Corax: Soulforge by Gav Thorpe – Book Review [Bellarius]
With the return of the Raven Guard, Bellarius examines the strengths and weaknesses of Corax: Soulforge
“Corax’s return leaves much to be desired” – The Founding Fields
In a series which is becoming ever more focused upon either the traitor legions or Ultramarines for its tales, the Raven Guard have always stood as a military given a rare degree of exploration. Having appeared in a number of minor and major stories, the legion has served to explore the wars beyond what the major novels detail. Giving a greater scope to events and exploring how a legion can keep fighting even after suffering near total annihilation. As such it’s unfortunate that this latest instalment is such a mixed bag.
Following on from the conclusion of Deliverance Lost, Soulforge continues the Raven Guard efforts to harry the Warmaster’s forces. As they prepare for another assault against a base of power vital to the traitors, the legion uncovers a second, far more pressing target. Having seemingly formed an alliance with the Word Bears, the forge world of Constanix II is now potentially at their disposal. Hearing rumours of daemon engines possibly spawned from its factories, Corax leads a small number of his warriors deep into the heart of the metal planet. There he must determine if any loyalists remain and halt this new threat at all costs.
Despite some odd quirks in events, the Raven Guard stories have maintained a healthy level of continuity between events. While remaining primarily episodic and recapping at every turn to keep new readers up to date, the series has always emphasised upon themes introduced in previous tales. This is the case here. Rather than just being an out and out action fest between space marine forces, the novella sticks to the tried and true method of balancing conflict with character and reflection.
While there is the expected bloody rampage of revenge by the Guard, Corax’s greater knowledge of the primarchs’ origins and greater awareness of them play a role here. As does the Battle of Ravendelve and a number of events triggered in Deliverance Lost. The impact of Corax’s actions and questions his role in relation to the Emperor’s great plan is something continually discussed and delved into. While something we’ve seen covered in books both in and outside of the Heresy series, it takes a new angle on it. Exploring it through a new viewpoint to give a fresh perspective on an old idea with questions of origins, loyalty and betrayal but manages to make the most of it.
It’s saying something in a novella where the Imperium fights Defilers for the first time and a loyalist primarch attempts to lead a world into rebellion; that the most interesting titbit is its character building. In only a quarter of its total page number Soulforge manages to completely outstrip Deliverance Lost in a number of key areas, giving more insight into the primarch’s mind than we had previously seen. Something which was definitely needed as, despite the book’s attempts to expand upon his history, Corax was still left as something of a stranger by the end.
Corax isn’t the only one who gets treated well in this department as the novella actually manages to get Guilliman right for once. The series has had the growing problem of treating the Ultramarines and their gene-father as perfect warriors (building better fortress worlds than Dorn or Perturabo, authors never allowing an enemy more than a pyrrhic victory over them, the legion seemingly outfighting everyone, Guilliman shrugging off the anathame because he’s better than Horus somehow etc) the novella depicts them as learning from their mistakes and those of others. Rather than being perfect first time around, Guilliman is shown losing repeatedly in a training situation until he adapts to his opponent and becomes effective against them. It’s just a shame this happens in a novel which doesn’t even feature him.
The issue with the combat is that it often feels either unnecessary. Serving as a vastly less interesting sequence of events, one which took away pages which could have been used to enhance its strongest points. It’s hard to argue the novella as a whole might have served better with Corax talking. Just conversing with the tech-priests in efforts to convince them to rebel and planning with his troops, speaking of his past meetings with other primarchs. Furthering elements Thorpe was far more skilled in handling and more substantial to the protagonist.
Admittedly the emphasis upon battle isn’t helped by the sudden nerfing of Corax in terms of raw power during an obscenely long fight. Those who’ve listened to him beat a Predator tank to death with his hands will be wondering why he’s having trouble with a lone sorcerer turned mutilator. One who can shout loud enough to almost deafen him, shrug off said tank killing punches to the face and results in the expected anime/comicbook cliché when Corax is on his knees. You know the one.
Add to that an epilogue which leaves everything in doubt and explains little to nothing; and you’ve got a very disappointing third act of what was a promising novella. You’re left asking things like: Just what happened to the tech priests? Is the planet going to be counter invaded? What about the masses of other daemon engines alleged to be rampaging through nearby star systems? And was it just me or did anyone else read this as Corax: Soulstorm first time around?
In quality Corax: Soulforge is a product of extremes. When Thorpe does something right here he’s firing on all cylinders but when he makes a mistake it’s one which near cripples the tale. It’s ultimately underwhelming and nowhere near good enough of a tale to justify the hefty price tag or limited release. It’s just above average but given this is the supposed start of a series it leaves a great deal to be desired.