Lord of the Night reviews the Christmas pre-release from Black Library and the first in a brand new series, Khârn: Eater of Worlds by Anthony Reynolds.
"A bloody but well-written and exciting novel that delves into the backstory behind one of the most important battles in Warhammer 40k, and brings character to the berzerkers of Angron like nothing outside the Horus Heresy series so far." - Lord of the Night @ Talk WargamingSome years ago when Ahriman: Exile by John French was announced, I took the news as proof that the Champions of Chaos; Khârn, Ahriman, Typhus and Lucius, were getting their own novel as part of a quadrology. At the time I thought I was wrong when Ahriman was declared to be a series on it's own, and yet it turns out that I was wrong and right. With the release of Khârn: Eater of Worlds, not only the potential for other series about prominent Chaos Space Marine characters, a new series about one of the most well-known and popular 40k characters has begun, and the debut was a brilliant one with interesting and deep characters, powerful and epic action series, and a story that was enjoyable from start to finish, and promises much more to come.
The XIIth Legion is dying. Fresh from the walls of Terra and crippled by the guns of the loyalist forces, the World Eaters Legion limps onwards, it's life blood draining away as brother turns on brother under the poisonous influence of the Butcher's Nails. With their Daemon-Primarch lost to the Warp and the Dark Gods, their heroes either dead on the Throneworld or taken by the Nails, only one still endures. Khârn. The Equerry. The Bloody. And in time; The Betrayer. As the dying Legion searches for the way to survive and rise from their defeat, many call for the one man who can still unite the Sons of Angron under one banner and one leader, Khârn. But will the infamous killer be the salvation of those he once commanded, or will he be the final end to the World Eaters Legion?
The story in K:EoW is very clearly only a part of a greater narrative. The first thing that I noticed, and I enjoyed, is that Reynolds did not drag Khârn right into the centre stage on the first few pages. Instead he took the time to explore the situation that the World Eaters as a whole face, to look at the importance of Khârn to the Legion, and to introduce the cast of the series that supplement Khârn and make this more than a series about just one man, no matter how important and damn awesome he might be. Because of that the story unfolds at a good pace, bringing the reader into the world that Reynolds creates, and it means that when Khârn does appear, it is a pivotal moment in the story that provides the direction and momentum that the World Eaters are searching for. Khârn is not just a character in the story, he is a driving force that drags the rest of the World Eaters along with him into unexplored places. While this is the story of the infamous shattering of the World Eaters Legion, Reynolds doesn't dive right into it, instead he looks at the background to the battle and what led up to that confrontation between two Legions that changed them both forever. One of the aspects I enjoyed the most was just that, while this is a story about something very important, Reynolds doesn't allow that to dominate the story, instead he lets the story unfold at it's own pace and makes Skalathrax more than just a battle, it becomes a war, and wars always have more than one battle, but it also becomes a crucible for the World Eaters and their beliefs; many want different things from their future and Skalathrax is where they and we will find out what beliefs will grow stronger and which ones will die. The only thing that I felt let the story down a bit was the length of the novel, I can't say how many pages this book has or what format it comes in, but it felt very short when compared to Black Library's hardback and shortback range. This isn't a novella, but it felt a little short for a novel; and I think that if it had been longer the motivations behind other characters that did not receive bigger roles could have been explored.
The characters were a good bunch, Aaron Dembski-Bowden may have set the standard for the Horus Heresy-era World Eaters in Betrayer, but Reynolds takes the reigns of their 40k incarnation. One can very easily see that Reynolds has taken what Aaron developed in his book on the character of the Legion in general and gone further with it, with the World Eaters now firmly in the grip of the Brazen Lord and half-dead from their disasterous defeat at Terra, the warriors of the World Eaters mirror their Legion's situation in their variety. Captains Dreagher and Brond show the discipline that the Legion manages to barely hang on to, while in comparison you have Goghur and Ruokh who are if not lost to the Nails, then on the cliff's edge. Reynolds looks at how different World Eaters are reacting to the situation their Legion faces, some want to meet it head on and win, some think that there is no point, some have stopped caring about anything other than blood, and some want to find another way altogether; but all are still trapped by the Butcher's Nails which are an always present force in the story as each character struggles with them or embraces them. Khârn himself is a complex character, as he has been for quite some time, on one hand he is a bloody reaver whose battle fury is legendary among the World Eaters, but he is also the calm and rational equerry who could calm their Primarch and is definitely the only World Eater that could be a diplomat, but as he becomes a bigger presence in the book it becomes clear that he is no longer the same Khârn we know from the Heresy series, there is a deeper sense of rage in him that makes Khârn a much more distant figure and a more enigmatic one, Khârn does not seem like a character you could hope to understand in just one story, which I felt made him compelling and made his actions difficult to predict. One of the most enjoyable aspects though was the mortal element, specifically the character Skoral Wroth; strong and three-dimensional female characters are finding their way more and more into the novels of Black Library and Reynolds contributes to that with a character who right from her first appearance shows that she is very different from what has come before, and her relationship with Captain Dreagher was a fascinating look into how the World Eaters interact with those under them, which is not at all what I initially thought it was. The Emperor's Children also provide a few cast members, the most interesting being Egil Galarius who highlights the strengths and the weaknesses of his Legion, and provided some very interesting commentary on the Emperor's Children, how they view others and exactly how deep their "nobility" runs.
The action scenes were brilliant, with plenty of scenes that stand out and make damn sure that when you've put the book down, you'll remember them very clearly. Reynolds again picks up on what Aaron DB explored in the Heresy regarding the way that the World Eaters wage war; the concept of fury winning fights and that with enough fights, you'll carry the war. The fight scenes with the World Eaters epitomize this, it's clear that while their strategy is inferior to their enemy, their battle fury allows them to make up for that deficiency and shows why the World Eaters, an army of blood-mad berzerkers, can actually win battles against smart and strategic opponents like the Ultramarines and the Emperor's Children. The strengths and weaknesses of the Legion are shown very nicely in the final third of the novel as the war really starts up, the areas of the battle where the World Eaters are at a disadvantage and where they have the advantage are clear, and all of them give the Legion a good challenge by pitting them against a foe that is the opposite of them in more ways than just the aesthetic. The Emperor's Children who favour skill over fury, and who are given a good showing by the novel and are not reduced to just the enemy that exists to get hacked down. I think that a few more scenes with the Emperor's Children could have shown this even more, but what was there suffices. Khârn himself gets plenty of bloodshed as well, including one particular scene that was the highlight of the entire novel for me and one of the best action scenes I have ever read in a book; amazingly choreographed so that there was never a single sentence that I couldn't picture flawlessly, powerful and showing the might of an unfettered Astartes very clearly, but also even-handed and making it clear that just because the hero, or villain depending on your viewpoint, is famous and hailed as unbeatable, doesn't mean he'll fight a battle at a marked disadvantage and walk away untouched. The only thing I would have liked to see was a bit more from the specialists of the Emperor's Children, as I felt those were under-represented, and I would have liked to see the mortal and unmortal allies of the IIIrd Legion play a bit more of a role in the action scenes.
The pacing of the book was quite good. As I said above, Reynolds doesn't introduce Khârn right away, instead he allows the story to unfold at it's own pace and lets Khârn come into the story when he is the most relevant to it, rather than just speed the story along so that he can get there sooner and start wowing everyone. The book's pacing moves slowly until the final third of the novel when the war for Skalathrax starts in earnest, the scenes becoming mostly action and moving at a much faster pace until the final few pages when everything slows down as the series enters what appears to be the eye of the storm, the brief period of calm before the storm starts again and becomes even more ferocious. The book also contains some very nicely done artwork, depicting the weapons and armour of Khârn and providing interesting backstory information on them in addition to their cultural significance among the various planetary cultures that makeup the World Eaters.
My favourite quote, there are a few contendors but I think that this was the best one;
"We - you and I and all of the Twelfth - were made to be destroyers. We should not fight against our nature. We walk the Eightfold Path. It doesn't mean we have to become slaves to it."
The ending was rather abrupt, but still enjoyable. As I said above when talking about the pacing, the final scenes feel like the eye of the storm before it resumes the onslaught. The World Eaters and the Emperor's Children are at war and the Battle of Skalathrax is well underway, but it is far from finished and much more story remains as the World Eaters remain divided by factionalism even as they are united by war. The ending leaves the character stories hanging to proceed into the next book, which is very clearly set up, which I believe will either contain the majority of the Battle of Skalathrax or might actually finish the series as a duology; it's hard to say as the story is already bigger than I would have expected with the addition of the lead-up to Skalathrax that this book deals with. But either way the ending was quite good with a very impressive and visual scene, though admittedly not a unique one as this particular happening has happened before in other BL books, including one quite recent release, and in that case it's ironic for a reason that would be spoilery to reveal. Uniqueness aside I enjoyed the ending to the book and am eagerly awaiting the next instalment in Khârn's story.
For an interesting story that has already proved to be bigger and further-reaching than I expected, characters that were deep and interesting in addition to amusing and violent, action scenes that stick in the mind and don't let go, and for yet another step in giving the Chaos Space Marines equal standing with the Imperial Space Marines in Black Library; I give Khârn: Eater of Worlds a score of 8.2/10. This is a novel that any fan of Chaos should add to their reading list, as should fans of Anthony Reynolds as he is on top form here, and I think that fans of the World Eaters will be very pleased by this book that is the first to give the 40k incarnation of the Legion their own point-of-view, which I feel is long overdue. If Chaos Space Marines aren't your thing, then this likely isn't a book that you will enjoy, but if you are a fan of Anthony Reynolds you might consider reading it anyway as he might be able to convert you to the Blood God, but if Reynolds name isn't a draw for you then I can't really say you'll enjoy the book, but you can work that out for yourselves.
That's it for this review. Thanks for reading, until next time;
AVE DOMINUS NOX!