Friday, 2 May 2014

Horus Heresy Book Review: Scars, by Chris Wraight

This review brings me bang up to date with the Horus Heresy so will be my last from that series (well at least till Vengeful Spirit is released in August – Suddenly I am glad I have made the transition to Trade Paperback and wont have to wait so long.) Actually, a quick word on that subject; I was most reticent to move from one format to the other initially. It seemed nothing more than a cynical cash grab by BL to eke out a little more money out of their readership. However, having filled one shelf completely with the old mass market size and facing a rather intolerable wait for Vulkan Lives, I made the leap and bought into the larger format. I’ll be honest, I expected nothing more than an enlarged version of the smaller books so was most gratified when I discovered the fold out covers detailing Neil Roberts stunning cover art in all its glory, i'm even giving thought to replacing all my battered old books into this crisp new shiny format! (curse you BL!)

Anyways I digress, this is all about Scars Chris Wraight's second bash at the V legion after his Limited edition novella Brotherhood of the Storm. If you read my review of that book you’ll remember that I said that it feels like 3 introductory stories crammed into one narrative, and so it is proved to be here as much of the content of that novella leads directly into Scars. Thankfully Wraight has the space needed here to do much more justice to the White Scars such as they deserve, and utilizes that space superbly. This said, it does frequently refer back to events in Brotherhood of the Storm and if you haven’t read that particular book you may feel disadvantaged somewhat. 

Scars feels a lot more meaty than the last couple of efforts in the Horus Heresy series, if I had to choose one word to describe it it would be rich. Wraight displays some excellent characterization skills and creates much more rounded personas than many of his peers though he does push the whole Mongol thing a little far for my taste in places. This said there were no characters I hated in Scars and Wraight crams quite the dramatis personae into the book. Though ostensibly the book features only a handful of the V Legion, the supporting cast is quite diverse, featuring amongst their number no less than half of all the Primarchs! Some achievement indeed although it must be said that some of them play rather minor roles.

Admittedly the book starts in a rather cliched fashion, detailing the initiation process of two aspirants. Its something we have seen many times before and has frankly been done to death though admittedly it does have some importance to the overall narrative. It also grants us further insight into some major events that occur later in the book so perhaps it can be forgiven. Once this prologue of sorts is out of the way the bulk of the book deals with the White Scars isolation and ambiguity with regards to allegiance in the greater scheme of the Heresy. In this way this book is probably the most ‘pure’ Heresy entry we have had in a while, though in essence it is still filler. It is filler however, that practically demands you have read earlier entries, in particular Prospero Burns and A Thousand Sons. Jaghati's legion, stranded by the warp storms that have suddenly wrought the Imperium, are the only legion that have not declared their allegiance, largely forgotten by the larger Imperium it is only now that they are being considered and they receive conflicting reports regarding what is going on whilst at the same time suffering attacks from their supposed brothers. Confusion reigns as Jaghati endeavours to discover the truth and work out who to trust whilst keeping his own legion from disintegrating

Although this book is one of the first in a while to address the Horus Heresy on a larger scale, it by no means skips on the action, void war, boarding actions and ground based combat all featuring in various amounts. The battles are well described and punchy without lapsing too much into bolter porn, like a Space Marine the action is functional and brutal. This does mean that we do not quite get as much of the in depth character analysis and interactions we have recently enjoyed in other efforts but this aspect of the book is still present and Wraight has overall achieved a decent ratio, you do not feel short changed in any department. Wraight also shows marked deference to previous authors works, the Space Wolves that turn up are notably Abnetts incarnation and Russ is well portrayed, perhaps even surpassing Dans version. Elsewhere the collaboration that clearly takes place between the writers is clearly visible as Scars interweaves itself skillfully into the wider narrative of the heresy. This is a book that unlike Unremembered Empire doesn’t forget what it is about, having no outstanding niggling plot details or arcs to resolve 

It does however resolve its own plot points, and although certain elements of the book will have repercussion for books to come it ties itself up rather neatly. The nature of the White Scars, whist perhaps overlaboured is explored well and the legion is given a character of their very own. Normally after reading a GOOD novel based in the GW universes you will have a hankering to go out and collect that army and certainly that was the case with the Scars although Wraight does take a few liberties here and there (void jetbikes?) in the name of the rule of cool. Wraight also writes a story that doesn’t rely too heavily on macguffins or unlikely coincidence which shows how well the narrative has been constructed. He crams an awful lot of different threads in as well, not just with the V Legion but also with a side plot involving survivors from Isstvan (As seems to be tradition these days). Alongside this he portrays perhaps in a way not seen since the opening trilogy of the Heresy the uncertainty and disparate nature of the Astartes, perhaps no small surprise as Scars heavily features the Warrior Lodge from those times and their role in the hierarchy of the Legiones Astartes. Also featured are the Space Wolves, Word Bearers and Alpha Legion, it is quite the juggling act that is pulled off. 

So overall I enjoyed Scars a lot, It would have been interesting to read it In its original serialized format as the narrative is fairly seamless and I would have been interested to know where the breaks were put in. It’s a richly packed book and although it lacks any real revelations you don’t miss them in anyway as what is presented in their stead is so good. Wraight deserves much praise for juggling a good half dozen Legions and their Primarchs in one book and still presenting such a cohesive plot. It doesn't get bogged down and proceeds along at a fair lick despite its ambitious cast due to its tightly focused narrative. I devoured it in a few short sittings and it definitely sits in the upper tier of HH books. The fractious nature of the Scars is well portrayed and the narrative getting back to the meat the Heresy as a whole is welcome indeed. Much of this come from Wraights embracing of the earlier part of the Horus Heresy series, the inclusion of the lodges and the uncertain loyalty of the V Legion really put me in mind of the first three or four books in the series and this was also very welcome. Now begins the wait for the next book, fear not I have plenty of reading to do in the meantime, i'm plodding through Malodrax and i've been meaning to read the Tome of Fire Series for a while now……

4/5 Al

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