Lord of the Night reviews the thrilling Eldar Apocalypse novel, Valedor by Guy Haley.
"A brilliant novel that must be read by anyone who calls themselves a fan of the Eldar. Guy Haley's best and most interesting novel yet." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
When I first found out about Valedor, by seeing it in the novels list in Apocalypse: Damocles, I thought it would be a novel about Space Marines and I was quite pleased as I thought I knew what battle it would depict. So when I found out it was actually about Eldar and Dark Eldar fighting against Tyranids I was even happier, anything involving the Eldar of any kind is a must-read for me and sadly there is never enough, Valedor is another step in the direction of regular Eldar novels and hopefully they'll be written by Guy Haley who with this novel challenges Gav Thorpe and Andy Chambers for mastery over the two halves of the Eldar race. Anyone who enjoyed the Path of the Eldar or the Path of the Dark Eldar series will without a doubt enjoy this novel just as much, perhaps more so.
Iyanden. Once the greatest of all the Eldar Craftworlds, beautiful and proud. Now ghosts stalk it's ancient halls and the living are in permanent mourning, the Triple Woe has burnt the Craftworld's very soul and forced the dead to rise and risk their eternal souls to fight for the living. Now the dead must rise again as the Great Dragon returns from the Warp to bring about a new doom; Far-Ranging Hunger, once the horror that brought Iyanden low, seeks to merge with Starving Dragon, the newest terror in the galaxy that even now tears at the Imperium of Man. If these two dragons become one, a new breed of abominations containing the genetic information of Ork, Man and Eldar will be born and nowhere in the galaxy will be safe from the hunger of the Hive Mind. Only Iyanden and their erst-while allies in militant Biel-Tan and the sadistic Dark Eldar can stop the Dragon, but as events conspire against them, it may be that what sacrifice is asked is too much.
The characters are a compelling and famous bunch. Every notable character from the Iyanden lore is here from Prince Yriel to Iyanna Arienal. Haley does a great job making each one interesting by delving into their private thoughts, beyond the pages of a codex where we can see what these characters really feel about the events around them, what their plans are and how they really act in the situations the codex describes but never fully reveals. And of course the important part; the otherworldliness and alien nature of the Eldar that makes them feel different from humanity. Haley nailed it. The Eldar in his novel feel like exactly what we've always been told they are, creatures who feel emotion much more deeply and strongly than any human ever could, creatures who are in danger from such a thing overwhelming them and how the Path is meant to deal with that. Not one character in this book felt like a human masquerading as an alien. Each character's story was interesting from Yriel grappling with the Spear of Twilight and how over the course of the novel it begins to affect him more deeply; Iyanna Arienal and her obsession with Ynnead and the rebirth of the Eldar race; Taec Silvereye who can see the end of the Valedor conflict and knows what it will cost; and Sunspear whose martial nature was a nice change of pace from the Iyandeni Eldar and gave us some damn good battle scenes. The only story that I felt suffered somewhat was the story of the Eldar Twins Ariadien and Neidaria simply because not enough page time could be devoted to them, but what we did see was a nice look into the darker side of Iyanden and that the Path is not always an option for some Eldar. My favourite character had to be the giddy Lord Sarnak of the Black Heart who was the biggest contrasting character and showed how reserved the Craftworld Eldar really were; plus he was just hilarious on every page.
The pacing of the novel is well done. Haley keeps the story moving at a good pace, either looking into the culture or the politics of the Eldar while keeping the battle chapters together and not breaking them up by switching from the middle of a pitched fight into a council meeting. The book starts off slow, the threat presented by the Tyranids needing time to be understood but once the battles begin the book really gets going and the sense of time running out becomes quite prevalent in each chapter, the Eldar are on a countdown and they know it and Haley makes sure the reader knows it too.
The best part of this book though was the exploration of the Eldar and the quality of Haley's depiction of them. Haley immerses the reader in the Eldar, going as far as to preclude the terms we as fans have grown accustomed to and give us the Eldar words instead. The word Tyranid is only ever used a handful of times in the narrative, and both Kraken and Leviathan are used less than twice each. Instead we have the Eldar name for them which is the Great Dragon, and Far-Ranging Hunger and Starving Dragon respectively. The subtle gestures of both body and mind that make up a lot of Eldar conversation are used here as well and to such an extent that reading the narrative that describes how a character is saying something or what he is doing with his hands or body is just as important as what he is actually saying. Haley also looks at Iyanden post-tragedy and we see how broken the Craftworld is, the strangeness that comes from being surrounded by the dead, and how Iyanden feels in comparison to a heartier Craftworld like Biel-Tan that has known no such hardships as they have. The differences in character between both Craftworlds are clear, showing that the divides between each Craftworld can be as stark as the differences between two Space Marine Chapters, sometimes more so; and the Dark Eldar going even further and highlighting the differences between the two classifications of Eldar in just a few conversations. The prophecy of Ynnead is also looked at in this book and this is the one area that I think Haley mis-stepped in, it was quite good and I liked the concept of it, but I think he went too far in claiming Ynnead as being 100% real and destined to win; one scene in particular felt like too upbeat a moment for the tragic and seemingly doomed Eldar, and too much a promise that they will resurge one day rather than just the hope they will. Other Eldar concepts that Haley explores include the bond of twins in which he shows the both the good and the bad of such a thing, the Harlequins and the Dance Without End which was the focus of an interesting and very surprising chapter.
Now for my favourite quote, most come from the Dark Eldar but I went with this one because it made the epicness of the conflict quite clear;
"Then we shall all have to become dragon slayers."
The ending is interesting, but I think a mixed thing. On one hand we have the resolution of the conflict on Valedor which was done very well, and the aftermath of it was just as good. I particularly liked how the twin's story ended, though I felt it was a sad story it also had a note of bittersweet to it. And I quite liked how Yriel's and Iyanna's stories ended, though Iyanna's was more speculative than Yriel's, and both Sunspear and Taec Silvereye had good closure as well, however there were aspects to the ending I found either not enough or too much. Taec Silvereye's ending for example is an area where I think Haley went too far and made the renewal of the Eldar seem like a pre-destined thing rather than something that might, just might, be if they play their cards right. I think that if Haley had gone with Taec remembering his conversation with Veilwalker rather than what he actually went with, it would have been better and more in keeping with the inherently grimdark nature of 40k and the tragic yet hopeful character of the Eldar. And finally the two epilogues, one of them felt like a sequel hook that also felt confusing as to why exactly this character was doing what she was doing and why another character was interested and/or didn't stop her. And the other I think relied too heavily on the assumption that the reader has read the 40k Supplement Iyanden Codex and knows exactly what the concepts the chapter talks about but doesn't explain in enough detail are all about. I didn't fully, and it robbed the epilogue of some of the impact that it would have had, but I don't think it should have relied much on them at all. It should have been the story events that shaped the epilogue rather than codex elements that weren't explained in detail that someone ignorant of them could understand.
For a very good story with only a few bumps in the road, characters that felt like real aliens yet were understandable and sympathetic, and action scenes that showed the best and worst of two very different races, I give Apocalypse: Valedor by Guy Haley a score of 8.7/10. I did very much enjoy this novel and would recommend it to any fan of the Eldar or the Tyranids, it's got a very good story that will keep you entertained the entire way through, characters that were fascinating and exciting to read about, and battle scenes that just demand to be reenacted on the tabletop. I do think that this is the best of the Apocalypse novels thus far and is an encouraging sign that more alien-centric novels could be in the future, if the Eldar can get one then why not the Tau or the Orks, or perhaps even the Necrons. I would read any of those in a heartbeat, here's hoping that Black Library will write them.
That's it for this review. Thanks for reading, until next time;
AVE DOMINUS NOX!