on 13 April 2014
I found Scars to be a very enjoyable novel, which focuses upon the previously somewhat ignored Primarch Jagahtai Khan and his Legion; the White Scars. The Scars having been deliberately sidelined and sent on a time consuming and remote war by Horus prior to Isstvan, have been completely cut off from the rest of the Imperium for several years, but begin to receive confused rumours and glimpses of the horrors unfolding elsewhere, eventually leaving the Khan with a big choice to make as to what he should do.
I personally found the first quarter of the book rather meandering and underwhelming, the device of the two White Scars recruits felt a little 'done' and something we've seen before in the HH series, and though Wraight overall does a creditable job at giving the Scars a new lick of paint, I did feel at times the Mongol imagery is rather overdone. For example we are told and shown that the White Scars struggle to speak Gothic - that just felt wrong to me, yes there should be some 'nomad flavour' to the Legion, but at times here they feel dangerously close to just being Mongols in power armour. I did like the ideas about the Khan and the Legion being consistently overlooked and underrated by their peers and even by the Emperor, a fact that though they laugh it off is shown to rankle at them privately, and their skills are well portrayed - particularly in the well done void combat scenes.
Now I think about it, there are several scenes in the first half of the book that switch focus from the Scars to the Space Wolves - though there is some connection in the plot, and Wraight can and does write Space Wolf stuff well, ultimately I wonder if these parts actually needed to be in this book. I also found myself twice jarred out of the moment in the Space Wolf bits, due to two VERY heavy handed and clunking 'ironic' foreshadowing comments about the character Bjorn, relating to his later fate and status in the post-Heresy 40K setting.
Thankfully things quickly begin to pick up pace beginning with a confrontation with the Alpha Legion, and moving on to the Khan setting out to investigate what is in fact happening and which side he should join. From this point on the book really shines, the story of the Khan struggling against his personal wish that Horus be in the right, due to his prior close friendship and loyalty to Horus, his quest to find what became of his other friend Magnus, and a plot involving warrior lodges inside the White Scars moving to force the Legion to side with the traitors, is all handled very well. The writing is terse and pacey, the outcome of the various plot threads kept me guessing, and the story captures a sense of that disastrous crushing failure which was so well depicted in the first three HH novels.
The book wraps the story of the Scars nicely, with a sense that now this one is written things are really begin to roll downhill toward Terra. It might not be the next book, or the one after that, but it's coming closer now.
Volume 28 of the Horus Heresy "saga" is about the Legion of the White Scars and their Primarch, Jaghatai Khan. Both are loosely based on the Mongols, with one of Gengis Khan's descendants in fact bearing the very same name. With this book on the White Scars, about which very little had been mentioned and written in previous Horus Heresy books, one can hope that, at last, the series will move forward.
This is perhaps my main gripe with this volume and I will get it out of the way to concentrate on the book's qualities. I liked it rather a lot, but the story still does not move forward. It still begins with the Khan receiving conflicting messages about the Emperor having let Russ and his Wolves loose against Magnus and his Thousand Sons and about Horus having betrayed and massacred three legions at Isstvan V (yes, again!).
Other bits and pieces can also feel as "déjà vu". You get a few Salamander survivors and one Iron Hand (similar to the Unremembered Empire). There is also yet another confrontation and duel between two Primarchs, but not the same ones as in previous volumes and the Legion of the White Scars is also subject to subversion and divided.
There is however more to it than just a rehash and recycling of old ploys, and the book is about more than just the White Scars. As another reviewer had notes, the Space Wolves and their Primarch get quite a bit of attention, perhaps because the author, who also wrote the rather superb Battle of the Fang, has a soft spot for them (he is not the only one, by the way!).
There is also a lot on the interactions between the Primarchs (or at least some of them) and their father, all of which are seen through the memories of the Khan (another old ploy, but which still works well). Without spoiling the plot, the least that can be said is that they do not exactly form a "happy family" and that each of the "boys" has his flaws, however superb he might be as a warlord. This is perhaps another strongpoint of the book. While the Primarchs are clearly superhuman, they are also imperfect and very much afflicted with human emotions and character features such as envy, jealousy, passion, sense of duty but also cruelty, deviousness and so on...
Another interesting feature, although also "déjà vu", is to show the ambivalence of the Emperor and portray him as an ambiguous character, some sort of benevolent tyrant, although he does not appear at all in this volume. To this are added interesting glimpses of the ever loyal Malcador the Sigillite, of the dutiful Rogal Dorn and of the implacable Constantin Valdor, Head of the Emperor's Legio Custodes (his bodyguards).
Then we get to the Khan himself and his Legion. Here again, I found their story well told, with just enough glimpses into their history to allow you to understand what made them what they are. The book's prologue, which shows how two legionaries, one from Terra and one from Chogodis, the Khan "home planet", join the White Scars is a nice touch that alloys for the display of some of the Legion's characteristics: its sense of honour and loyalty, and the cult that they have for speed and hunting. The personality of the Khan himself is rather nicely drawn, with its strengths including his overbearing sense of loyalty and code of honour, and its hidden weakness. Both he and his Legion are traditionally underrated and disregarded by most of the other Legions and Primarchs, and they have deliberately kept their distances from them most of the time.
Finally, the book includes various engagements and battles. I found at least one of the void battles excellent and very impressive where the Scars really show their mettle and totally surprise their adversaries. In most cases, however, the engagements are largely indecisive, as if the opponents were somewhat hesitant or reluctant to fight each other to the finish. The least credible of all was the duel between two Primarchs, despite being also impressive. After crossing a huge distance to reach the place where he can confront his brother, he breaks off in the middle of the fight, gets back to his ships which are under attack and essentially runs away.
For me, this one was just about worth four stars because, despite my quibbles, I found it good and rather exciting. It was not, however, as good as the battle of the Fang, although you will find the young Bjorn in this volume, centuries and millennia before he becomes the memory of the Wolves.
on 13 August 2015
'Scars' is Chris Wraight's first entry into the Horus Heresy series, and a surprisingly strong one at that. The Khan has been mostly left out of the HH fluff so far, and so Wraight's challenge was to create a strong characterisation for the Fifth Legion to differentiate them from the similarly hit-and-run Raven Guard or the other 'barbarian' legion of the Space Wolves.
The benchmark at the moment was set by Abnett (of course) in Prospero Burns, where he takes the Space Wolves basic 'vikings in space' theme and develops them into a unique entity with their own culture, language and philosophy. One of the ways he achieved this was to write the novel from the point of view of an outsider, an imperial dignitary forced into life with The Rout, thus providing a convenient reason for dropping huge chunks of info-dump on Fenrisian culture into the text without resorting to "As you know, your father the king..." gimcrackery.
Wraight borrows a trick from this playbook and gives us not one, but two outsider viewpoints within the legion. The first is Ilya Ravillion, Departmento Munitorum administrator assigned to try and wrestle some discipline into the famously wayward Scars. Ilya is your basic human narrator who pops up in nearly every book with the post-human Space Marines in it, (awed by their battle prowess, Primarchs as gods etc. etc.) and although a well-developed character hardly breaks new ground.
The second narrator is more interesting and introduces a concept I've not seen covered before. Torghun is a Legion novitiate just joining the Scars and learning their ways. So far, so standard. The twist is that he is actually an applicant for the Luna Wolves, reassigned to the Scars on induction due to their low recruitment rates. This presents the unique viewpoint of a marine trained in the ways of another legion and struggling to fit into a force that wages a very different type of war from his own.
The novel covers the time shortly after the Istvaan Massacre as the White Scars finish clearing the orc world of Chondax. Thanks to the warpstorms raised by Horus they have been out of contact with the Imperium and so are unaware of the betrayal. As the storms lift they are greeted with multiple conflicting accounts and orders from both sides, including word of the Space Wolves razing the homeworld of their Thousand Sons brothers, before being confronted by an Alpha Legion fleet with typically hidden intentions. Much of the rest of the novel is given over to internal strife within the notoriously unruly legion as they struggle to separate the truth from misdirection in the Heresy.
Mixed in with the Scars inner conflicts we get a few side-plots: Istvaan survivors (how many of these guys are there? Seems like every Legion in the galaxy has a squad of Iron Hands and Salamanders playing tagalong at this point), the further adventures of Bjorn the Fell-Handed (let’s see how many references to dreadnoughts we can spot this time!) and a wandering Stormseer fresh from his appearance at the Council of Nikea. The Stormseer Yesugei gets one of the better passages of the book; using his psychic powers to disarm and neutralise a boarding attack on his ship without breaking a sweat, psychic or otherwise.
The Scars themselves have always suffered from much the same symptoms as the Space Wolves, except read ‘Mongols in Space’ instead of Vikings. This book will unfortunately change very little of that perception. Wraight does a good job with creating an identity for the legion; particularly with regards to their independent bloody-mindedness, disapproval of the Empire and bureaucracy, rivalry with the Wolves and kinship with the Thousand Sons. However there are several points I took issue with; namely that Wraight passes up on no opportunity to describe them as ‘inscrutable’ or ‘wiry’ and often mentions their limited grasp of Gothic ,which leads to some horribly dated “ah, grasshopper…” dialogue at points. He mercifully restrains himself from telling us that their helmets all have squinty eye-sockets, or that they have a tendency for last-ditch suicide charges, but there is still a distinct whiff of yellow peril about the whole thing. That’s not to imply the book is deliberately stereotypical, but surely we could find some more characteristics for a Mongol-themed legion than being short, writing poetry on their days off, and having a mystical and mysterious culture of zen-like shamans attached to them. Amazingly he limits himself to one very brief passage about fighting on jetbikes, an odd omission considering that for most of their existence their fluff has been rarely extended past ‘ride bikes and wear white armour’.
The Khan himself barely gets more than a long chapter of the book, and we gain little insight into his early years on Chogoris or the culture of his adopted people. Similarly despite his vaunted prowess as a warrior being mentioned at multiple points he doesn’t actually get into much action beyond a brief fleet engagement against the Alphas (which is one of the high points of the book) and an even briefer scuffle with a brother Primarch at the end. I did enjoy the depiction of his relationship with Magnus and their role in defending the Librarius during Nikea, as well as his reputation as the wild-card Primarch with solid reasons for coming down on either side of the Heresy. A shame we already know how that one will swing, but then that’s always been the problem with writing prequels.
Overall a strong addition to the series on par with Horus Rising or the Dark Angels books, if not quite up to the dizzying heights of Prospero Burns, and certainly better than boilerplate dreck like Battle for the Abyss. Enough of a taster to make me look into his other novels and hopefully enough of a success to get the Black Library to crank out a few more 30K Scars novels before we finally get to Terra. 8/10 skulls for the skull throne.
on 27 April 2014
This is the Horus Heresy novel next in publishing sequence after Dan Abnett's 'Unremembered Empire' but, this being Black Library it does not take place sequentially afterwards. The novel is set after Prospero but before the attack on Calth.
Although billed as a White Scars novel it does cover a lot of ground - the Space Wolves are the next most heavily covered but the book also gives a lot of coverage to a small group of Salamanders, one Iron Hands Space Marine as well as encounters with the Alpha Legion, Word Bearers and Death Guard plus a lot of Primarchs. Thankfully this is nowhere near as daunting as it might seem. In stark contrast to Unremembered Empire, the wide range of characters and allegiances are handled well and logically. Most of the Primarch encounters are fresh looks back at Ullanor and Nikaea seen from the perspective of the White Scars and the Khan in particular. Very refreshingly there is only one Primarch on Primarch combat and it is very well handled, tense, balanced and believable. All of these scenes by Wraight contrast very well with Abnett's versions.
The novel purports to be the story of 2 recent inductees into the White Scars, each with quite different start points. Through their eyes we see the nature of this Legion which has been left in the sidelines of the story so far. Wraight uses this to his advantage. The White Scars prefer to be on the frontier, exercising freedom and away from the politics of the centre. They do not wish to be rulers, that is the way of growing fat and cowardly. They relish speed and unpredictability, not even their fellow Legions appreciate their skills as few have seen them. But there is a duality here - they also feel hurt they are not better liked or appreciated. But also this suspicion of kingship leads them to doubt the virtue of an Emperor who is not out Crusading but hiding behind his walls back on Terra.
The story then grows to point of view of these 2 White Scars when they are more senior, as well as drawing in the Stormseer Yesugei, the Khan himself and a Terran administrator posted to make the White Scars become more 'efficient.' Through these varying perspectives we see the White Scars anew, Space Marines who appreciate being Space Marines - they laugh when fighting and seem happy most of the time which is quite refreshing compared to some of the more sombre Legions. The White Scars as a Legion have character and it is well told, we have at last escaped from the execrable 'Hunt For Voldorius' where Andy Hoare inflicted a travesty on the White Scars and everything else he touched in that book.
We also see the more tragic elements of the Heresy. The Khan is closest to Magnus and is very suspicious of Russ. The Khan, like Magnus and Sanguinius, was pro-Librarius and felt humiliated at Nikaea. Out on the edges with false stories being promulgated the Khan has tough choices to make. The subtitle of the book - 'A Legion Divided' tells you that other forces are at work and that it is not his choice alone to make.
Wraight has covered the Space Wolves well before in both 'Battle Of The Fang' and 'Blood Of Asaheim.' He continues to do them proud here and Russ in battle is formidable. Again this reminds us just how badly executed the Guilliman in battle portrayal in 'Unremembered Empire' was by Abnett in the preceding novel.
At last we now see the White Scars meet the Alpha Legion and this key encounter from canon is covered well. Looking back over the novel I can see that Wraight somehow managed to not make a total tangle of so many threads and even managed to weave in some Salamanders and an Iron Hands Space Marine (and he knows that Chapter well too). The second half of the book picks up in pace and has some great action scenes.
Having had chance to think back over this novel in the long period since it was released in the UK in GW shops I think Wraight relied too heavily on Mongolian/ Tibetan culture just a little too heavily (the dialogue in particular strays into stereotype) and missed a chance to take its themes and apply them more subtly. However, I found it particularly shocking how it took a new writer to bring the quality of the series back up, especially after following Abnett who was once a great author. Wraight has talent and it is good to see new light being shone on the Heresy and new insights being made once more after a long lull.
on 8 November 2014
There is just enough dramatic tension in wondering which side the Khan is going to take, and whether he'll take a side at all, to make this an interesting read if you're a 40k fan. Also fairly well written.
on 23 June 2015
I found this to be one of the best books in the Heresy series to date. Finally giving centre stage to the White Scars legion and how they fit in with the unfolding events. The book also covered various flashbacks from the Primarchs perspective giving more taste of the relationship between the brothers, as well as filling in more of the background to the events at Nikaea. On the whole this is a well rounded book with not too many battles to make the rest of the book feel like simple bridges between the fighting. My only issue would be the inclusion of the Alphas vs Wolves. Though whilst it added nothing to the book it was still good to see the Alphas getting properly involved in the fighting for a change.
on 1 February 2016
Maybe it's just that the White Scars and the Khan have more personality than other legions, but this has to me been one of the more enjoyable Horus Heresy books. The show down at the end is especially good. More White Scars and less Word Bearers I say!
on 8 February 2016
Was a nit worried after the slightly dry prequel 'Brotherhood of the Storm' (which should be read before this). Delighted to say it's a great book, I really never knew what was coming next, which is a massive rarity in the HH novels. Up there with the First Heretic and Know No Fear for me.
on 24 August 2014
At last, another great offering from the Horus Heresy series that I rate up there with A Thousand Sons, Prospero Burns and Mechanicum. Don't get me wrong, not all the other books in the series are poor, some have almost been very good but for outrageously unbelievable/over-done/one-sided stories or poor quality grammar. There is none of this in Scars, it is well written, grounded and very entertaining. And being the first look at the White Scars makes it a must read. Chris Wraight, you've outdone yourself!
on 11 February 2015
The story is ok - a bit lack-lustre until the end. There's at least one border-line racist attempt at an accent and every White Scars character is described as "inscrutable" at some point.