Horus Heresy: Scars (Episode Three) By Chris Wraight – Advance Review [Bellarius]

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Bellarius returns to Scars by Chris Wraight with the soon to be released Episode Three.

“An exciting, fact paced installment with plenty of White Scars lore yet is held back by its format.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

With much of the set-up to events covered in the last two parts, Episode III is where we start to get momentum to the plot.

Following the conclusion to Episode II, the Space Wolf fleet is on high alert and preparing for battle against a superior foe. One even they, as a legion intended to execute traitors to the throne, know little of in terms of tactics or capability. Worse still, they outgun the Wolves horribly. At Terra Dorn, Valdor and Malcador discuss recent events. Both Valdor’s actions in burning Prospero against orders and which legions will likely turn upon them, not to mention the true war raging unseen by all. With the White Scars, the legion continues to fracture. Astartes are found murdered by strike which specifically focus upon their weak points and loyalties continue to shift as the first news of the Heresy arrives…

The plot is being kicked off very quickly now, with certain details and establishing points still being made, and already introducing the massive battle which made this event famous. While this would usually be a mark against the book, it works here to counter one of the problems with the episodic format: The gaps between releases. It allows for excitement to be quickly built up and interest to be held, and while the first shots have yet to be fired the fact the conflict is about to begin helps to show the story is going somewhere.

Furthering keeping reader interest is the on-going mystery of the murders, which is only briefly touched upon, and Terra’s questioning of each legion’s loyalty regarding Khan as the most likely to go traitor. In order to achieve this atmosphere of uncertainty, Wraight did away with much of the older established lore behind Khan such as his friendship with Rogal Dorn but it manages to work here. Writing him a more of a military leader who was unknowable to all and even emphasising upon his role within the Emperor’s plan for the primarchs. Whereas Russ was the Executioner, Khan was the Warhawk.

This uncertainty is emphasised in his introduction, which may go some way to explaining a later criticism, but the book seems to place more emphasis upon the influences of Chigoris’ culture than the legion’s leader. The lengths White Scars go to earn their mark, and even the differences between their chosen game, Go, and the one played by the rest of the Imperium, Regicide. This unfortunately does stray extremely close to the issue of turning them into space samurai, but the way it is used does make some of the Mongolian influences clearer. Further bringing light to the clashes with the likes of Torghun and the issues those from Terra inevitably had when drafted into certain legions.

The influences and strengths of planetary cultures are also briefly explored with the Space Wolves. The book mentions they were never the largest leader due to their dogmatic insistence to only recruit from Fenris. This made them the perfect executioners but left them as one of the smaller legions. It’s a minor detail but with all the focus upon this point it does subtly highlight the strengths and weaknesses of such an action, and what distances them from others. Namely the Ultramarines, who were conquering multiple worlds as their own, to supply the legion and join Ultramar, as much as for the Imperium.

Unfortunately while this is definitely well handled, the same issues again and again keep holding the Episodes back.

Let’s get one detail out of the way: It was mentioned in Episode II’s review that the serialised format wasn’t working well with these stories. Despite Chris Wraight’s usual strong prose, none of the parts seemed well structured well for each part to be individually read. The low word count seemed to be hurting it the most, and this is a very visible problem here. Unlike with Horus, Sanguinius, Magnus, Lorgar, and even Mortarion; none of the primarchs involved feel well introduced. There’s no grand moment of action of in-depth description building them up as god-like figures, and with their names changed they could easily just be high ranking centurions. This is especially bad as our first real look at the Khan doesn’t leave the same impact as previous introductions.

It feels as if many areas have been cut to fit the story for being released in roughly twenty page chunks, which ranges from in-depth detailing to even major points like Valdor answering for enacting the burning of Prospero against orders. Plus the lack of response to that specific point with Dorn and Malcador only serves to make them look toothless, unable to control their own subordinates.

The limited wordcount also causes more problems with the number of plotlines and locations. Many were already being stretched thin in terms of attention, but now adding the officials on Terra into the mix leaves only a handful of pages per scene. The book requires more focus, not more characters at this point. Also hopefully less uses of the word “heretic” which are painfully out of place in M31.

While a definite step up from last week, and definitely with interesting content, I still can’t recommend Scars Episode III. It doesn’t work on its own despite some efforts to have the story make the most of the serialised format. Wait for the novel to be released in full and read the story all at once.

Verdict: 6.5/10

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/