Valedor by Guy Haley – Book Review [Bellarius]
With the release of its paperback edition, Bellarius gives a brief analysis of Valedor by Guy Haley.
“A surprise success, notably flawed throughout but still retaining one of the best depictions of Craftworld Eldar to date.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Valedor is a surprise success more than anything else. To me personally, this was most certainly not a good combination. It tied together the utterly atrocious lore of Codex: Iyanden with a writer who seemed to both avidly stick with the most current lore no matter how well it fitted the army, and whose previous effort was considerably less than stellar. However, while he certainly has his problems when it comes to astartes, it seems that Guy Haley has a serious talent when it comes to depicting the Craftworld Eldar in all their inhumanity.
The war to save Iyanden is over. While many of its populace lie dead, its towers ruined and Yriel having all but sold his soul to ensure victory, it still stands. There is now time for rebuilding, yet the bedraggled warhost soon finds that their campaign against the Tyranid Hive Fleets are not yet done. On the world of Valedor there will be a meeting. The remaining forces of Kraken are soon to meet with a newly arrived splinter of Hive Fleet Leviathan, and should they be allowed to join information on countless races within the galaxy will be known. Should the Tyranids merge, a power beyond reckoning will stride forth and bathe the galaxy in blood. Unable to stop this threat alone, Iyanden’s ruling elite petition the assistance of their former ally Biel-Tan and even their dark kin to halt this joining. Should they fail, then the galaxy itself will be utterly doomed…
Carrying on directly after the end of a far greater conflict is an odd starting point to say the least, and it does leave the book with an oddly disjointed feeling. Beyond a very brief couple of pages used to set the scene, we see very little of the conflict and most of the information is directly told to the reader surrounding it. In all honesty, this leads to a start which seems very reliant upon the foreknowledge of the war from readers, yet at the same time it quickly establishes some surprising qualities. The main failing of Gav Thrope’s own Path of the Eldar series was, above all else, making the aliens far too human and knowable. Here this is sidestepped in a truly ingenious way, by utterly embracing the overt and theatrical nature of the race. Everything here seems oddly exaggerated, never so much as to be hammy or cliched, but enough to give it an oddly Frank Herbert-esque quality and an atmosphere of mysticism. This remains evident throughout and it’s one of the best aspects to make the race feel alien without having the characters be utterly unrepeatable.
The actual language used to describe the battles emphasises oddly poetic and half-hidden details here you are only seeing part of the true war, yet it’s enough to use that sense of atmosphere to sidestep the usually punchy details one would expect. It’s a vision of war which seems truly alien, and ultimately that is what works in this book’s favour. Despite it however, it remains strong thanks to a constant sense of momentum. There’s never a moment once the battle joins where the book seems to slack off, and it’s constantly cutting between engagements or ongoing battles, with frequent updates and graphic moments of annihilation picked out to give a palpable sense of rapid conflict.
The characters themselves have been selected to primarily cover all the bases in terms of Iyanden and Biel-Tan’s society, along with that of Commorragh. Farseers, Autarchs, Knights and Corsairs all stand out as individuals, with some forced onto their path out of necessity in this desperate time, others facing their end and some even reveling in their time in the case of the Dark Eldar. Many serve as a niche example of their society and ultimately help to show as broad a depiction of the race as possible, but sadly not all are a notable success. While a number of characters do have a broad arc which fully fleshes out their tale to the end, others ultimately seem extremely bereft of character or meaning to the plot. Their presence is fleeting and you would be forgiven for forgetting their involvement, as they truly seem to serve no true role significant enough to warrant their direct involvement. This is especially true of Iyanna, who sadly takes a backseat role in the book and only one or two scenes truly warrant any vale to the tale. For the rest she seems simply tacked on.
The character problems are only further hindered by some severe issues when it comes to depicting certain events and the lack of beats with in the tale. All too often certain cataclysmic conflicts seem far too subdued or lack any true impact. The sudden revelation of Ynnead’s possible victory, the loss of Iyanden and Biel-Tan suddenly being on friendly terms all are dealt with far too easily and almost shrugged off by the characters. A few less focus figures and more presence of certain individuals would have likely remedied this, but sadly as it stands all too often certain elements feel brushed under the rug. This is only made worse when, rather than reserving them for the ending of a chapter or somewhere where it could deliver the most impact, certain shocking swerves are dropped mid-chapter, but then almost immediately brushed past without incident.
The fact so many elements are underplayed and left without true impact seriously hampers the book’s first half, and it’s only toward the midway point that the narrative seriously starts to pick up steam. As a result it can be a chore to get through,and readers hoping to pick up on certain fascinating points will ultimately be left wanting. It also doesn’t help that, unlike Gav Thrope’s own efforts, while the focus here is to cover as much of a Craftworld’s society as possible, it’s focused almost purely upon its military and nothing beyond this detail. The few times the book does delve into any relative ideas relating to civilian Paths or roles are quickly brushed aside as the bigger campaign looms forth, sadly leaving some fairly big issues unresolved. While it means the book is streamlined and focused, it also means that some all too often overlooked aspects are missed.
With all these positives and negatives cited though, there is one major detail which sadly hangs over the novel getting an aspect of the Tyranids Hive Fleet utterly wrong. One of the big details the book hinges on is a falsehood, that bio-information can only be passed on if physical contact with another fleet is made. It’s not bio-matter or any other details, it’s the actual information, making the actual fight to prevent the merging of these two fleets entirely pointless. It’s hard not to overlook that detail when it effectively renders the entire conflict pointless.
Valedor is far from perfect and there are many areas which it truly should have directly dealt with or far more deftly handled, and so much here seems like it would have been better as the middle book of a greater trilogy. For all its failings however, by the time you finish the last page, it’s hard not to appreciate its values and how it finally, truly, finds and approach with the race to make them fully alien without going too far. Well, that and it all but completely ignored Codex: Iyanden’s rampant stupidity, and the few moments it was required to include were substantially changed or altered (save that big one). It’s hard not to appreciate a work which puts quality first and fixes old mistakes when it comes to Games Workshop, after all so if you can stomach a few problems perhaps give this one a look.