Monday, 9 September 2013

Book Review: Path of the Eldar Series

So, Path of The Eldar. Comprising of three books dealing with the paths of the Warrior, Seer and Outcast respectively, it marks perhaps the first time that the ways of these eldritch aliens have been explored In such depth. Previously I would have held Bill Kings ‘Farseer’ up as the finest example of an Eldar novel and they have featured heavily in other books but as far as I am aware this is the first time they have had a series to themselves. With Gav Thorpe at the helm (whose other works I hold in reasonably high regard) I was quite looking forward to reading these books and had very little idea of what lay ahead. 

Starting off with Path of the Warrior I must say it took some time to really get going. Obviously proper introduction of the characters is required and the pace is not particularly slow, but there is a fair bit of meandering and although the dialogue is written in a believable enough way the characters themselves are fairly unabsorbing as ill expand upon further in a bit. Thorpe does a good descriptive job when it comes to describing the craftworld Alaitoc, Eldar philisophies and technology are well explored and the book comes across very well as a Eldar focussed book with much that is brand new. Familliarity is twinned with new ideas and concepts and Gav should be lauded both for the creativity of his ideas and their integration into the wider Eldar world, all the different paths and gizmos that are described seamlessly integrate into the Eldar universe and it was prehaps surprising not see more of them creep into the Eldar codex and become part of the canon as many other authors terms and concepts have. 

Plot wise it goes like this: Eldar artist gets all emo when his long time female friend won’t return his affections and buggers off to join the Striking Scorpions and work on his anger issues. I’m not kidding, it actually is. And here we come to my only real problem with this series, the characters. The first part of this book actually reads almost like some hideous teen romance story. It does pick up once the action starts and it does all have a point (kind of) but it’s kind of hard to accept nonetheless. Nice to see everything isn’t bolterporn (although some of the action scenes are very good) but its jarring to say the least. The blurb on the back of the book says ‘Thorpe’s characters actually sound like real people’ and this is the truth because I wanted to punch Korandril in the face. He whines incessantly, is generally constantly depressed or angry and is in general very irritating. I’m not sure whether Gav should be congratulated or bemoaned for creating such a convincingly abhorrent character. Korandrils fate continues to unfold thoughout the book and it does eventually all have a point as a great threat looms over Alaitoc and the three central characters are all involved to some extent in an ambitious and well thought out narrative. 

Path of the Seer focuses on Thirianna , Korandrils would be romantic pursuit. She spurns the advances of Kornadril AND her other friend Aradryan (the titular Outcast from the last book in the series) and then promptly decides that poetry (yes there is a path of the poet) isn’t for her and she rather fancies giving being a seer a go. So what follows is lots and lots of pages about her exploring and developing her talents. It is a bit dull in all honesty but it’s not a deal breaker and there are some important plot developments along the way. Again Thorpe does a great job with fleshing out the psychic side of things with vivid descriptions of the webway and ‘skein’ and is to be commended for that at least. Then as the book progresses we find out that Thirianna has daddy issues… again im not kidding. Far from adding to the story it just feels unnecessary and forced. You’d honestly think that such an enlightened race would be above such things. 

Elsewhere Thirianna’s story intersects with that of Korandril in not entirely unclever fashion. It became apparent to me within a matter of pages that these three books would essentially all tell the same story from different characters perspectives and whilst it can be a little fatigue inducing to re read the same events repeatedly (especially if you read the whole series within a week or so like me) it is at least interesting to gain the thoughts and motivations of the characters in turn. With the readers perception of events and characters somewhat altered as new elements of conversations and motivations are explored (although Korandril is still a dick) Again interwoven paths become more divergent as time goes on before each characters destiny becomes more apparent towards the end of each respective novel and Thirianna is far more instrumental in events than Korandril was. Path of the seer ends setting up the last book in the trilogy nicely with a cracking battle sequence. 

Path of the Outcast is much more a separate entity than the other two in the series. It starts off with familiar events being told yet again but once you get past all that it really takes off. Thirianna rejects Aradryan who being a bit of a roamer anyway (he is returning to Alaitoc after a lengthy absence at the start of the story) runs away and becomes a ranger. By FAR the most interesting book, perhaps due to so much of it being set apart from the soap like events on Alaitoc, Path of the Outcast is probably the book I enjoyed most overall although it s certainly not without its problems. The great thing about Path of the Outcast is its esotericicty. Cast free from the confines of Eldar society Gav is free to explore some fantastical events and locations and this makes for some memorable scenes, be it the quest to an Eldar Crone World in the Eye of Terror to obtain spirit stones (accompanied by a troupe of Harlequins no less) or the numerous space battles that take place once Aradryan becomes a corsair, there really is some great material here and although much of it is a world apart (literally) from the previous two entries it really ties everything together into one cohesive whole with some style. 

Aradryan is also a slightly more likable character than his compatriots (although not by much) not as Emo as Korandril and more interesting than Thiriranna, his path is also the most interesting and overall I would say it is the best of the books in the series. THAT SAID, there are two GLARING errors in the book that mar it slightly, the first is an incorrect name being used (although thankfully the effect is not as drastic as in Ravenwing where essentially it wrecks an entire plot point)but the second really hacked me off. Without giving any spoilers away we have renegade Space Marine saying ‘praise the Emperor’ I’m not sure if this is a mistake or if the Space Marines were meant to be loyalist and Thorpe changed his mind but it absolutely ripped me out of the story and any immersion (I flicked back through the pages to check I wasn’t mistaken) and there really is no excuse for it. I assume people proof read these novels, If so they need firing. Thankfully the error doesn’t have any real impact but it is at an absolutely critical point in the book and I find it unforgiveable. The final resolution to the entire series and the salvation of Alaitoc is also a bit ‘eh’ especially for something that has been built up from the latter stages of the very first book. I can kjnd of see how Gav painted himself into a corner but I wish something a little more inventive had been concocted. 

So, in summary: A decent effort that brings certain elements of the Eldar fluff to light like never before. Gav is inventive and careful in his exploration of Eldar Society and philosophy and the various paths and there is great attention paid to why the paths exist and the dangers that the Eldar face if their minds are not disciplined. Also of note are the little mini prologues which in the first book deal with Eldar creation much like Tolkiens Silmarillion, in the second book deal with the various different runes employed by Eldar Psykers and in the third book just focuses upon different aspects of Eldar lore. These are actually very enlightening in places and a welcome addition. Something else I must mention is Neil Roberts artwork for the three books Simple yet elegant, the one for Path of the Seer in particular is absolutely stunning. Not so good are the characters, whilst I commend the authors commitment to flesh each character out as much as possible and the various personality traits do lend themselves to the various paths they end up taking, the characters are just horrible. For the record: Korandril is a selfish emo who gets so angry at being jilted that he has to become a warrior so he can hit things. Thirianna is a smug cocktease (although perhaps not intentionally) with daddy issues and really rather dull, and Aradryan is an arrogant insular loner who again takes rejection badly and abandons his homeworld heading down a dark path and eventually partaking in events that could potentially lead to its destruction. Prehaps I have just misjudged Thorpe’s efforts to portray the aloof and capricious nature of the Eldar but I didn’t care a jot for ANY of the main characters and although I found the books engaging to a degree I couldn’t really say I was particularly invested for the most part. If I had to describe Gavs characterisation in one word I think it would be clumsy. In fact I found the excellent cast of supporting characters much more compelling. I don’t want to take away from the good stuff that Gav does throughout this series but the characters are a major stumbling point for me. Elsewhere the book is reasonably well written, Gavs easy to digest style is evident here and the prose is free flowing and non obstructive. The best book is probably Path of the Outcast overall due to its strong sense of individuality which makes it all the more shameful that it is afflicted with two major errors. Overall a decent series, by no means bad but it could have been much better. Certainly readable and even enjoyable at times but I’d be surprised if it makes anyones list of favourites. 


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