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Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, reviews the tenth and eleventh parts in the epic serialized novel Scars by Chris Wraight, published by Black Library as part of the New York Times Bestselling multi-authored Horus Heresy series. Expect Episode X to hit Black Library’s website this Wednesday. Episode XI is already available to buy online.
“As we see in the concluding chapters of Scars, everything is coming to a conclusion. We get some great scenes between multiple Primarchs and Chris Wraight proves that he can handle inter-Primarch conversations very well, which, among other things – helps make Scars easily on the same level as the recent, and brilliant The Unremembered Empire. In other words, this means that it’s not to be missed by any Horus Heresy fan.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
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.
Well, after nine episodes, we’ve got three left. Over the past installments, Chris Wraight has been building everything up, developing various plothreads and now in these remaining episodes he must continue what he has started with IX, and that is wrap everything up. You’ll be pleased to know that whilst the novel does not come to a full conclusion in these two episodes with one entry remaining, questions are answered and storylines are unraveled. We get to see multiple Primarchs in action here, not just the Khan – but Magnus the Red, Primarch of the Thousand Sons – and even Mortarion of the Death Guard. The way the episodes handle the interaction with the Primarchs is handled well, and like with The Unremembered Empire, which currently features the largest cast of Primarchs that are main characters in the Horus Heresy series to date, Chris Wraight handles them all very well. Whilst it does not boast the numbers of Dan Abnett’s novel, focusing on three rather than five (not including Russ, who doesn’t appear here but is featured earlier) it does allow for some very awesome scenes and the highlight of these two episodes was easily the confrontation between Magnus and Jaghatai, something that I’m sure that will probably go down as one of the best scenes in the book. I loved how Wraight wrote these two characters and the interplay between them was handled superbly well.
The plot is moving along at a faster pace now as things are coming to a conclusion and a lot of interesting stuff happens within these episodes. As expected from the above paragraph, the focus is mainly on the Primarchs, but the others also get their roles to play. However, this is where Scars suffers, and it suffers from the same problem that let The Unremembered Empire down. The non-Primarch characters aren’t memorable or captivating enough to hold their own against the likes of the Khan, Magnus etc. When sharing the same pages as the sons of the Emperor, they don’t really feel that interesting, which is a problem that the earlier novels like Horus Rising and even False Gods and Galaxy in Flame didn’t have. They dealt with Primarchs, sure – but we got enough of Loken and the Mournival to keep us interested in the ‘little guys’. The same thing’s pulled off well in The First Heretic – to name a more recent example, but something that falls into the category of not delivering powerful non-Primarch main characters alongside Scars and The Unremembered Empire is Gav Thorpe’s Deliverance Lost – even if I enjoyed that, I still cannot remember any other main character used in that book (unless they cropped up elsewhere in Heresy canon) apart from Corax. However, this is probably because Wraight went with too many characters here, meaning that we constantly have to jump from one to the other and it doesn’t always work.
That said though, Scars remains a damn fine read. I sped through these two Episodes really quickly and was left wanting more by the end. Readers of the past nine episodes will no doubt know by now that Wraight can handle a strong consistent quality throughout the whole book, you’ll be pleased to know that he doesn’t let up on the awesomeness here because we are reaching the ending. I’ve said multiple times that Wraight ranks among my Top 3 Black Library authors with Dan Abnett and Aaron Dembski-Bowden, and each chapter is justifying his place in this ranks. For me, Graham McNeill has written one too many poor novels to be counted within the ranks of Abnett and Dembski-Bowden, and Wraight’s only weak spot so far is Wrath of Iron, which when you consider he’s written in the Warhammer 40,000, Horus Heresy and Warhammer Fantasy settings – it’s good to see that he can hold your interest no matter what he’s writing. Heck, even Wrath of Iron was a page-turner.
Scars then – assuming it doesn’t drop dramatically in quality in its final episode, will go down then as one of the best Horus Heresy novels that we’ve seen so far. Chris Wraight is just that good, as he proves himself capable of delivering a strong reminder of why he’s one of Black Library’s rising stars and this novel should be the one that propels him into the ranks of fan-favourites if he isn’t there already. I’m eagerly awaiting what he can bring to the table next because you can certainly count me in for reading it, no matter which area of Black Library’s Universes that he chooses to explore.