It’s been a while! I’ve been working my way slowly through the twenty-eighth novel in the Horus Heresy series, Scars. Written by Chris Wraight, one of my favourite Warhammer novelists, it’s actually a really good read, albeit a bit of an odd one. Originally serialised online back in 2013, the story does have some elements that mark it out as such, such as the occasional recaps.
The novel, unsurprisingly, features the White Scars legion front and centre (I think the only time we’ve seen them previously was the sixth novel, Descent of Angels). The legion is a bit of an anomaly, as they are still almost always deployed as a single unit, rather than in multiple warbands to multiple fronts. The legion has, up to this point, been deployed on Chondax. We get a lot of background on them, following in particular two initiates and their careers in the legion – one a Chogorian called Shiban, and a Terran called Torghun who was originally intended to join the Luna Wolves. We also follow the primarch himself, Jaghatai Khan, as the pacing is quite broad during the beginning. The system has been cut off with Warp storms, however, leaving the Khan awaiting orders, and his legion subsequently restless.
In contrast, we also see the Space Wolves dealing with the aftermath of the battle on Prospero. While they are licking their own wounds, they are set upon by the Alpha Legion, some of whom board the Wolves’ ships and, when confronted, state that they are doing the Emperor’s work.
When the White Scars emerge from the storms, they receive multiple conflicting orders, including from Rogal Dorn asking for them to join him on Terra for the defense. The Khan, going against all of the orders that he has received, decides to go to Prospero to see for sure if Magnus has been defeated, and in an effort to learn the truth of what is happening in the galaxy. The planet has been utterly devastated, and teleporting down to the surface with his keshig guard, the Khan is beset by psychic ghosts and separated from his bodyguard. He discovers a psychic projection of Magnus however, who confirms that the Space Wolves attacked his legion, although he understands now the reasons for his censure.
While in orbit, it emerges that there are several warrior lodges within the legion, however, and as the novel goes on, it transpires that these lodges are in communication with the Sons of Horus, and believe that their true purpose is to join them in their rebellion. One of the lord commanders of the legion, Hasik, effectively leads a coup on the ships, awaiting the arrival of the Sons of Horus to join them. However, the legion who arrives to support the coup is the Death Guard, with Mortarion joining Jaghatai on the surface in an attempt to convince him to join Horus’ cause.
Needless to say, Jaghatai is not to be swayed, and things are finally made clear as regards what is happening in the universe when Targutai Yesughei, the legion’s chief librarian, arrives with news that the Warmaster has indeed gone over to Chaos, having himself come across some survivors from Isstvan III in the course of his travels across the galaxy.
This is actually a really great book, one that I enjoyed a lot. The atmosphere of uncertainty in the galaxy at this time is captured really well, in particular with the use of the Alpha Legion launching their attacks on both the Space Wolves and the White Scars. The inclusion of the Alpha Legion, and their misdirection, was quite a masterstroke really, as their presence is often guaranteed to add to the air of confusion.
There is a fantastic battle sequence when the White Scars punch through the attack of the Alpha Legion – we get to see that they are really a unique legion for their use of speed. They use a lot of pseudo-Mongolian throughout the book, which I was surprised didn’t interfere too much with the telling of the story as things went along. Often with such things, I find them hard-going, but there was obviously just the right amount used that meant it wasn’t hard to keep track!
The book is a little odd in that the story seems to just forget about the Space Wolves around halfway through. Of course, I’m not a Space Wolves fan at all, so I’m not really missing that side of things, but it did feel a bit strange how they were just left out. Anyway! It was really interesting to see the events of the burning of Prospero revisited, too, and to see what has happened to the planet since the attack. Of course, it was a little bit contrived how one Thousand Sons legionary had managed to survive and led the keshig guard to safety, etc, but I suppose the narrative needed something!
Something that I keep coming back to, though, is just how effective the atmosphere of the unknown is here. The Khan really doesn’t know who to trust, and so reverts to his old friend Magnus, with whom he had pushed so strongly for the use of the librarius within the legions. There is a moment of great irony when Yesughei remarks how the Edict of Nikea has effectively hamstrung the loyalists, removing their greatest weapon against the traitors and their Warp-craft. Even though we’re still roughly around the mid-point of the series, there is a sense already of trying to pull together several plot elements from across the wider Heresy, and making a cohesive narrative out of things. Whether that was intentional or not, I don’t know, but it’s really quite remarkable how the author is able to make the book feel like the legion have been sidelined, keeping them apart from the rest of the goings-on in the galaxy, but at the same time pulling together these plot threads to make it all feel like one long story. Bravo, that man!
Overall, though, I thought this was a really fascinating look at the legion that has been somewhat on the sidelines for the series up to now. We’re 28 books in, and only now seeing yet another “new” legion – crazy! Of course, we haven’t really met the Night Lords or the Iron Hands in proper novels, either, which just feels ridiculous now that I think about it!