Scars (28) (The Horus Heresy) Paperback – May 6, 2014
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The White Scars, led by their Primarch Jaghatai Khan, are not like any of the other legions. The Scars don't particularly fit in well with order and discipline of the Imperium. They are much more content to do their own thing. To strike out on their own and hunt the enemies of mankind on their own terms. In fact they are sometimes thought of as the lost legion, because they are usually off doing their own thing under the radar and everyone kind of forgets about them. That being the case, once the heresy starts in full swing the Scars are the last to know. They don't have a clear picture of what's going on, and the other legions have no idea if they have turned traitor or stayed loyal. The main crux of the story is Jahatai and the legion discovering the heresy and determining their place in the galaxy after it.
We get a good look at the legion and their culture and discover they aren't the barbarians everyone assumes they are. In fact it quite rankles them to know they are often compared Leman Russ and his brutal Space Wolves. Upon ascending to the ranks of the Legiones Astartes the new White Scars are encouraged to follow one of the noble pursuits, be it poetry, music, art, etc. They are also one of the only legions that truly loves and finds joy in what they do. The White Scars enter battle with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts. Freedom, speed, the joy of the hunt, these are defining characteristics of the White Scars. They quickly transformed from a legion I had almost no interest in to one of my favorites.
It is not about the same old guys. That is refreshing in a 28th book of a giant series.
I liked the Khan and his legion. I liked their loyalty, free spirits, approach to war. They are very different from all other legions.
One other thing that i like is the tension between Terran astartes and Primarch homeworlders. It is never shown in other books and other legions as far as i remember.
All in all this is a very entertaining book in Horus Heresy series. I recommend it to fans.
Personally though the excellency of this book is due the characterization of the White Scars legion, each POV shows a little more about the legion:
The Khan show every second what it means being him, and that is not showing himself, which is perhaps the strength and the weakness of his entire legion. I just love how Mr. Wraight managed to insert this into the book (again, due to his well structure narrative). His relationship with Magnus and Horus was quite well explained and justified, which helped with one of the showcases of the book: the Khan's fight against one of his brothers.
Yesugei is perhaps the most affable Astartes I've EVER read to a point that he actually upped himself to the likes of Loken in my mind. Not only he is a believable and a well developed mentor archetype, but Yesugei deals with the important plot point of the Psykers through the heresy.
Shiban and Torgun were good foils, though if you wish to read more about them check Brotherhood of the Storm, because their purpose is quite clear (and very important to both understand the White Scars position in the Heresy and another good justification for following Horus, and one that does not involve insanity), but I thought they could have been used more.
Ilya was the Hawser character that helped the readers to see the Scars from a human point of view, and it was enjoyable seeing her liking the legion more and more as the story developed (her exasperation were somewhat funny too).
One thing that really matters to me in quite a personal way though is the fact this book brings REPRESENTATION to the table (pun intended). I'm a man of asian descent (writing through a relative account) and while a big fan of the 40K universe I could hardly feel close to the characters in a personal manner due to the fact of how they are mainly european white men. My biggest praise towards Mr.Wraight is not making the Scars either a stereotype (which happens so often in media, be from the West or from the East) or white european characters in mongol skin, but their own Legion, with touches of some asian cultures (like the philosophies behind GO) that I could identify myself with.
All in all, it's espetacular and far more than I would expect from the White Scars Legion. Also it brings one of the best lines of the Heresy:
'By the time I make my kills, I'm always laughing.'
Top international reviews
I straight up love the writing, I love Jaghatai and I especially LOVE Yesughei.
I love the psyker stuff, it's interesting and they add a lot to it with very little written, but a close look only ever reveals the whole Nikaea thing as a paper-thin plot device.
The contrast with the Space Wolves and Alpha Legion is a great decision, though they don't mine it much here. It's also hard to do a story primarily about various internal conflicts and they do a really great job of that here.
It's 2018 and there are serious questions and discussions to be had by Asian communities about whether this is a stereotypical representation, personally although I'm not a member of that community I think it is stereotypical at times (the 'accents' for example are painful) but importantly the book takes a clear stance and expend a lot of effort in saying that these are NOT barbarians, that they are unfairly misrepresented in-universe by those that don't know them and respected by those that do, and overall I feel the book does a good job of providing nuance and interest in the characters and culture, even though in true 30k style it does rip off a whole patchwork of different Asian cultures and smashes them together. Look, I loved reading this but if this kind of thing bothers you then you probably won't see past it despite the author's best intentions. But honestly, considering this is 30k and subtlety is part of a long-lost STC, this is among the most representative and nuanced takes around and it really does make the effort. That's my respectful opinion, take it or leave it, disagree if you will, I don't care - don't @ me
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.
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.