HH16 – Scars Review
Scars ‘The Legion Divided’ by Chris Wraight
So, 12 weeks on from the release of the first episode of Scars, and the final part has been released, read and now written about. Be warned, whilst I have done my best to avoid spoilers, it’s likely that something has snuck in. If you are the kind of person that doesn’t want to know anything about the novels you read, then best look away now! As this is the first Horus Heresy novel to be released in a serialised format, I’m also going to talk about the experience of reading the story in this way.
First things first, let’s talk about Scars. Putting my cards on the table, I am an unashamed fan of Chris Wraight’s work. His previous contributions to the Horus Heresy series have been excellent, and across fan forums he’s widely tipped as one of the rising stars of Black Library. In my opinion, Scars is a superb novel, and confirms Wraight’s entry into the top tier of Heresy authors.
Despite brief appearances from assorted White Scars marines earlier in the series, Wraight is the first author to truly get to grips with the White Scars as a distinct legion. His work in the limited edition novella, Brotherhood of the Storm, gave us an insight into the background and mentality of the legion, but it’s in Scars that we discover what makes them unique. Traditionally the most basic comparison has always been with the Space Wolves legion; both legions being tribal, ritualistic and unruly. Wraight clearly deals with this comparison, providing distinction specifically between these two legions, without ever seeming to be giving us a lesson. The character viewpoints that demonstrate this are well written, and also provide unexpected revelations about the relationship between Jaghatai Khan, Primarch of the White Scars, and his brother Primarchs.
The most memorable scenes within Scars feature the Khan alongside (or maybe opposite is a better term?) his brother Primarchs. The personal relationships – the true brotherhoods, petty rivalries and more intense dislikes – have been heavily expanded upon in recent Horus Heresy novels, and Scars ably continues this trend. Whilst the more confrontational meetings will no doubt draw the most attention, one flashback scene featuring the Khan and his brothers following the triumph at Ullanor is a standout moment. During one brief scene, Wraight gave deep insight into the characters of four Primarchs, and sets the scene for future confrontations.
For those who like more action in their novels (and let’s face it, who doesn’t like a bit of bolter porn every now and again!), Scars doesn’t disappoint. We see several fleet engagements, and whilst some of it is too brief for my liking, each of the actions is well captured and used to demonstrate the uniqueness of the various combatants. We are also treated to more close quarter fighting, featuring participants from a variety of legions. Again, Wraight manages to convey subtle differences through the style of the combatants. In particular there is a brilliant contrast between the graceful, exquisite, almost perfect swordsmanship of the Khan, compared to a much more subdued style as both sides of the White Scars legion struggle to fully commit to conflict between themselves.
Despite my earlier praise, there are a few areas where I think Scars could have been improved. The final episode seemed to be rushed, as though too many separate threads had to come together in too little time and space. There were also subjects – certain legions – that were introduced early in the novel, and then failed to reappear later on, which I found particularly surprising. It’s possible that both these relate to specifically to the serialisation of the novel, which I will touch on later, but it could also be an intentional design to lead into future works. If that is the case, then I sincerely hope that Chris Wraight is given the opportunity to continue this story to the conclusion.
I was a little disappointed with the lack of depth to some of the legionaries. Although we got good characterisation for the main point of view characters, following on from The Brotherhood of the Storm, several of the leaders of the White Scars legion seemed indistinct from one another. In fairness, if I had to choose between excellent development of the Primarchs or various marines, then I know which I’d choose (and there is no doubt Wraight delivers the goods as far as the Primarchs are concerned).
So overall, my opinion of Scars is strongly favourable – in fact, I’d say it’s a superb novel. It’s definitely in the highest echelons of the series thus far (although, I seem to be saying that a lot these days!!). I would strongly recommend this to any fan of the series, although if you haven’t gone for the serialised version I would hold on for the full novel as, according to the list in The Unremembered Empire, it’s the next novel to be released.
So, leaving the actual novel behind, let’s discuss how it was released. Firstly it has to be said, if this novel wasn’t released as an e-book then we wouldn’t have seen it yet. The hardback release schedule for the Horus Heresy appears to be rigidly defined, and there is no way Scars would have been released within a few weeks of the The Unremembered Empire*. So, if nothing else the serialised format has given us more content, earlier than we were expecting.
* I’m not going to review The Unremembered Empire, so I’m just going to say the following – go and get a copy… right now… it’s a brilliant novel!
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the e-book format. I’d much rather have a physical copy in my hands to read, and I love collecting series I’m a fan of. So, having an e-book was never going to be the preferred choice for me. That said, there are a number of features that helped with a serialised format, specifically having the ability to search for character names in previous episodes was very useful, as I found it hard to keep track of some of the characters.
One of the big issues I had with the release was the absence of a ‘Dramatis Personae’ section (the list of main characters for anyone unfamiliar with the format of the novels). I guess this was intentional decision; it’s far easier to surprise the reader when they don’t know who is going to show up – and there was at least one big surprise towards the end of the novel – but I look forward to being able to read the full novel with a handy reference for the key White Scars characters who are all Something-Khan.
I’ve already talked about the rushed feel of the final episode in the novel, and whilst it might have always been planned this way, I can’t help feel that the format has driven the content to its detriment. I’m not au fait with the process of writing a serialised novel, but I understand from twitter that the various episodes were written and delivered individually, rather than the whole novel being written and then cut to make the separate episodes. I also understand (but might be wrong on this – heck, I might be wrong on the whole blog!) that Wraight was finishing the final episodes several weeks after the publication of episode one. To be clear, I don’t feel that time was an issue, as the quality of the writing never suffers, but maybe the schedule prevented earlier episodes being amended so that the final one didn’t have to cover quite so much material.
It’s also clear, from reading it, that we were left with a cliff-hanger at the end of each episode. Now this is great on one hand, because the tension built up over the series, and each week we were left wanting more. In fact, it makes perfect sense to have done so, both from a literary and commercial point of view. I do wonder how this will work when the novel is read as a whole, and whether the final edited whole will have to contain any changes from the episodes we’ve already seen. The cliffhangers, whilst great in a serialised format, become less
relevant when you can just turn the page to the next chapter of a full novel.
As for the weekly release schedule, I guess this depends very much on your personal reading habits. As someone who tends to read a Horus Heresy novel in one sitting (especially when it’s a good one) I found reading this book over 3 months to be really hard. I was on holiday in the UK summer when the first episode was released and I can barely remember the summer!! I do however recognise this is just my preference, it’s not a problem with format, but more the reader!
I’m genuinely not sure whether I would pay for any future serialised releases. I don’t think the price is unreasonable at £1.50 per episode, although of course I’d be happy if it was cheaper. However, as a collector I will always want the hardback version, and I’m not sure I could justify paying for both the hardback and digital version. However, if you’re less interested in owning a physical copy, then a price of £18 for the entire series is less than paying for the hardback and would certainly get you the novel earlier.
Overall, a big thanks to Black Library for giving me the chance to review the series. I will definitely be getting the hardback as soon as it’s available, and would certainly recommend you give it a go whichever format you prefer to read it in!
If you have any comments about this blog, or anything at all Horus Heresy related, please either comment here or drop me a message on twitter @Marcoos14.
All the best,