Horus Heresy: Scars (Episodes X & XI) by Chris Wraight – Ebook Review [Bellarius]
Covering the penultimate episodes leading to the story’s conclusion, Bellarius sees how well X and XI of Chris Wraight’s Scars holds up to scrutiny.
“With flaws and strengths aplenty, the build towards Scars’ conclusion proves to be just as chequered as the rest of the series.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Unlike the previous instalments, we’re going to be looking at X and XI as one whole. The reason for this is due to two things: First of all it has been made clear that you should not buy these episodes individually. They are not worth the price overall and the book will be stronger for being read as a single piece. As such, looking at two episodes together would better see how well they gel together.
The second reason is simple: The story has been moving along full force for some time now, towards a conclusion, but isn’t doing much to begin tying things up. The plot has gone left and right, traversing to various locations, but it’s in these final pieces that we will find out how well the story really comes to a close.
The episodes continue in focusing upon the themes brought up in the previous stories and shunting the tale towards an end. Both Shiban and Jaghatai serve much of the tale seeing revelations about themselves and what they are truly a part of, with Qin Xa dealing with the surprise arrival encountered during IX’s conclusion. It’s unfortunately only the part with Jaghatai which works best here, as the other two fail to really work that well for separate reasons.
Qin Xa’s stranger is very jarringly added to the story and the following scenes with him do not help. Created by another author in another tale, his role here seems to be more fanservice than it is a true addition. With no mention or suggestion of his joining the book prior to now, he just comes out of nowhere in this final act and ultimately contributes little to the actual story. Introducing new elements in the final act is a major no-no in any medium of storytelling for many reasons.
Such ideas are often underdeveloped, appear weak to those which have been present earlier and, as shown here, seem to be far more of a Macguffin than a true character when they are a new person. He really adds nothing to the story which the person Jaghatai is meeting with could not do themselves beyond keep Qin Xa alive. This is very different to Unremembered Empire, which managed to expertly juggle and handle outside elements and made them blend near-perfectly with the story well.
Shiban and Torghun meanwhile are seen to be moving the tale towards its obvious conclusion: Dealing with the conflict within the White Scars ranks. While Shiban’s actions are largely understandable, they feel minor and added far too late. Many of the opening chapters were focused upon the mystery of the executions that there is comparatively little time to deal with actually uncovering the Lodges. There is a reason for this, one we will get to in the finale, but ultimately it feels very squashed in towards the finale and quickly jumps towards outright conflict.
In fairness some of the revelations surrounding the Lodges are effective. Characters you would never guess to be a part of the rebellion. However, the focus ultimately seems to come down to a brawl between Shiban and Torghun despite the number of characters involved. Rather than feeling extensive or like a true conflict, it instead is only impressed as a minor engagement. Few to none of the various characters within the legion are truly used to show how widespread the engagement is and there’s no emphasis upon what might be happening on-board the other vessels. Strangest of all, while the actual Terrans are made clear to be rebelling and their reasons obvious from the beginning, little is really done for those natives of Chigoris. Many make up the ranks of the Lodges, yet no time is really spent with any individual character to explain just why they are rebelling against the Emperor.
What also doesn’t help is a certain scene with jetbikes which feels more at home in Flash Gordon serials than it does the 31st millenium.
What ultimately saves the story more than anything else is Jaghatai. While he was introduced as a stranger, many of the scenes have helped to flesh him out in flashbacks and in conversations with other primarchs. This comes to a close here where he speaks in isolation with two figures closely connected with him, one of which proves to be the series’ best scenes. While Wraight has the problem of writing conversations more like scripts than novelised talks, suited better to audio dramas than text format, it oddly works here. It places full emphasis upon the characters’ words and the subjects of their talk, allowing them to .
While a later scene with a similar figure fails to be as meaningful, it is none the less enlightening. It does a great deal to outline and flesh out one character in a very short space of time despite being largely ignored during the rest of this series. It gives some considerable insight into the mentality behind their actions, at least from Jaghaiai’s perspective, and allows them to be far more fleshed out in one scene than they have been in a dozen books. It’s these scenes which make the reading of this conclusion really worthwhile as the rest seems rushed and unfocused for the most part. Many characters still feel cryptic and the story visibly lacks proper direction even now.
Yesugi meanwhile doesn’t really feel connected to events. Everyone is now together in a single location and he remains isolated, making his involvement feel far more like a sidestory than something connected to events. Most of his final appearances here seem more like last minute additions to try and tie up events than any actual involvement and as with certain sections involving other imperial forces, they ultimately make the book feel disjointed. Had he re-joined the legion at the beginning of X that might have been fine. His knowledge could have been used to help uncover the Lodges or confirm Shiban’s suspicions, but we’re at the climax and there’s no sign of him. As of now it feels as if he’s a part of an entirely different tale.
If this sounds intentionally vague, it’s only because it is. I fully intend to cover Scars as a single piece in a proper review once this is over and avoiding spoilers at this point is extremely hard. I plan upon going over this properly once the final episode is released and the story shown as a whole, but unless Scars Episode XII proves to be double the length of these previous instalments, I can’t see how it would offer any kind of satisfactory ending. If it doesn’t then Scars will be very much like Daemon World and the Path or the Eldar series: Better as lore books for certain armies than truly great stories.
Verdict for X: 4.5/10
Verdict for XI: 4.5/10