Series. 

This strand makes up about a third to a half of all the DA series books. And they are not a separate strand, if you want to read about the Lion then you are going to get a ‘Conspiracies on Caliban’ chapter right afterwards, and visa versa. 

The Fallen are still around! They travelled through time and turn up in M41/42. What happens when a non-imperial culture gets its hands on the Imperial tech package and is non-quite but a-bit chaosy? We will find out! 

Its not terrible but the situation on Caliban would have been overwhelmingly better as one strong book about only-that-subject, instead of a grafted limb weighing down the others.




Thramas, the Off-Screen Crusade 

Horus thinks of something useful to Conrad to do; “Fuck off to the Eastern Fringe and keep the 1st occupied and the Lion OFF MY FUCKING BACK.” 

The Thramas Crusade! Dark Angels vs Night Lords! Cunning battles across the stars, Knights vs Atrocity, Terror vs Nobility! Tragedy! Honour! Planets go boom! 

Surprisingly, Conrad does pretty well. He does lose a fair few fights, but in strategic terms that doesn’t matter at all. Even in defeat he gets the Lion haring off to deal with Guilliman and getting sucked into his schemes rather than heading for Terra. Well done Conrad, mission accomplished, you truly are the most irritating of all Primarchs.

In a classic method of heresy storytelling, one of the coolest bits of the Dark Angels being good at stuff, fighting, outwitting and ultimately wrecking the Night Lords shit, takes place largely off-screen from the main series. I think its already meant to be covered in the Forgeworld Red Books and so they can’t do main stories about it? 

Oh well…  



Luthers Complex Psychology! 

Luther! The hyper-charismatic, super-fighter, strategic genius and best knight ever who seems destined to unify Caliban and drive back the beasts at the head of The Order, spooky knights who are less fucked up than most other Knightly orders and who actually value ordinary people a bit. His wife & kids just died and he is sad about it. 

He and his team follow the path of a dangerous creature. 

It’s the Lion. 

His compatriots nearly shoot the Lion (a common drama on Primarch discovery) but he persuades them not to and they bring the wild child back to civilisation and teach him to be the best knight ever. Luther and the Lion beat up all the bad monsters along with anyone who disagrees with how they are doing that. They pretty much control Caliban. Don’t talk to me or my Autistic Son ever again. 

Except he’s not your Autistic Son, he’s now your boss. 

WHOOPS the Imperium of Man arrives. Caliban is saved again if it wasn’t before. Luther is cucked out of the hero AND Father role AGAIN. 

But he still gets to hang out with the son that he hates loves… So he goes to space with him. 

On their first big mission Luther notices that recalcitrant subjects “coming to negotiate” came in a shuttle which in no way or sense could make it back to their planet… If they don’t intend to go back, does that mean… 

Weeeeeelllll no need to mention it.. 

They’ll kill my rival, the Lion, who took Caliban from me, who reduced me to an also-ran in my own life, who excels everything I ever did simply by virtue of being born a monster.. 

Oh my god they’ll kill my son, the Lion. The boy I rescued from the forest! Who never had a real father! My friend who fought by my side to save Caliban, who I taught all of my wisdom and imbued with my best qualities despite him being an autistic idiot! 

So Luther does mention it, almost-nearly too late. The Lion knows something is up, senses he can’t trust Luther, but still loves him, and can’t prove he did anything, so neatly sweeps the problem under the rug by sending Luther and anyone else who gives him a bad feeling, back to Caliban to mumble mumble deedly dooly whatever PROBLEM SOLVED. 

Luther, in purely literary terms, maybe the most interesting character in the Heresy. Torn utterly between his genuine higher nature and real love for the Lion and a deep and complex web of shame, anger and self-recrimination which he can barely acknowledge. 

We’ve seen Father/Son relationships go horribly wrong in the Heresy many times, from the Sons point of view. With Luther we get the anguish of a failed father, angry, yet still with a capacity for nobility. With genuine and reasonable complaints and massive flaws. 

Luther slowly goes mental on Caliban, playing Calibanite Game of Thrones, fretting and never quite falling to Chaos no matter how many 25%-off free chaos powers offers they flood his email spam box with. 


"Look, no-ones saying chaos chaos, wait hear me out!"

Signs and Symptoms of ASD 

Some fragments of the page on Autism Spectrum Disorder from the Taken from the National Institute for Mental Health


“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behaviour. .. people with ASD have: 

·        Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people

·        Restricted interests and repetitive behaviours

·        Symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life 

Not all people with ASD will show all behaviours, but most will show several.


Social communication / interaction behaviours may include:

·        Making little or inconsistent eye contact

·        Tending not to look at or listen to people

·        Rarely sharing enjoyment of objects or activities by pointing or showing things to others

·        Failing to, or being slow to, respond to someone calling their name or to other verbal attempts to gain attention

·        Having difficulties with the back and forth of conversation

·        Often talking at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond

·        Having facial expressions, movements, and gestures that do not match what is being said

·        Having an unusual tone of voice that may sound sing-song or flat and robot-like

·        Having trouble understanding another person’s point of view or being unable to predict or understand other people’s actions


Although people with ASD experience many challenges, they may also have many strengths, including: 

·        Being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time

·        Being strong visual and auditory learners

·        Excelling in math, science, music, or art



The Lion 

Beard! This is a good look for you Lion, stick with it.

I cringe often when shameful memories spring to mind. As in physically. It got so bad that its part of the reason I am on pills. 

When I think of the sadness of the Lion my strongest emotion is a grieving sympathy. There is a particular social horror in having the raw intelligence, the processing power, to be able to work out what people are thinking and doing, as agents, as abstract properties, and having the sensory capacities to intuit it, as you would a beast, but severely lacking any degree of social intuition. 

Never being able to explain yourself. Not even really to yourself. Knowing everyone else is operating in a social milieu you can understand intellectually but never inhabit. 

The sadness of being alone. The nightmare of half knowing your dad thought seriously about letting someone assassinate you. 

The First. Does this make you an unreliable prototype? Or the most robust and coherent instantiation of the designers intent? 

Because even though you were intended  to be the first one out of the tubes, and though your gene-sons remember fighting alongside the Emperor, you yourself are being superseded militarily by a guy you are pretty sure you could beat. 


Because he knows how to get along with people. The one thing you can’t do. Even space-dad likes him more. 

But still, you are competent. You do what is needed of you. In in design terms,  you seem to be the essence of what a Primarch should be. And what a Primarch should be is a super-badass made to royally fuck up the kinds of alien and warp-based hyper threat that even the most brilliant and enhanced mainline human would have trouble with. A Monster to fight Monsters. 

And you are completely fine with that, genuinely, and are very good at it. 

In your quiet moments with the Emperor neither of you even say anything. You don’t need awards or explicit praise. That’s not self delusion or false modesty. Its enough to be recognised, and to be relied on. That matters

Then the Heresy comes. 

Then the almighty fuckup with handing siege weapons to Pertuabo. Fuck. Imagine the memory of it. 

Then Conrad in the Thramas Crusade, getting tangled up with Robute on the Eastern Fringe. 

Then finally, finally, reaching Terra and realising that every single choice you made was wrong. That when you thought you were winning you were being played. That the Emperors main beat stick against Chaos wasn’t there when he needed you. The one thing you were certain of, your competence, torn away. 

Then you go home and your dad tries to kill you for real this time. And home is gone, blasted to bits. 

Its no wonder he needed a sleep. 

If Pertuabo is a lesson in dealing with Autism badly, the Lion is an example of dealing with Autism… well not well, but not terribly either. And regardless of all his fuckups and losses, meltdowns and frustrations, regardless of being born on a death world and hunted from birth, of being betrayed by his father/teacher, he still never turns evil.




Farewell Mitchell Scanlon and Mike Lee! You got one book each and this is the last we will see of you in the Heresy!



  1. Great read! Did we miss no. 4?

    1. God damn it..

      No you didn't, I just screwed up. OK, should be fixed now, thank you.

  2. Fine, now I need to read Luther.

    The Dark Angels have a certain appeal by nature of their secrecy and hunched, narrow obsession with esoteric quasi-thelogical practices and complex strings of symbolism.
    It's the sort of thing that 40k (or the Imperium/Craftworld Eldar at least) seems constantly short of despite being implicit to the setting.
    But then you read a story about them and it's never quite there.

  3. I do sort of wonder if Caliban ever needed that overly complex background, with Ouroboros, and time-travel, and Watchers. It gives me an impression of nailing 'Lord of the Rings' skin-desire for epic-ness onto what is already solid background by itself: schisms and paranoia, and trust, rapidly changing culture, expand of the focus, bad decisions done from necessity or momentary error and so on.

    Do you think Primarchs supposed to reflect aspects of Emperor's own personality?

  4. I tried reading all the heresy novels; then started skimming them, then giving them ten pages to grab me, and now I only pick one up if it's been written by Abnett or ADB.

    I would love to hear your shortlist of Black Library novels by other writers. A listicle! Obscura of the masses!

  5. I think these are so interesting because the Horus Heresy is something that everybody is this milieu knows about in broad terms, but very few know in detail, let alone with analysis. You are the de facto primary historian and chronicler of the Horus Heresy on Earth