Horus Heresy: Scars (Episode Five) by Chris Wraight – Advance Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius returns with Chris Wraight’s serialised Scars once more, and finds an exciting tale held back by the same flaws.
“Engaging battles, interesting character development, a good chapter in a great story.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Things take a turn for the worse as the Space Wolves continue to lose their fight against the Alpha Legion, the Khan faces off against a recent arrival and Yesugei discovers the nightmare the galaxy has become in his absence.
Easily broken up into three spate stories, Episode V finally feels as if this series has some fraction of understanding of how episodic formats are supposed to work. Events are visibly progressed, storylines within the episode are broken up and scattered throughout and new developments are foreshadowed. While it still lacks any kind of three act structure, it’s the first book since I that feels as if it was intended to work as an episode of something bigger. Even the stories themselves, two of them anyway, have definitive effectively isolated beginnings and endings which promise more. The other, unfortunately, ends on yet another cliffhanger.
The most promising aspect here is that it seems violence is being used sparingly. It would have been easy to have the void battle between the Space Wolves and Alpha Legion stem the entire book, but it’s coming to a close after only a couple of episodes. Not a definitive conclusion so much as a break, allowing for further development beyond the conflict and not repeat the mistake of Battle for the Abyss of seemingly relentless fighting. The only criticism of this is we only see a small fraction of this titanic engagement in space, and that’s from Bjorn’s eyes. Once he stops focusing upon it, we get little to nothing further describing the frantic battle going on. Almost all of it is told to us through very fleeting communications and little to none is actually shown. On the upside though, we do get one of the book’s best brawls thus far because of this.
A further detail which is finally being properly addressed is the White Scars reverence for the Stormseers and what separates them from the Thousand Sons. The importance of psykers within the legion was something only briefly addressed and here it was often in the background of more prominent discussions. The Khan conversing with Magnus the Red for example and the possibility of Nikea. Here however, we see Yesugei defining the difference between the two and doing so extremely well. The legion is reverent of its librarians, but they are not obsessively focused upon them and know where to draw the line when studying the Warp. Concerned about its nature and “keeping to the shallows” when drawing upon its power, unlike Ahriman’s ilk.
Yesugei himself is becoming further shaped into the figure initially described at the beginning, the legion’s most prominent fighter. Like with the idea of Stormseers themselves, any examination of his personality has often been addressed alongside visions of the future, descriptions of their homeworld and more pressing points of interest. Here his thoughts seem far more coherent beyond one vision which suggests a possible future, and a scene which introduces him to the Heresy allows for his character to shine through. We see what makes him unique and just why he is the legion’s most feared warrior. Thankfully it also sees the return of a legion which was shoved to one side early on and has thus far been refused their own novel.
Beyond the obvious criticism of the lack of a three act structure, the Khan is unfortunately still an enigma. While his story does work to his favour and we see why those within his fleet regard him as being a severely underrated strategist, very little of his actual personality is displayed. At just under the halfway point he remains a stranger to the reader, as do a number of the side-character supposedly representing the legio V.
V is a definite step up from last time and arguably the best thus far, yet the obvious problems remain. The story as it’s structured just doesn’t work with this serialised format. Don’t buy it, wait for Scars to be released in its normal format.