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Back on schedule, Bellarius takes a look at the eighth part of Chris Wraight’s Scars serialised novel.
“Extremely flawed, but far from bad.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Episode VIII is unfortunately as much a weakness to the novel as it is an asset to the tale. As said last time, a concern was that it might take a step backwards right after making one in the right direction and that’s what seems to have happened here. While the focus on the Space Wolves was robbing time away from the White Scars, it’s obvious that their presence was necessary for some story strength.
Think about this for a moment. Whatever my personal thoughts on his books, all of Chris Wraight’s major releases have consistently worked around a battle or a build-up to a large conflict. Battle of the Fang, Wrath of Iron, Blood of Asaheim; they’ve all either been set surrounding one big conflict and working off of that to a degree. These only ended with the conclusion of the book and rarely lasted any longer than the actual battle here. In Scars, we’ve seen the end of the Space Wolves’ battle, left it behind, and the story manages to feel somewhat rudderless as a result. It still has a clear direction, but many elements feel rushed as if Wraight is trying to get to the next big source of conflict as fast as possible.
The location mentioned that the legion was heading for not too long ago? Not only do they arrive at it, but the actual event of descending down onto the planet feels as if scenes were cut for space. There’s very little emphasis placed on the actual effort of heading down to the world or detailing their surroundings. Unlike a lot of other prominent Black Library authors, Wraight seems to place little emphasis upon properly describing an environment outside of action or having beats in events. Far too many times on-board the ship, rooms and scenes have so little description that they feel as if they could be anywhere, with only key features left to be truly focused upon. This is especially clear when Torghun approaches Shiban and the two converse, or even a shuttle flight with Xa’ven and Yesugei. It reads far more like a script than it does a conversation in a novel. There are few details beyond basic reactions and thoughts to truly set the scene or give a greater impression of their postures or how they interact with their surroundings.
These are problems which have remained a part of Wraight’s style, but this Episode makes them far more evident than they otherwise would be to a reader.
Now, please don’t let this sound like the Episode is entirely bad because there are a lot of good elements as well.
Foremost among these is the continued balance between characters. Now following only four chief figures within the plot, Wraight’s tale feels far less cluttered than before and is far more free to explore its themes. Along with more clearly stating why their librarians never went as far as the Thousand Sons, some mysteries are built up such as why Khan himself was not present at Nikea. An interesting point indeed given what has been revealed of him, and leads into an interesting possibility.
More importantly we see that perhaps the White Scars are not quite so superior as they first seemed. In a moment of desperation, Yesugi resorts to something just as bad as his foes and it’s made clear just how easy the temptation to abuse that power truly is. It’s a much better way than some of his previous interpretations of chapters, showing their strengths at least as much as their individual weaknesses. Not allowing the latter to eclipse the former.
Speaking of which, Yesugi’s companions are fleshed out somewhat as we learn more of them. While we learn little of Xa’ven personally, there are a few details which clearly mark him out as a Salamander without resorting to some of the more tedious details which dominated their books. Similarly Henricos, the Iron Hand mentioned last time, is given considerable insight and to give credit where credit is due he feels like a member of that chapter. The way he is written is far closer to how the chapter was outlined in Index Astartes than what we saw in Wrath of Iron. Rage tempered with logic, expert in machinery, but not one step away from getting his allies killed out of sheer contempt. It’s interesting, but it isn’t so much it draws attention away from the White Scars and is worked around advancing the plot.
Finally, while the scene might have had its problems, the conversation between Torghun and Shiban is definitely what the story needed. Along with giving a potential reason as to why Terran astartes were still being sent to legions after their primarchs were found, Wraight approaches the subject of the lodges in a skilled way. One which, rather than showing suspicion like Garro or Loken did, gives a more clear picture of how others were inducted and how easy they were to spread corruption among the legions.
There are definitely a lot of flaws visible here, but I have the feeling these wouldn’t be so noticeable were you reading the entire novel at once. At best it would just be another low in the action before moving onto the next big setpiece, but when individually separated like this a lot of problems become evident. Wait for the actual release, don’t get this.