Path of the Warrior by Gav Thorpe – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius takes a look at the first installment of the recently ended Path of the Eldar series by Gav Thorpe and published by Black Library.
“Falls short of the tale Eldar fans deserved.” – The Founding Fields
What is it with writing eldar in Black Library books? Every single time they turn up it seems they can’t be written well and become worse and worse each time they are given a chance to show life from their perspective. Path of the Warrior should have been a chance to correct this, but here it’s as bad as ever. The last book focusing upon them was by C.S. Goto who apparently thought he was writing romulans when he threw that together, but there were no excuses here. Gav Thorpe has been with Games Workshop for years and written about the universe extensively. His dry manner of writing should have been perfect for the eldar who focus upon self-restraint and control but he dropped the ball here. Almost all of the characters seem to be toned down humans, and in all honesty most of the space marines he’s written had personalities more in line with the eldar than the protagonists.
Path of the Warrior the first of a trilogy looking into the path system. This follows three friends as they walk the paths of the warrior, the seer and the outcast. In this case the book follows a failed, frustrated artist known as Korlandril as he becomes one of the craftworld’s aspect warriors. He slowly loses more of himself until he is little more than a machine, becoming an amalgamation of the spirits of older warriors tying their essences into his own. At least that’s what it tries to do.
Subtlety has never been Warhammer’s forte but here it’s completely non-existent. There are Animorphs books with more natural character progression in than is seen in Path of the Warrior. Every single character seems to forecast their emotions like there’s no tomorrow, to the point where you expect to see “That makes me feel angry!” being yelled. The eldar are supposed to be subtle, have very controlled emotions to help resist things like wants or pleasures which might lead them to Slaanesh. Instead we get Korlandril throwing frustrated fits because apparently his art is flawed, which leads him to become a striking scorpion. No, it doesn’t make any more sense in the novel.
In all fairness, the scenes where Korlandril is losing himself are the only moments the book feels like it’s accomplishing what it is supposed to do. There is a clear progression of him becoming a warrior, but it is squashed beneath ham handed attempts to show this. For example, when Thorpe tries to show just how far down path of being a warrior Korlandril is it’s done in an incredibly amateurish way – Having him instinctively falling into combat stances and aggressive acts with no prompting. This initially sounds good until you see how it is implemented, by having the protagonist think back thirty seconds and realise what he has done. Multiple times. When trying to approach a civilian outside of the Scorpion Shrine he trained in, the person acts startled then complains about how aggressive he is acting before leaving. Thinking back he realises that he had instinctively clung out of sight under a tree and then moved into the light in a fighting stance ready to attack the civilian. Again, heavy handed.
This is not helped by the speed at which he apparently becomes a great warrior. It only takes him two battles to reach the end of his path and become an exarch. Even if this were coming from a species which didn’t live for millennia, this is an insanely rapid promotion – One so quick I’m reminded of the field advancements from the Tiberium Wars novel. Admittedly this did mean we got to the best part of the book faster, the bits where Korlandril is an exarch stand head and shoulders above the rest, but you still can’t help staring in disbelief as this happens.
However what really drags this book down though is the bits surrounding the humans themselves. They’re not regarded with the same contempt, distrust we’ve seen before with the eldar. They just act like space elves towards them and at worst Korlandril seems to view them as being “somewhat eldar-ish”. There’s none of the xenophobia you’d expect to see on what is effectively a worldship containing the last remnants of a dying race who are surrounded on all sides by enemies. This could be to make what happens later on seem more effective, when the craftworld is openly invaded, but even that’s understated. Yes, the craftworld is invaded. Let this be made clear – this would be the equivalent of attacking major imperial sector command base. It’s one of a few major eldar strongholds left, is needed to help keep their race alive and it is invaded by an imperial strike force. This would be as big an event as the Imperium successfully launching an attack upon the core worlds of the Eye of Terror but it’s written like a basic event. There’s no feeling of pressing danger in pages where they learn of the upcoming assault and even the presence of three phoenix lords doesn’t make the stakes feel any higher than the two skirmishes earlier in the book.
What might have helped convey and build up to this point relates to another criticism; we don’t see events from the perspective of any characters besides the Eldar. If the author wanted to make them feel different to humans, having a conventional human mind talking for a few paragraphs would help emphasise upon their alien nature. Perhaps he was avoiding it to try not to make the eldar seem too human, something he failed at, but not having two sides in any one of the conflicts robbed it of a massive amount of potential. Rather than having an eldar leader announcing that there was a Imperial force preparing to attack them, Thorpe could have instead switched to some Lord Commander. One following the battles Korlandril was involved in, noting that the Imperium won’t stand for the growing piracy by eldar in the area and seeing the armada of vessels from his perspective. Show, don’t tell.
If you’ve not gotten it by this point the novel is not good. It’s not outright bad or insulting like some we’ve seen but it really is a missed opportunity. The insights into eldar society might be interesting but the individuals themselves simply don’t feel like eldar. If you are an eldar player and are willing to accept a lot of flaws in the writing you might want to try looking at Path of the Warrior, but remain cautious about it.