Horus Heresy: Scars by Chris Wraight – Book Review [Bellarius]
Returning to Scars one final time, Bellarius gives his thoughts on Chris Wraight’s novel as a whole.
“An ambitious story set on a grand scale, but lacking in focus and character.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Those who frequent The Founding Fields will know that Bane of Kings and I covered the various ebook episodes of Scars as they were released. While the thoughts given there did cover a chapter by chapter analysis of the book and explored its best and worst elements, it feels only right to return to this one last time and give comments on the book as a whole. After all, the episodes did end up spoiling events from previous installments as it was necessary to talk about plot progression. Furthermore, every episode review ended in the same message: Wait for it to be released as a single work.
So, after all that how does Scars fare as a whole? It’s extremely hit and miss at times.
The Imperium of Man has been shattered by the betrayal of the Emperor’s prodigal son, with fully half the Imperial legions siding against the Emperor. As the Sons of Horus and their allies rampage through the galaxy, destroying all in their path and the loyalist legions attempt to regroup, one has yet to choose their side. Unaware of the civil war and having been beyond any contact for months, the entire White Scars legion finishes their task in annihilating Ork remnants at Ullanor. Trusted by few and known for his closeness with Horus and Magnus the Red, many are willing to write him off Jaghatai Khan as a traitor. Many within his legion, dissatisfied with their company, seek to ensure he joins the right side…
As both a force within the series and a chapter outside the Horus Heresy, the White Scars have not seen much in the way of promotion. Despite a minor effort in recent years to give them more focus they remain one of a multitude of unfortunately overlooked chapters. As a result this was the one big chance to truly characterise them, promoting the legion to countless readers as a part of a major series. In this respect the book works extremely well. Very early on it is established that the Khan and his astartes are unlike any other legion. Even in comparison to the likes of the Alpha Legion or Space Wolves, they stand out as a very unique force in their general attitudes and approaches to warfare. We see how much of an impact their homeworld’s culture and traditions have on their outlook and great emphasis is placed upon just how important a primarch truly is to a legion.
One of the major subplots which serves as a point within the book is the clashes between the astartes recruited from Terra and those originating from Chigoris. Within one chapter see a very effective display of the major problems which can originate from recruiting from a multitude of worlds and makes the potential betrayal wholly understandable, perhaps even more so than that of the Dark Angels. You’re given an idea of just how much the spirtual beliefs of the White Scars truly have impact upon their kind and how their attitudes can not only force conflict with their brothers, but also the divide between themselves and other legions. It does a great deal to flesh out the force and give some idea of what truly makes them unique among the legions.
Beyond the legion itself we have many scenes and subplots devoted to a multitude of subjects. Ranging from the flaws and ambitions of other primarchs to the knowledge of the Warp, Khan’s Chigoris born mentality of seeing every “piece on the board as a king”, and the changing state of the galaxy, each does a great deal to build upon the series thus far. The scenes with the Space Wolves prove to be a great extension beyond Prospero Burns, especially once Leman Russ is given focus, and we see for the first time potentially what drew one particular primarch to Horus’ side. Even if you have a dislike for the White Scars, the book offers enough characters from multiple legions and such a wide focus you are bound to run into plenty to like building upon past books. It further gives variety to the characters and, even when many astartes do not directly meet, Wraight proves he knows how to better use the varied backgrounds of legions far more than what we saw in Unremembered Empire or Battle for the Abyss.
Unfortunately, as big a strength as this last point is, it’s also here that the cracks begin to appear in the tale.
The problem is that as a traditional novel Scars is fairly weak. It continually veers off into minor moments and side ideas to focus upon them rather than truly building upon the advertised plot of a potential White Scars civil war. While on the one hand each of these moments work extremely well and do a great deal to expand the universe, all too often you’re left wishing they had been left to a short story and the book actually be about the legion.
Two of the biggest offenders are Yesugi’s tale, the White Scars’ Chief Stormseer who is left to his own story but never meets with his legion or has his actions feel as if they are connected to the main plot, and the Space Wolves’ battle with the Alpha Legion. Yes, in the original canon the White Scars did see this event happen, but it becomes such a side story, is so focused upon the Space Wolves’ perspective, and takes up such much time that it would have only made the tale stronger were it dropped. Many of these subplots and scenes work fine on their own, but they fail to truly build up into a single piece and it leaves you wanting by the end. There’s simply no single cohesive plot and too many times it feels as if the book was desperately trying to cover something entirely besides the legio V.
Even ignoring the problems with too many subplots, or the very quick ending which fails to truly conclude anything, there are the characters and environment descriptions. Too many of the characters feel as if the concepts behind them are better developed than their personalities, resulting in either very simplistic or completely blank figures within the tale. This may be intentional, the book repeatedly explaining how the legion is an enigma even among allied forces, or the end result of a lack of focus upon them but it just robs so many scenes of energy. This might have been made up for by well developed descriptions of environments or great atmosphere, but far too often they are just left as anomalous space without any real detail to ground the scene in. Even when wondering through a ruined city tainted by the Warp, there simply isn’t enough put into the environments to make them truly memorable.
So, at the end of the day Scars worth getting? If you’ve enjoyed the series up to this point or want to see the White Scars of this era, yes. It’s entirely worth it and you’ll enjoy what you get. However, if you’re after a great story focused upon fully developing a single legion with well rounded characters then look for something else.