Riders on the storm
This cracking Horus Heresy yarn offers a rare look at a seldom written-about Space Marine legion.
WHEN it comes to Warhammer 40,000 and the Horus Heresy books, there are some chapters of Space Marines – those genetically-enhanced beings bred purely for battle – that have received quite a lot of exposure. Some to the point of overexposure.
The Ultramarines? It’s like they live right next door. Those shattered legions like the Salamanders, Raven Guard and Iron Hands? Cry me a river (of blood) already. The Space Wolves? My neighbour already has a Rottweiler, thank you. Angels? Enough of them, Dark and Blood. And of course we have been “treated” to the shenanigans of various traitor legions – Lorgar’s whiny Word Bearers, the debased and decadent Emperor’s Children, the ultra-brutal World Eaters, to name just three.
So it’s really a treat to finally get a Horus Heresy novel that focuses on one very often overlooked legion: those Mongols in power armour, the White Scars. And it’s by a very well received writer, Chris Wraight, whose two Space Marine Battles (SMB) books – Battle Of The Fang and Wrath Of Iron – are pleasingly convention-defying entries in a sub-imprint that usually consists of page after page of bloody battles.
Wraight previously served up a limited-edition Horus Heresy novella Brotherhood Of The Storm, which also focused on the White Scars – whose only other book-length tale I can recall is the SMB novel Hunt For Voldorius by Andy Hoare.
Scars details what the legion and its primarch, Jaghatai Khan, got up to just before and in the early months of the Heresy, when the Imperium of Man is sundered by the corruption and subsequent rebellion of its most honoured sons.
This book’s subtitle is “The legion divided”, which pretty much speaks for itself. The White Scars were not above the insidious founding of secret “lodges” within their ranks, instigated by Horus himself. If you’ve been a regular Horus Heresy reader, chances are your eyebrows would have risen quite high at the mention of those lodges.
The book starts out with two contrasting points of view: that of the legionary Shiban, a native of the White Scars homeworld Chogoris; and of the Earth-born legionary Torghun, initially a candidate for Horus’ own legion but failing to make the grade by just this much.
The book follows their parallel paths, which converge and then diverge at several points. But given that it takes place in such a sweeping setting, Scars cannot be content with restricting its focus to two ... well, grunts, as it were.
A significant portion takes place from the perspective of Torgutai Yesugei, the legion’s Stormseer – or Chief Librarian, which is the Warhammer universe’s peculiar way of making a sorceror sound like something completely different.
And, of course, a lot of the book also deals with the primarch Jaghatai’s own reflections on the state of the galaxy, his brother primarchs, his hunger for answers about what is going on, and some interaction with those super-powerful siblings of his.
Most deliciously, Wraight also throws in an encounter with yet another seldom-read-about legion, the Death Guard; or, best of all, their seldom-glimpsed primarch Mortarion.
It’s a rare treat, then, to see them face off here because Scars reminds us of the key role both these primarchs played in the Council of Nikaea, a pivotal event in the pre-heresy days.
With so many aspects to the story, something has to give. The biggest casualty, to me, was the whole Shiban-Torghun contrast, because they just aren’t distinctive enough as characters and get crowded out by the likes of Yesugei and, of course, the Khan himself.
The Horus Heresy series has seldom given itself over to such all-out action as the 40K books, but Scars has enough bursts of it – and told excitingly in seemingly less space than the typical Black Library author takes to stoke the reader up to a page-flipping pace – so it doesn’t get bogged down by all that reflection, soul-searching and questioning of authority (both Horus and the Emperor’s).
Most of all, it is also a noteworthy instalment because it proves (perhaps to Black Library as well as its consumers) that there’s still a wealth of tales that can be told about the less well-known aspects of its universe. While we’re on that tack, a Death Guard book focusing on Mortarion is far too long overdue.