“Scars”, Ep.X-XII by Chris Wraight (Black Library)

Wraight-Scars(HH)The final serial episodes of this Horus Heresy novel

Of all the Legiones Astartes, the White Scars of Jaghatai Khan remain the most enigmatic and elusive. Born of a civilisation that prizes honour, speed and fearsome loyalty, their allegiance has yet remained unclear even as the galaxy is torn apart by Horus’s treachery, and both sides have apparently counted them among their potential allies in the war to come. But when the Alpha Legion launch an unexplained and simultaneous attack against the White Scars and Space Wolves, the Khan must decide once and for all whether he will stand with the Emperor or the Warmaster… or neither.

I’m going to keep this very brief, as this review covers the final quarter of a novel. Why ruin it for everyone? The synopsis above is that for the novel as a whole. I must say it is possibly Wraight’s best so far. Everything I’ve reported on from the first nine episodes is just as evident and well-written as in the chapters that have come before. We learn more about the White Scars, and their strange place alongside the other Legiones Astartes, and the Imperium at large. Wraight sets up a lasting conflict and antagonism that (I assume) continues into the “present” Warhammer 40,000 timeline. Two Primarchs face off against each other, and the result of that exchange dictates the fate of the White Scars going forward. These three episodes pack in a lot of action, and the battle-scenes are very well-written (better, even, than Wraight’s Battle of the Fang). I particularly liked the attention paid to the Scars’ as a Legion split in two – mainly because it’s not been particularly well-addressed in other novels. Wraight’s writing is excellent throughout – clear, crisply composed, and briskly paced.

To be honest, a good amount of the story’s impact was lost as a result of the serialisation – hitting cliffhanger moments works for TV series, but not so much for a Horus Heresy novel. Even though I read them in chunks or multiple episodes, I’m used to read a novel in no more than five days (when they’re really long) and as little as one or two days. Stretching one out over a couple of months just didn’t work for me. An interesting experiment, though.

Nevertheless, with the whole novel now available, I would certainly recommend this as a must-read for all fans of the Heresy series. Wraight’s first full-length foray into the era is a triumph of military sci-fi. I certainly look forward to his next offering.

The Horus Heresy: Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Flight of the Eisenstein, Fulgrim, Descent of Angels, Legion, Battle for the Abyss, Mechanicum, Tales of Heresy, Fallen Angels, A Thousand Sons, Nemesis, The First Heretic, Prospero Burns, Age of Darkness, The Outcast Dead, Deliverance Lost, Know No Fear, The Primarchs, Fear to Tread, Shadows of Treachery, Angel Exterminatus, Betrayer, Mark of Calth, Promethean Sun, Scorched Earth, Vulkan Lives, Scars (I-III, IV-IX), The Unremembered Empire

[I’m going to work at filling in those review-blanks – some I’ve already read, but there are a couple of oversights that need addressing. As I am always thirsty for more Heresy fiction, I think I may have to catch up pretty soon. Starting with Graham McNeill’s Mechanicum. Fallen Angels is the only other I’ve never read.]

“Scars” Eps.IV-IX by Chris Wraight (Black Library)

Wraight-Scars(HH)-pt4The next six parts of the serialised Horus Heresy novel

Of all the Legiones Astartes, the White Scars of Jaghatai Khan remain the most enigmatic and elusive. Born of a civilisation that prizes honour, speed and fearsome loyalty, their allegiance has yet remained unclear even as the galaxy is torn apart by Horus’s treachery, and both sides have apparently counted them among their potential allies in the war to come. But when the Alpha Legion launch an unexplained and simultaneous attack against the White Scars and Space Wolves, the Khan must decide once and for all whether he will stand with the Emperor or the Warmaster… or neither.

Originally, I was going to read this serialised novel in chunks of three ‘episodes’. However, after leaving things for a little longer than intended, I ended up blitzing though the middle six parts in one go. While I’m still not entirely sold on the serialisation-aspect of this project, I do believe Scars will shape up to be Wraight’s best Black Library work to date. This is a very good novel (so far).

I’m still not entirely sure how best to approach reviewing these episodes. As with the previous review, it’s a little difficult to decide on what is a spoiler, what isn’t, whether it should be approached as if these were a single, complete book? I’m going to try to walk a middle-ground, and just highlight some of the things I really liked about Scars so far, and some more general observations. The synopsis, above, does a good job of situating the reader, and I think only needs a little bit more for the purposes of the review.

Two of the best things about the novel are, first the plethora of Legions represented (eight with ‘proper’ characters, but another on the sidelines, referred to quite frequently), and second, the continued examination of what the new revolt and civil war has done to the Astartes – collectively and individually. Many of the characters are still struggling with the idea of open warfare between the Legions, how peculiar and abhorrent fighting their own kind, their cousins, is.

Fighting another Legion was an unsettling experience: they thought like he did, were as quick as he was and almost as familiar with the layout of his vessel. It was like fighting a mirror.

The Thousand Sons had been different. They’d already been half beaten once the Space Wolves had made planetfall, and their defence had been desperate and messily, confusedly defiant. The Alpha Legion had no such disadvantages: they were in better shape than the Wolves, better resourced and with the advantage of the initiative. They had come looking for this fight, for reasons that even Russ hadn’t fathomed with any precision.

In addition to the confusion borne of the rebellion, the machinations of the Word Bearers and their allies in the Warp has only increased the problems facing the loyalists. Communications are effectively down – messages through the Astonomican are either delayed, garbled, contradictory, or nonexistent. At one point, the White Scars Primarch’s frustrations bubble over:

“I have the strength of the Legion arrayed before me, ready to strike. The ordu has assembled, and yet none can tell me who the enemy is. Tell them if they cannot interpret correctly then I shall come up to their spires and hammer their dreams into order for them.”

And later, he reflects on the situation:

The Khan almost felt like laughing. Nothing made sense. After years insulated from the rest of the galaxy, locked in a campaign that had promised little glory and much routine hard work, every certainty seemed to have been twisted into a comical level of incongruity.

True, these have become central themes of the Horus Heresy series as a whole, but the fact that it remains interesting after so many novels, from so many authors, is a testament to the skills of the writers involved, but also the strength of the overall project. It’s no mean feat to juggle all these novels, short stories, and audio dramas and maintain the quality (in fact, as I’ve mentioned before on the blog, from Graham McNeill’s A Thousand Sons onwards, the quality has been improving).

Wraight-Scars(HH)These episodes are littered with examples that explain the White Scars’ rarefied position among the Legions. They are set very much apart from their fellows. Sure, the Alpha Legion are mysterious, but they are known. They are infamously opaque and mysterious, and yet known because of that. The White Scars have simply been… absent. Off persecuting their own part of the Crusade, away from their brother Legions, without much support. This makes them very difficult to judge. When orders do arrive for the White Scars, however, and the Emperor and Dorn order the Khan’s Legion to return to Terra, to reinforce the throneworld’s defences, the Khan does not react well:

“I will not take direction from anyone, not even the Throneworld that only now, now that its Legions are tearing one another to pieces, deigns to remember that it has eighteen warrior-sons at its service… You are nobody’s slaves… We take orders from no one. We take no one’s word. We are on our own, just as we have always been, and if there is truth to be found in this, then we will find it for ourselves.”

Jagatai Khan is a pretty interesting Primarch. He’s enigmatic, even after reading this much of the novel. But this is, really, the root of his charm and why he remains a popular figure in Warhammer 40,000 mythology. There’s a great scene in which four Primarchs are gathered, shortly after Horus’s investiture as Warmaster (at Ullanor), and we get some interesting insight into his character. For example, this shrewd observation about his brothers:

Fulgrim and the Angel looked similar in some ways. They had the same sculptural faces, the same flamboyant armour. Where Sanguinius looked as though he had been born wearing gold-rimmed pauldrons, though, the Khan had always thought Fulgrim looked to be trying a little too hard. In the end, he guessed that Sanguinius would have been happy to cast off his trappings; Fulgrim gave the impression that he would rather die.

And then, as the four of them (Mortarian is also there – another Primarch who has remained rather out-of-sight for most of the series) discuss Horus’s new position:

Sanguinius smiled. “My brother, I think you are the most inscrutable of us all. I know what Rogal wants, and I know what Roboute wants, but even after so long I have no idea what you want.”

“He wants to be left alone,” said Fulgrim. “To shoot off into the stars and hunt down xenos on those delightful jetbikes. They’re devilishly fast…”

And we get to see just how fast all of the White Scars’ vessels can be. Much to the Alpha Legion’s surprise and detriment…

Things really start to hot up near the end of Ep.V, when White Scar psyker (or “weather witch” as his fellow Astartes call him) Yesugai stumbles across a Sons of Horus ship, crewed by a small band of Salamanders and Iron Hands, who have recently escaped the massacre on Isstvan V. He learns of the betrayal, putting to rest some of the confusion that has resulted from the White Scars’ isolation. This sets into motion the events of episodes VI-IX, which sees the White Scars hurtling towards revelations upon revelations, disappointments and betrayals. The story is shaping up very nicely indeed, and I can’t wait to read the final three parts of the novel.

As well as these larger issues are unfolding, we start to see more of Shiban’s investigation into the mysterious deaths on Phemus – deaths that appear to have been caused by Legion weapons. This leads him to his Terran friend, another White Scar, who is also an active member of a Warrior’s Lodge. A Lodge who may not be working in accordance with the Khan’s wishes, and are probably being manipulated by… well, long-time readers of the series will no doubt know the answer to that.

Of the other Legions featured in the novel, the Space Wolves come out of this in a very interesting light as well. The timeline places the novel shortly after their attack on Prospero to punish Magnus and the Thousand Sons. They are uncharacteristically somber, introspective, as they see the ripple-effects of their actions (sanctioned though they were), which leaves Leman Russ, their warlike, impulsive Primarch, to lament the state of affairs in the galaxy, of which he played an instrumental part in bringing about. Speaking to Bjorn One-Hand (who is well-known to fans of the tabletop game, as the Space Wolves’ dreadnought character, Bjorn the Fell-Handed – he also featured in Wraight’s SMB novel, Battle of the Fang), he muses:

“I never asked him [the Emperor] what he had in mind for us once the Crusade was over,” Russ went on. “I never asked him if we would be needed. Hardly matters now – if this madness can’t be stopped there will never be a time when we are not needed… The irony of it. Horus has given us the purpose we were beginning to lack. He’s made us useful again… Look what a mess we have made of things – me and my beloved brothers. You will have to pick up the pieces.”

Overall, then, this is shaping up to be another superb addition to the Horus Heresy series. Wraight has really outdone himself. I’m enjoying this a great deal. [But, yes, I would have preferred to read this all in one go, rather than in weekly instalments.] Bring on the final three episodes, and the next book in the series, Dan Abnett’s The Unremembered Empire.

The Horus Heresy: Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Flight of the Eisenstein,Fulgrim, Descent of Angels, Legion, Battle for the Abyss, Mechanicum, Tales of Heresy,Fallen Angels, A Thousand Sons, Nemesis, The First Heretic, Prospero Burns, Age of Darkness, The Outcast Dead, Deliverance Lost, Know No Fear, The Primarchs, Fear to Tread, Shadows of Treachery, Angel Exterminatus, Betrayer, Mark of Calth, Promethean Sun [Stefan’s Review], Scorched Earth, Vulkan Lives, Scars (I-III), Unremembered Empire

“Scars” Episodes I-III, by Chris Wraight (Black Library)

Wraight-Scars(HH)A Horus Heresy Serialised Novel

This is a review of the first quarter(-ish) of the 27th Horus Heresy novel, which is being serialised through Black Library’s website. Reading these, one is left with a bit of a conundrum: how do you review the first three-of-twelve parts of a novel? What constitutes a spoiler, for example?

I’ve decided to approach the installments as if they were the first quarter of a novel, which means all the content is fair game for discussion and mention (although, I have addressed each episode individually, which has made this a rather long review).

I wonder if it might have been better to organise some kind of forum, in which fans of the series could discuss the episodes and novel? There’s so much in these three parts, and given the week-long gaps between each new episode, I think it lends itself quite well to forum-style engagement and discussion.

Anyway, back to the review. First up, here is the synopsis for the full novel:

Jaghatai Khan and his White Scars Legion must choose – the Emperor or Horus? Fresh from their conquest of Chondax and the discovery of Horus’s rebellion, Jaghatai Khan’s warriors stand divided. Long considered one of the less trustworthy Legions, many of the White Scars claim to owe their loyalty exclusively to Terra, and others still to the Warmaster and his warrior lodges. But when a distress call from Leman Russ of the Space Wolves brings the wrath of the Alpha Legion to Chondax, the Khan’s hand is forced and the decision must be made – in the great war for the Imperium, will he side with the Emperor or Horus?

The first Episode was not the strongest start to a novel. It didn’t fully grab me, like most other Heresy novels have – this is, perhaps, a real danger when serialising a novel that has not been specifically written for this format. (Although, it should be stated from the outset that the first three episodes have been chopped up rather well.) It’s also tricky, though, to address: taken as an individual read, it wouldn’t have left me 100% convinced that I wanted to read on. Because I had the next two episodes, though, I can say that Scars could shape up into one of the strongest Heresy novels.

The story opens with two Astartes aspirants, Tamu and Haren. The two characters are going through trials for what I had assumed were the White Scars. It took a few pages to realise they weren’t both trying out for the same Legion, though, which at least explained the different types of name (Haren Svensellen didn’t sound particularly Asian-influenced, as most White Scars’ names are). Haren, it turns out, had been marked for selection by the Luna Wolves, but is reassigned to the White Scars at the last minute. It’s a little bit muddled, if you haven’t memorised the Legion numbers (as opposed to names), but it quickly sorted itself out.

Through Haren’s ordeal, we learn that this is happening after Horus has made a name for himself: “I will become one of you,” he thinks after confronting a Luna Wolf. “For Horus. For Horus and the Emperor, I will become one of you.”

The mix of ‘Asian’-style terminology (“an owlish Khitan from Choq-tan named Jeldjin” – a bit of a clunky example) seemed at times to be rather heavy-handed or excessive. Wraight throws out a lot of new jargon without the best integration. Less, or a more gradual introduction, would have been better. Interestingly, we learn through Haren’s experiences, the White Scars prefer recruits from the Asiatic hive cities, and he finds their “archaic customs, their introversion, their exceptionalism” irritating. The first episode, then, offers an interesting, if truncated, alternative induction story. I liked this a lot, as it suggests that inductions are not always as harmonious or clear-cut as we may have been led to believe.

To make things a bit more confusing, at the end of Episode I, Tamu changes his name as he is inducted, to Shiban. Haren becomes Torghun.

There’s some foreshadowing, as Tamu asks if Terrans are as tough as Chogorians:

“I am glad you are a poet. Only poets can be true warriors.”

“Do the Terrans think the same way?”

Yesugei laughed. “I do not know,” he said. “One day you will meet one. When you do, ask him.”

Not difficult, therefore, to spot that Tamu/Shiban and Haren/Torghun are fated to meet.

Wraight-Scars(HH)-pt1In Episode 2, the story’s scope widens, and we are introduced to a number of other key characters. Ilya Ravallion, a General in the Departmento Munitorum, for example, who is charged with handling the White Scars’ logistics. Through Ilya’s eyes, we get some good commentary on the White Scars’ style – both martial and temperamental.

“They were the elusive ones, the Legion who roamed too far, the ones who had almost broken away entirely, rampaging outwards from the thrust of the Crusade and angling off into the deep void. Prodigal, her superior had called them.”

Assigned to the White Scars, Ilya feels she’s been given a surprising final assignment: “organising the unorganisable, imposing some sense of discipline upon a Legion that treated warfare like a kind of carefree, joy-filled art form.” In the third episode, discussed below, this theme is revisited, and we learn that Ilya “had come to find the White Scars’ amiable indifference to Imperial edicts more endearing than exasperating.”

And finally, we get some examination on Jhagatai Khan, in relation to his brother Primarchs:

“They said Horus Lupercal was the finest commander in the galaxy. They said that the Angel Sanguinius was the mightiest in combat, or maybe Russ of Fenris, or maybe poor tortured Angron. They said Guilliman was the greatest tactician, the Lion the most imaginative, Alpharius the subtlest. None of them gave the Khan a second thought. But then, they hadn’t seen him [in combat].”

We learn a bit more about Shiban and Torghun, and also start to get a glimpse of a rift between Terran-born White Scars and Chogorian-born Astartes. Torghun, for example, is a member of a Lodge (which haven’t featured much in recent HH fiction), which is made up exclusively of Terran-born Astartes. I have a feeling that the rift within the Legion is going to be borne of these hostilities. It’ll be an interest addition to the canon, too – despite their obviously aggressive, homicidal approach to non-humans, none of the Heresy (or WH40k) fiction has dealt with human racial tension. If handled well, this could be very interesting indeed.

The second episode also gives us more idea of the time-period for the novel – the Space Wolves have already burned Prospero (the events of McNeill’s excellent A Thousand Sons and Abnett’s Prospero Burns), and also after the Isstvan Dropsite Massacre. The final portion of this part focuses on the Space Wolves, who are chaffing at having been sent away to discipline Magnus’s Legion – thereby ensuring their absence from Isstvan, which in turn likely helped sway the conflict in favour of the traitors. Their task also prevented them from coming to the aid of their now-fallen brother Legions. Then, while preparations are underway for the Legion return to Terra, an Alpha Legion fleet appears out of the warp…

One of the most interesting scenes is at the start of Episode III. It is set in the Observatory of the Imperial Palace on Terra. Malcador the Sigillite, Primarch Rogal Dorn and Commander Valdor of the Legio Custodes are discussing the state of the galaxy and the newly-erupted Civil War. Through their discussion, we learn just how thin information is.

“I never asked you how it felt, Constantin, to see Prospero burn. Did even your callous soul blanch at that?”

Valdor didn’t miss a beat. “No. It was necessary.”

“Was it?” sighed Malcador. “I did not give the order. I wanted Magnus censured, not destroyed. What was it that made Russ do it? You never could give me an answer.”

Dorn exhaled impatiently. “You know all of this, Malcador. You know all that happened there, just as we do.” He was coldly furious. “Does this need repeating? The Warmaster is at the heart of it, poisoning everything we do, and now he has the blood of three more Legions on his hands.”

This chapter expands once again our understanding of the rivalries and loyalties between the Primarchs. It also re-iterates the strange, almost lonely position of the Khan. The Khan was only really close to two of his brothers: Horus and Magnus. Naturally, this produces some concern among the leaders of the Imperium. As Valdor states, “So there it is. The Khan’s known allies, Horus and Magnus, traitors both.”

As with the aforementioned novels by McNeill and Abnett, Wraight ties in the treason to the events at Nikaea, when the Emperor decreed that all Legions must disband their psychic corps (the Librarians, etc.). As Malcador laments,

“As I said at the time, Nikaea was the root of this. We should have explained things better, though there were reasons, some of which we could never disclose, not there… We were too caught up in what needed to be done. That may be the tragedy of it all – we did not explain.”

Thankfully, we finally meet the Primarch Jaghatai Khan. He had felt rather absent up to this point… As it turns out, Khan has no idea what occurred on Nikaea, hoping instead that Yesugei (who appears to be his second-in-command?) was successful in helping keep the Librarius alive in the Legions.

The Space Wolves and Alpha Legion also face off in the void.

“I wondered if it would become easier,” Bjorn mused.

“If what would?” asked Godsmote.

“Killing another Legion. Killing kinsmen.”

“We’re not there yet.”

“Yes, we are.”

To return to the pending rift within the Legion, we see a little bit more of the Terran-born Astartes’ frustrations.

“As was typical, the White Scars straggling Legion structure made coordination difficult… The Chogorians seemed happy enough with that. They were used to their inscrutable primarch and his impulsive decision-making. The Terrans took it harder, at least those who hadn’t long resigned themselves to the Legion’s haphazard methods of command and control.”

Given that we’re told the process can take well over a decade, I find this a little strange. It’s an interesting development, certainly, and one I haven’t seen in other Heresy fiction. Therefore it is welcome, not to mention also providing the motivation behind the Legion split easier to swallow, but at the same time… They were made into Astartes, elevated to become super-humans. So they didn’t become Luna Wolves – we’ve been led to believe that all humans see all Space Marines as the pinnacle of supra-human evolution, and are in complete awe of them. It seems almost petty that the friction effectively arises because some of them weren’t pick for the right ‘team’.

All in all, despite the weaker first Episode, Scars is shaping up to be a pretty interesting addition to the Horus Heresy series. Wraight’s writing is well-crafted, and the story moves at a brisk, smooth pace. I hope we get some more White Scars background, though, and perhaps some of their Primarch’s history. I haven’t read much about the Legion before (and have read neither Wraight’s previous novel Savage Scars, nor the limited edition novella, Brotherhood of the Storm).

I do, however, think I would have preferred to read this as part of the complete novel, so I’m not sure if I’m going to continue reviewing the episodes in collected chunks, or just wait for the novel to be complete. Part of this is just down to my own personal impatience with reading in small chunks – I much prefer to devour a novel in a relatively quick period, rather than in slow, weekly drips. It’s an interesting experiment, at least.