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With Scars IX available for sale, Bellarius takes another look to see how Chris Wraight’s story continues to develop.
“Scars moves onto a promising ending, if a flawed one.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Episode IX is where Scars finally moves into an endgame. We’ve seen much from this series thus far, both good and bad, and it’s a trend which continues here. Having been forced to leave the bulk of his legion behind in his search for answers, Jaghatai and his elite guard prowl the ruins of a dead city finding more than answers before them. Meanwhile Yesugi begins to understand the true horror of the Warp and the traitors prepare to make their move.
After the lull of last time, IX proves to be a much faster paced story visibly showing we’re definitely at the climax. Along with Torghun and Shiban’s meeting beginning to show hints of how widespread the lodges’ influence is, Jaghatai finally meets with another of his brothers face to face after learning of the Heresy. Times, as Wraight has made clear, are changing for the galaxy and we see this very effectively through the eyes of the White Scars. For all their abilities and skills, however prepared they might have seemingly been for an attack from the Warp, they are being caught flatfooted. This is shown very effectively through the eyes of the Khan himself and Yesugi, and does a lot to dispel the previous suggestion that they could have stopped the Heresy if they had only acted.
As Yesugi’s scene accurately depicts, the natives of Chigoris were spiritual in nature. They understood the dangers of the Warp and their librarians talented enough to comprehend corruption, but not to the degree of the modern Imperium. The idea of the beings which lurked within the Immaterium is something they only partially understand, suggested to have been stamped out by their joining the Imperium, and they are still unprepared to face true Warp predators.
Part of reason this works is that, unlike Blood of Asaheim and Wrath of Iron, Wraight spends time establishing their strengths before emphasising their weaknesses. Rather than making the Scars look utterly inept, this development helps to balance their portrayal showing how their limitations but also where they exceed. Not to mention setting up one failing for Yesugi which may have pushed him over the edge. The way much of this is handled is done extremely well and plays towards Wraight’s strengths as a writer of events.
When he’s given combat, as we have a few moments of here, he can do something great. When he has a new ground-breaking revelation or development, he can turn out something fantastic, but it seems the plot here just doesn’t feature enough such moments for him to work off of. We’ve had events brought up to show their skills, now we have events brought up to show their weaknesses. It might be simple, but it’s the reason some of his previous books have been found lacking and is a good point here.
What isn’t so great a point is that the characters still remain very enigmatic.
We’ve had several episodes with them, but many still remain outsiders and largely unknown. While this is a detail which the White Scars are known for in this era, it would have been far better explored in a manner similar to Prospero Burns. With an outsider remaining among the legion and serving as the viewpoint character, instead the astartes seem to only work best when they are among those of different legions. While it would have been good to see this evolve, we’re so close to the ending it’s unlikely we’ll see this properly addressed or the very effective opening Episode. What does help in this matter is that, thanks to some surprise arrivals, three of the four groups of characters will be accompanied by members of other legions to work off of. Hopefully meaning we’ll see something great with them, but none of them are to what should be the main focus: The potential insurrection among the legion.
One final positive note and criticism to be commented upon is the settings Khan and Qin Xa find themselves in. The enemies introduced in this environment work off of something familiar, something many readers would have seen before, but turned into something alien thanks to the Warp’s influence. It takes something readers are comfortably familiar with and (no pun intended) warps it into something unknowably horrifying and showing how different the galaxy was becoming as a result of Chaos’ influence. The downside that the while the enemies are interesting, the environment itself doesn’t convey the horror of what took place and fails to really emphasise upon how many lives were lost there.
Episode IX is definitely good, but problems remain. It suggests the beginning of a strong ending for the story, so let’s hope we get one. Though, as before, wait for the novel to be released in full.