Horus Heresy: Scars (Episode One) By Chris Wraight – Dual Review [Bellarius/Bane of Kings]
With the release of the first installment of Scars, Bane of Kings and Bellarius give their views on Episode I. The twenty-seventh novel in the New York Times best-selling Horus Heresy series published by Black Library.
“An excellent opener to what promises to be another great Horus Heresy novel.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
“A fantastic beginning to a new Horus Heresy installment hampered only by a short word length.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
BANE OF KINGS
Of all the Legiones Astartes, the White Scars of Jaghatai Khan remain the most enigmatic and elusive. Born of a civilisation that prizes honour, speed and fearsome loyalty, their allegiance has yet remained unclear even as the galaxy is torn apart by Horus’s treachery, and both sides have apparently counted them among their potential allies in the war to come. But when the Alpha Legion launch an unexplained and simultaneous attack against the White Scars and Space Wolves, the Khan must decide once and for all whether he will stand with the Emperor or the Warmaster… or neither.
The exciting story begins in this first eBook episode of an all-new novel by Chris Wraight.
The White Scars are a legion that has received little love when it comes to the Horus Heresy. Other than Chris Wraight’s Brotherhood of the Storm, they – like the Salamanders before Vulkan Lives, never really received that much attention, aside from a few odd appearances. Scars looks set to make that redundant, giving the Legion their time in the spotlight, and over the next twelve weeks, we’ll be receiving one new ‘episode’, which will eventually tell a completed story.
Regarding the format, of course – it will annoy some people, but I can throw my support behind it – it’s serialized, and that way, rather than reading it all in one sitting, it’s spread out over a series of weeks – each week you can uncover more, and if you don’t like it then you can simply choose not to buy anymore of the eBooks. The bad news is obvious really – we’re not getting the whole story in one go, and for someone who loved the opening Episode as much as myself, the week wait for each instalment can be irritating sometimes, especially when all you want to do is read more.
The ‘Episode’ itself kicks things off incredibly strongly, and Wraight proves why he’s one of the top-tier Black Library authors with some impressive titles under his belt, Battle for the Fang, Blood of Asaheim and several Space Wolf short stories – and whilst I have not read Blood of Asaheim, the only let-down that I’ve had from Wraight has really been Wrath of Iron, which I enjoyed to a certain extent but had a few issues with. Scars, or at least with episode one, is shaping up to be an incredibly strong piece of work even if we’re only one instalment in.
Scars’ debut Episode allows for an introduction into the legion through its recruits. We see an interesting angle which hasn’t really been explored in depth in any previous Horus Heresy novel that I’ve read before, (I haven’t read Mark of Calth or Betrayer) and looks at what happens to the Astartes recruited from Terra. There are two recruits introduced here who will no doubt play a bigger role in events to come, but for now, it’s about recruitment into the White Scars, and the different cultures/societies that they grew up in and how it affects their view of the legion that they now find themselves in.
Take the Terran recruit, Haren Svensellen, as our first example. He’s trained by a different legion to the White Scars at first – having been taught by the Luna Wolves in a very different method to what his counterpart, Tamu had been experiencing, as we learn from Scars’ first episode, for those who don’t know already, the Wolves are brought up with the method that one must not retreat on the battlefield. This is of course, very interesting and allows for a whole boatload of problems when you consider that the White Scars are all about finding the best moment to attack, striking hard and fast, retreating, striking hard and fast etc. How this will affect Haren’s development as a character and whether his loyalty is with Horus or the Emperor in the Heresy will no doubt be explored later on.
There’s a lot of content packed into this episode, and it moves along at a fairly decent pace. Whilst the biggest problem may be the small-page length (seventeen pages) which prevent this from getting anywhere beyond introducing us to the characters and setting the stage for future Episodes, what you’ll find inside is a great appetiser for things to come.
If you’re unsure about whether you want to wait for the novel itself or pick it up in original instalments, then I recommend giving this one a try, just to get a feel for the story, although I will strongly advise picking up at least three Episodes allowing you to get an overall feeling of the story itself before choosing to continue with it or not.
If there’s one thing which can be truly singled out from Chris Wraight’s stories it’s the themes he repeatedly uses when focusing upon space marines: The flaws of their traditions and influences of their homeworld, and the fracturing of their alliances. Wrath of Iron, Battle of the Fang, Blood of Asaheim, all featured these present within the focus chapters (and in Fang’s case also its traitor legion). While they have often worked in different ways and affected the protagonists in varying degrees, they were all core parts of each book’s plot. Going just from the first Episode of Scars, they seem to be themes which will be feature prominently in examining the legion.
Making up the first seventeen pages of the Horus Heresy novel, Scars: Episode I is an introduction to the legion and its recruits. Not just those from Chogoris but those recruited from Terra and divided among the legions astartes, forced to adapt to the traditions and mentality of their primarch as they are effectively phased out of the legion. The book explores this through two such recruits from differing origins, Tamu of Chigoris and Haren Svensellen of Skandmark (Terra) as they are recruited by members of legions and undergo the arduous tests to become astartes.
Emphasising upon the presence of Terran marines within the legions is a good move and in the short page count Episode I conveys a good deal of information. What little we’ve seen of their existence was only briefly touched upon in Flight of the Eisenstein and Betrayer, even there being more a personality quirk than an emphasised trait. Stark contrasts are made between the initiates just by showing their experiences in points in their lives, from the methods of their recruitment to their choices and even basic training.
Whereas the “Withdraw and then return” mantra the White Scars embrace is repeated by Tamu, Haren’s training by the Luna Wolves teaching him “No backward step” is constantly in his mind even after initiation. It’s a detail which seemingly distances him from his legion, something only made worse given his initial determination to join Horus’ legion and low regard for the V’s “mystic savages”.
The Terrans’ lack of choice in the legions they are integrated into, the distances between themselves and their primarch’s world and other elements, go a long way to explaining how so many marines we’ve seen all had the potential could become so distanced from their gene-fathers. By the installment’s end Haren has lost everything from his chosen legion to his birth name, whereas Tamu is effectively still among his people.
None of what is explored here is subtle in any sense of the word but it’s well paced, balanced between perspectives of characters and gives great insight into a sparsely seen part of 31K.
This said the tale isn’t without its problems and with good reason. From the opening quote to final words, this episode is only seventeen pages long. It gets a great deal of information conveyed in that time, but it often opts to telling the reader certain details rather than truly showing them in order to fit everything in. Details like the fact Targutai Yesugei has killed more men than any in the legion, save for the Great Khan himself, carry no weight and the same occasionally goes for the focus character’s thoughts. The pages also do not give as clear an introduction to the legion itself as they do the characters. This effort to save space for the main subject is made clear from the very beginning with the story starting in the middle of a confusing brawl. It’s only later the character involved is even named and we see neither the beginning nor the chase prior, resulting in a jarring initial start. Even in a non-serialised novel this would be a very awkward beginning.
More than anything else Scars: Episode I is set-up, introducing the initial characters and the situation. While these aspects are handled extremely well, it would have only benefitted had the episode consisted of a good few more pages and slightly wider scope. As part one of twelve, it’s a little hard to decide whether to recommend this on the strength of its tale, but even if you don’t want to get the entire story it is still worth a look. Primarily as a source of ideas or concepts if you are interested in the timeline or writing about it yourself.