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The Scars reviews continue as Bellarius takes a look at Episode Six of Chris Wraight’s serialised novel, but reflects largely upon the series as a whole thus far.
“Remaining consistantly strong, the series takes a break in the fighting to prepare for the next major events.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
So we return once again to Scars, with our story well under way. Much of the tale this time focuses on the aftermath of events from the previous episode, following through with the White Scars’ opening assault, the Space Wolves reactions to their loss and Yesugei’s reaction to being told of the Heresy.
While the story does build upon what was said before, it feels like a lull in the fighting before we move onto something more important. A sort of breather chapter despite the conflict involving the White Scars, allowing for character moments and the reintroduction of elements otherwise ignored until now. Unfortunately it feels exactly like a breather episode, getting necessary exposition and details out of the way before it can move onto something interesting. Yesugei’s reactions to the Heresy and introductions to the legionaries are more or less what you’d expect, as is the first mentioning of the lodges for the first time in several episodes.
The real high points of the book come either from the space battles or one of the quieter moments with Leman Russ which closes out the episode. The former is one of the better contrasts of the book, showing how different the White Scars are in their approaches to battle than the Space Wolves and how effective an emphasis upon speed and co-ordination truly is in astral combat. Admittedly this is against a much smaller page count, and arguably with a disadvantaged force, but it does highlight significantly different doctrines. The latter point meanwhile is a surprisingly meaningful moment where Russ reflects upon the changing galaxy and speaks with Bjorn privately for a few pages. While he habitually seems to exaggerate chapter weaknesses in his works, Wraight definitely understands the Wolves well and that comes across here.
Unfortunately there’s very little which can be discussed without spoilers to the tale so let’s talk about something else which is becoming evident. Besides anything else, Episode Six highlights some of the problems with the actual novel beyond just the format it is being presented in. Much of the focus is returned back to the White Scars fleet as they properly enter the fray, but a clear problem has become evident. We know about distinct aspects of the legion, its attitudes and approaches to war, yet we know little to nothing of the characters themselves. Despite a strong opening none of the characters manage to stand out at all besides possibly Yesugei and Jagatai Khan. The former thanks to being constantly surrounded by representatives of other legions or unenhanced humans and the latter only through benefit of being a primarch.
What details we do know talk far more about the legions themselves and despite some promising aspects here and there, not to mention a fantastic opening showing the apparent direction, the Legion V lacks a distinctive cast. There is no one so memorable as Loken, Torgaddon, Khan, Kargos, Demeter, Tarvitz, Garro, Maat or T’Kar to look at as a focus point of certain themes. By this point the apparent fracturing of the White Scars has been pushed so far beneath the Space Wolves’ conflict it barely qualifies as a sub-plot, and the characters involved are rarely appearing. This is in part due to having only one novel to explore the legion, but also because Khan’s lot are visibly competing for focus alongside Leman Russ.
There is far more going on with the White Scars from internal stress, intrigue and exploration of their traditions yet half the pages seem to have been given over to the Space Wolves. Describing their battles, but also featuring figures who manage to stand out more and overshadow the White Scars thanks to prior establishment in the series. This is the only real time they will get to have the limelight, and they are fighting for focus just to have the basics of their legion detailed. The only other time we might be able to see them again will be Terra, at which point they will be forced to shared page space with even greater numbers of legions.
None of this is to say that Scars is a bad tale, far from it. If anything, if the quality remains consistent throughout the latter half, it will rank among the better Horus Heresy stories. Despite that however, a problem is that it’s a fantastic story but not necessarily a fantastic examination of the White Scars legion, and fails to successfully balance the two out. We’re half way through now and unless there are some major changes in the remaining episodes, we’re not going to see the characterisation and exploration needed to make them fully stand out.
We’ll just have to wait and see if things improve but until then my opinion remains the same: Wait for the full novel to be released. The serialised format just doesn’t work here.