Horus Heresy: Scars (Episode Four) by Chris Wraight – Advance Review [Bellarius]

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Bellarius takes a look at the latest Episode of the Scars novel by Chris Wraight.

“Revelations are made, bullets are fired, and Khan’s thoughts are finally made known.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

IV starts off immediately where its preceding Episode concluded, dealing with the events set up there. With their forces arrayed against one another Bjorn’s unit leads his forces into a losing battle against the Alpha Legion, even as they are cut down one by one. At the same time the message at the end of III causes the White Scars to pull out of Chondax, and Jaghatai makes a choice few would ever expect of him.

In many ways IV addresses many of the concerns made in previous instalments. There is no mention of Terra, the plot is focused between a small handful of scenes and it feels very streamlined. Only Shiban, Bjorn, Ilya and the Khan.

Each of them offers some small part in progressing the story with Shiban continuing the investigation of the mysteriously dead legionaries before they leave, Ilya giving us our first proper look at the legio’s battle fleet, Khan giving us our first proper insight into the legion prior to the Heresy, and Bjorn shoots things.

There’s unfortunately very little which can be said about the Space Wolf segments. While they take up the largest chunk of the Episode, they just consist of Russ and Alpharius’ legions fighting one another. It’s well handled, anyone who read the void engagements in Battle of the Fang knows Wraight can do them well, but much of it is just fighting. What little isn’t is establishing that the Wolves are progressively losing, and how big an engagement this really is. There’s nothing wrong with them, but even in comparison to the brief scenes from prior Episodes there’s seemingly little actually to these scenes beyond violence. It concludes before we see anything major take place beyond a frantic ship battle between various forces.

The more substantial moments continue with the Scars as Wraight tries to flesh them out further. While the novel explored how they have been viewed by others and their apparent status as barbarians, it offers for the first time their real reaction to it. One native of Chigoris revealing to Ilya, to at least some degree, how they react to being lumped with the likes of the Space Wolves and just why they are so isolated. Besides this we see for the first time some descriptions of their war fleet, and some surprising details. Some of which are far more in line with what is expected of pre corruption Emperor’s Children than supposed savages.

As with many scenes thus far it’s a very brief one which is fitted around basic plot moments such as establishing characters, but it’s a strength which continues to work here. The plot never really pauses beyond a handful of points and it allows us to learn of the legion while progressing with the Heresy storyline. Something especially important given that their encounter with the Alpha Legion is one of only two major involvements in the Heresy.

By comparison with this Shiban’s plotline is relatively minor. While it does unintentionally provide answers to who killed the warriors and some nice continuity with a minor detail brought up in the Garro audios, it’s unfortunately predictable. Furthermore it only edges the story forwards by a minor fraction as they leave the world and feels as if it could have been far better handled. Potentially ruining an interesting mystery before it even truly arises.

The best moment is easily with Jaghatai Khan as we finally see events told from his perspective. While not focusing on his thoughts and attitudes towards war, it instead displays just why they would react so suddenly to the news they received. A significant part is told in memory with Magnus. The two converse about the possible censoring of their librarius’, about trying to get Sanguinius’ involvement, and really shows how the brothers interacted. A big part of what made the primarchs work well in many previous instalments was when they conversed and confronted one another, especially prior to the outbreak of war. What it leads onto however is a foreshadowed possibility with the Khan making a choice none would expect of him once Alpha Legion forces appear, unwilling to answer hails, on the edges of his fleet’s sensors.

The main criticism of the series remains consistent however, it still reads as if someone just ripped chapters out of the book and sold them separately. They don’t work like episodes should and suffer as a result. You’ve seen it before, but it remains a critical failing of these instalments.

All in all Episode IV continues the strengths we’ve seen so far while covering the weaknesses, but is still hindered by its very nature as a serialise book. It’s for the same reason it’s yet again recommended that you just wait until the book is released as a whole, as it will read as a far stronger work when not drip-fed to audiences.

Verdict: 6.2/10

Bellarius

Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
Find more of his reviews and occasional rants here:
http://thegoodthebadtheinsulting.blogspot.co.uk/