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Taking a look at another of Black Library’s ebooks, Bellarius sees what David Annandale’s Stormseer has to offer readers.
“A high speed tale of fate, choice and sacrifice; everything a Warhammer novella should be.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
The latest in Black Library’s ever expanding Space Marine Battles series, Stormseer sees some focus return to the White Scars once more. Devoted to exploring the role of the unique Librarians which are among the chapter’s warriors, the enovella focuses upon some elements of mysticism within these souls and how their nature separates them from their battle brothers.
Set on the world of Lepidus Prime, the White Scars are deployed as part of a joint strike to repel the orks of the Overfiend from the strategically vital planet. Spilling out from the warzone which has become the Octavius system, many new Waaaghs! are beginning to emerge and either the orks are halted here or they will spread on to countless worlds beyond. Unfortunately, the barbarous ingenuity of greenskins may once again provide them an edge against the defenders of humanity…
Despite being a scant eight chapters long (plus the epilogue and prologue) Stormseer has to convey the idea of an ongoing planetary conflict and act of desperation despite a limited word count. We only see hints of the much large conflict brewing between the tyranid hive fleets and orks a few systems away, and the focus is placed purely upon a company of White Scars and detachment of Mordian Iron Guard. What helps make it succeed is that it’s established very early on that what we see is only a small, but soon proven to be crucial, part of a large operation involving several other chapters to deny the world to the xenos. While we are unfortunately only informed of this fact rather than shown it, the story does at least dodge the growing trend of having the fate of entire worlds depend upon the involvement of only a small handful of warriors. The fact we see Imperial Guard involvement against the enemy, taking and holding certain positions, helps add credence to this idea of a bigger operation without shifting the focus from the White Scars themselves.
What’s better is that this isn’t the only trend the enovella manages to buck, as for once every faction involved is treated with the dignity they deserve. All too often it can be made out that the orks are too easily killed or certain xenos races can be steamrolled by the adeptus astartes, looking at you Fulgrim. Despite that however, the space marines, Imperial Guard and xenos races are all treated with a good deal of respect. Described in combat sequences which show them to be capable and heroic, but don’t pull their punches when it comes to giving them high casualty figures. We see this especially early on when the Orks, despite losing a battle, manage to pull off an astounding feat in bringing down a Thunderhawk Gunship and the superweapon they deploy to give them a major edge.
While definitely not as individually descriptive as some other authors would have made the combat, the battles are shown with a greater focus in terms of tactics and specific styles of battle than others would favour. Each giving its own idea as to how the factions involved operate with their own strengths and flaws. This extends to some of the characters themselves who are used to look into some aspects of this, especially with the titular Stormseer Ghazan.
Allowed a degree more respect and leeway than some other chapters, the book shows in Ghazan the benefits and failings of the Stormseers’ approach to war, driven by following their strands of fate. While this does allow them to act beyond what their battle brothers usually would consider, warn them against potential and uncover aspects which would usually go overlooked, they are driven by this far more than the company’s battle plans. They will follow what they see as a string of fate or potentials rather than the actual battle plan or orders when necessary, and while this is proven to be beneficial in the novella it’s easy to see where this could lead them astray or put them at odds with their closest allies.
Efforts are also made to emphasis the more shamanistic nature of the Stormseers’ abilities as well, with Ghazan often working with the elements a-la Avatar rather than firing mind bullets at people, and displaying powers more in line with magic than psychic energy. While there are some obvious issues with this on the whole, it helps to keep the White Scars as an individual force and carry over some of the elements established in Scars without directly copying what appeared in that book. Also because, at the very end, it’s thankfully made very clear the difference between the safer energies they channel and that of the more corrupting energies within the immaterium. Matthew Ward, take note.
All this said however, there are two notable problems which can potentially put people off of buying this title. The first is the characterisations of its figures, especially many of the White Scars themselves who often feel far too much like generic marines despite their heritage. While we do see a distinctive group of figures among the company’s forces, only Ghazan himself really feels like a member of the White Scars or a rounded character with Temur Khan failing to really stand out despite heavy involvement in the combat. It really does feel as if there is just not enough too them, and while a distanced portrayal does work in the favour of two particular figures within the book, it pales in comparison to a number of other releases. For all its many, many flaws Death of Antagonis definitely had more memorable and distinctive characters among its focus chapter.
The other issue is Annandale’s writing style, especially when it comes to environments, which can feel lacking. Like a few criticised previously, while his overall writing style definitely works when it comes to the bigger ideas involved like battlefield stratagems, the affect of Kryptman’s gambit and fate, it’s at the cost of finer details. The environments in particular often feel lacking, with vague descriptions of the orks’ underground facilities or constructed vehicle lacking the detail they really need to convey. It leave many scenes often feeling lacking beyond the characters themselves, and prevents the reader building any truly solid image in his head of what the battlefield is like. There are also the extremely short, clipped sentences used frequently within the novel, which can prove to be a point of irritation at times. Primarily because as the lack the emotion and description of some other tales.
There’s also the issue of the prologue featuring the reader being told something rather than shown it. It’s a basic crime against writing for a reason, and while it might be acceptable given the circumstances, it just ends up providing the impression the reader has missed an amazing battle moments beforehand. Not a good introduction to a book where people are buying it to see futuristic warfare.
Still, with all that said, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth with this one. Stormseer is a good White Scars tale at the end of the day and while there are a few points left unfortunately unanswered, on the whole it’s an enjoyable read. If you’re a fan of White Scars or space marine psykers, take the time to buy this one.