|Another wonderful cover from Neil Roberts, that battle in the background is great looking.|
"A fantastic debut that boasts well-written characters with a deep and interesting culture, gripping battles on both ground and space, and a plot that will have you tearing through the book just to see where it leads. Wraight definitely has a future in the Horus Heresy." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
Scars may not be due out for some time but thanks to the generosity of a fellow reader I managed to read this book in the twelve-part ebook early release that has been going on for the last three months. Ebooks aren't really my thing but I was excited enough about Scars that I made a rare exception in it's case, and I am very glad I did as Scars has proved to not only be one of the most enjoyable Horus Heresy books but also is thought-provoking and is not just about telling a story, but also about showing the reader who the White Scars Legion really is. This is Chris Wraight's first full novel in the Horus Heresy and I can very much say that he doesn't disappoint in any area.
The Horus Heresy has erupted across the galaxy, brother kills brother as the demi-gods known as the Primarchs wage war to serve the Emperor or to cast him down. But one Legion has yet to make it's choice, to stand with Terra or to stand with the Warmaster. The White Scars, a mystical Legion whose nature is to be far from sight and whose loyalty is as enduring as the grasslands of their homeworld. But there is just one problem, they do not know who is telling the truth. Does Terra lie to spite the great Horus? Or has Horus truly gone insane? The White Scars must discover the truth before they can commit themselves, but the journey for that truth will be long and arduous and many have already decided where the White Scars should place their allegiance, but not all of them are outsiders to the Sons of the Khan.
The story is a rather different one than we've seen before. Where every other Legion automatically knew where it's loyalty lay, the White Scars have not yet made up their minds and this novel is primarily about them trying to find out whom is telling the truth and where they should stand. The outcome was never in doubt if you know about the Heresy but it was intriguing to see the arguments made for both sides, the choices that many characters made and the reasons for those choices. I was really drawn in by the quest that the Scars undertook, and how different factors tried to guide the Scars to the outcome that they desired the most, and how some characters tried to stop that from happening. Wraight also brings back two characters from previous Heresy stories, one who first appeared in one of his short stories, and I quite liked the connections to his previous work and the connection to one of Dan Abnett's stories that Scars makes. Wraight also continues the Space Wolves story a little bit and deals with their immediate aftermath of Prospero, and how the razing has affected them, however it did feel a little odd that they were so prominent early in the book only to vanish later.
The characters are one of the best parts of the novel, there isn't a single one that isn't compelling for many reasons. The White Scars themselves are NOT what I expected them to be, in fact they are nearly the polar opposite, Wraight takes the idea of Space Mongols and adds on elements of what I perceive as Japanese Samurai and Imperial Chinese cultures, creating a Legion that is best described by the maxim, "do not judge a book by it's cover." The individual White Scars were very interesting, divided by lines of culture from Chogoris and Terra, I quite liked the idea of exploring how a Terran-born Astartes would feel in a Legion dominated by a foreign culture, and whether or not they would embrace it or stand outside it, both of which featured in the book. The Chogoris Scars were exuberant, noble and often wise, things that I did not think they would be, and the Khan himself was a surprising character in his approachability, his ideals and beliefs, and how he rules his Legion like no other Primarch does. The best thing that Wraight has done here is what Aaron Dembski-Bowden did for the Word Bearers and Night Lords, what Graham McNeill did for the Thousand Sons and what Dan Abnett did for the Ultramarines and Space Wolves. He gave the White Scars a real identity and a culture that is unique to them, and he made it endearing to the reader, which is a real accomplishment as I think the White Scars could easily have come across as stereotypes, but Wraight makes them into a believable and likeable Legion.
The action in Scars is equally divided between space and ground, both of which the White Scars apply their fast attack and hit and run strategy of combat towards, and we get to see what it is that makes their own ships unique in the Imperium. And since it's the White Scars that means there's jetbike combat and plenty of awesome weapons like Daos, Guan Daos and Tulwars, though sadly nobody used a meteor hammer type weapon. Wraight makes the Scars feel like a unique Legion both in battle and character, and this gives the action scenes a quality that makes them more enjoyable not only to fans of the White Scars, but just the reader in general. The best scenes however were definitely Tartugai Yesugei's, the Stormseer, whose weather-making powers were used to full effect in the book and left no doubt in my mind that the Stormseers are a very potent force, and are just really badass. The other Legions in the book also have their unique styles of combat shown, the Space Wolves who hunt like their namesakes, the Alpha Legion who fight like black ops commandos, and one final Legion whose own style of combat is an interesting challenge for the White Scars who rely on speed rather than endurance, and that particular battle between two characters was handled very well as Wraight showed the strengths and weaknesses of both and most importantly, neither character felt weak for having a hard time dealing with the other but instead it felt like they had both met an opponent whose combat style might be the opposite of theirs and is able to pose a challenge for that reason.
The pacing of the book is done well enough, as an ebook in twelve parts it's hard to judge how the actual book would flow, but I think it would feel like an easy but engaging read. Sadly as an ebook this version of Scars did not contain Karl Richardon's art, or the interior art from Neil Roberts that we've been promised, but I suppose that is the reason to get the dead-tree version over the ebook version which I will be doing. One thing that I must address is not only the portrayal of the White Scars, which was brilliant, but also how they interacted with other Legions and how the Khan looked upon his brothers. We get to hear what the Khan thinks of Nikea, of the Imperium and the Emperor, and of what it means to rule, and exactly what he thinks of all of those things may surprise you. And not only that, it's presented so well that it offers a new perspective that you might find yourself agreeing with, I actually now agree with the Khan regarding one of those aspects listed above and can only wonder how different things might have been had he been able to make that argument.
My favourite quote, it has to be this one,
"And there is the difference between you and me. By the time I make my kills, I am always laughing."
The ending answers the question of where the White Scars will stand, an answer that was never really in doubt but Wraight still makes the quest compelling by showing you why the White Scars could have gone in a totally different direction and why they make the choice they do. The ending also connects with Dan Abnett's short story Little Horus and promises that we have not seen the last of the White Scars before they reach Terra, and that when they do there may be a reckoning between the Khan and two of the other Primarchs in this book. Wraight also wraps up some character stories but a few of them still have stories to be told, particularly one character whom I am really interested in learning more about. That said one of the most famous actions of the White Scars before reaching Terra has not yet occurred, or may not occur I cannot be sure, so I think that while Scars settles the question of the White Scars loyalties, a future novel or novella will have to address exactly how the Scars are going to reach Terra.
For a great and engaging story that was a nice change of pace from what we've had so far, characters that really flesh out the White Scars Legion and make it one of the most unique of all the Legions, fast-paced and powerful battle scenes that will have even ardent Horus supporters cheering for the White Scars as I was, I give Scars by Chris Wraight a score of 9.0/10. Without a doubt this is a Horus Heresy novel that all fans of the series should read, and when you're done you'll probably find that you've become a fan of the White Scars as I have, they really do endear themselves to the reader. Fans of Wraight's work will also find more to like here and I think that this novel will not only win Wraight more fans, but it has also proved that his joining the Horus Heresy team was a wise move and I can't wait to see what he brings us next.
That's it for this review. Thanks for reading, so until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!