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The reviews of Chris Wraight’s serialised Scars novel continues as Bellarius takes a look into the second episode.
“Interesting in spite of its flawed nature” - Bellarius, The Founding Fields
With the crux of the plot having been fully established in Episode I, Scars Episode II continues with the setting up of characters and issues. Both Tamu and Haren, now renamed Shiban and Torghun by the White Scars, are present within the chapter we only see them comparatively briefly. Time is instead spent looking into the other players who will soon become involved in events while exploring the groups they are linked with.
Ilya Ravallion is introduced, a counsellor newly attached to the White Scars who has served the Imperium as a codebreaker and Departmento Munitorum, and Yesugei is more formally introduced to the reader. Believe it or not he is a character we have seen before briefly in A Thousand Sons, the White Scar Librarian who argued against the outcome of Nikea. The former is used more to establish certain details about the Imperium and the White Scars legion itself. The very fact they had codebreakers working against xenos encrypted transmissions is an entirely new revelation, but the reason why she has been attached gives some insight into how the legion operates. They’re more than happy to go out of contact with the Imperium for long periods of time to do their own work, causing no amount of strain on those keeping them supplied. As their stories are told, they’re used more to give certain facts than really delve into their characters with information about the legion and state of the galaxy delivered inbetween personal thoughts.
While this is something we have seen done before in other books, it’s balanced far more effectively within the prose. There’s no long sections purely exploring the legions or devoted completely to one subject, they instead appear in small mentions at a time and are gradually built upon. While this feels more natural, there is the flaw that it feels like it is gravitating a little too much towards making the White Scars space samurai. With lots of poetic labels and traits which seem more at home with Japan’s feudal times than a force with Mongolian influences.
Besides the introduction of new characters and additional details being used to flesh out the legion, the driving points which will lead to conflict are rapidly being built up. On a world where the White Scars are hunting down the last stragglers of an ork Waaagh! Shiban uncovers astartes killed in a very mysterious manner, showing far more skill and control than orks would ever display. Torghun meanwhile is shown to be involved with a small lodge consisting largely of dissatisfied Terran astartes, with some unknown work ahead of them. Both are being pushed into more background roles but they continue to directly contrast with one another and maintain the fact there is an ever present tension within their military force.
Despite this advancement of the plot, the majority of the pages are not focused upon the White Scars and are instead emphasising upon the Space Wolves. Having left Prospero and focusing upon repairing their mauled fleet, the chapters show their reactions to the knowledge of the Heresy and the burning of the world. It’s a short scene but overall but it does the job of establishing what has happened to the reader and conveying their reactions to this news. The Space Wolves feel that something was different about the culling, something wrong this time, and many of them regard it as being a diversion. That instead of massacring Magnus’ sorcerers, they should have been at Isstvan III and taken Horus’ head. It’s an interesting scene overall, especially with the reintroduction of Bjorn and Russ’ comments about Dorn’s summons but it’s here where the flaws are most evident.
Scars thus far has had a small amount of buildup, introduced its characters and made the direction of its plot clear in a very short space of time. However, it feels like corners are being cut to get directly into the plot as fast as possible. Rather than spending another one or two chapters with the set up, we are already being introduced to the other two legions involved now and it honestly feels too early. This is the one and only chance we will truly get to examine the White Scars as a legion, and already they are about to be thrown into the deep end of the heresy with characters only just established and the Khan himself yet to appear. I can only hope that we get flashbacks to a time before now to fill in the gap, more closely examine those involved, and see more of the legion because what we have so far simply isn’t enough. The last thing the series needs is a repeat of Fear to Tread, with exploration of legion identity being pushed back in favour of action.
The real problem however, is the fact Scars Episode II doesn’t exactly work with the serialised format. It’s too brief and while separated from Episode I, it lacks a distinctive structure to make it feel like its own entity. Instead what we get feels more like fragments of a much bigger story which would be better served if we saw the whole piece. As a chapter it’s adequate, but as an individual part of a story you have to buy independently it feels unsatisfying. Episode I is an installment I would recommend due to its definitive structure and because it worked as much as an individual piece as a part of a story. It would be like if someone took an episode of Game of Thrones, but rather than expertly breaking them up and placing them in through the episode events were just crammed wherever they would fit. Episode II isn’t worth your money at the moment. It’s not bad, far from it, but you’d do much better to just wait for the entire story to be released as a whole.