The latest in the Horus Heresy series focusing on the White Scars, The Path of Heaven by Chris Wraight, brings the sons of the Khan ever closer to Terra. Though their path is set, it isn't without its perils and the warriors of Chogoris meet them head on.
It has been some time since I read Scars, the first Heresy novel about the White Scars, so my memory was a bit hazy on it. This proved a bit of an issue when I was trying to remember which characters were which. Shiban was the largest issue for me, since I couldn't recall exactly what had caused his injuries in the past novel, but it wasn't a huge issue. To me he was one of the more intriguing characters, since instead of being entombed within a Dreadnought they rebuilt his body as best they could. This still left him larger and more ungainly, at least by Astartes standards, then his Battle-Brothers and with a distinctly mechanical appearance. The story picks up several years after Scars with the Khan deciding it was time to gather back up the legion and make for Terra.
The White Scars are scattered across the galaxy, with several of them engaged in numerous hit and run actions meant as a distraction from the main affair. This is, in fact, what we open up to, with some awesome, intense, and fast paced action scenes. All of the action scenes in this are fairly fast paced which is only fitting for the White Scars. The majority of them are void battles as well, which I personally find to be the most interesting in 40k/30k fiction. Once a potential way to Terra is discovered the Legion is called to muster, this includes the exiled elements of it. In Scars we saw a good chunk of the legion declare its loyalty for Horus and attempt to bring the entirety of the White Scars over to the traitors' side. Instead of outright killing all of these traitors, the Khan instead gave them what amounted to suicide missions to redeem themselves. Split up into kill teams they were sent across the galaxy to disrupt and harry the traitors until they themselves were killed in action. This is fairly cool and shows off the level headedness of the Khan compared to some of his brothers. Though these marines rebelled against their Primarch, he knows the most of them did it from thinking they were helping the Khan and still had the legion's best interests at heart. Now that the legion as a whole is needed he even calls back these disparate elements which we see in the form of Torghun and his kill team.
After staging a raid on an Emperor's Children held world, the White Scars are on the scent of a particularly powerful navigator who may be able to help them circumnavigate the traitor blockade and reach Terra to help the Emperor. Standing in their way is initially Eidolon of the Emperor's Children and then later, once tasked by Horus, Mortarion and the majority of the Death Guard legion. The Deathlord has a particular bone to grind with the Khan after failing to convert him over to Horus' side in Scars and sees it as his duty to redeem his past failure by killing the White Scars Primarch now. Eidolon is of course being his usual egotistical self, which is always enjoyable to read. One of my favorite Emperor's Children characters is Cario, a Palatine Blade Prefector who fails to kill Shiban early on and is determined to finish the job later. What interests me most about him though is that he still holds to the old ideals of his legion and sees the depravity and indulgence enjoyed by his brothers as a hinderance and slightly a stain on their honor. Despite this, he know that the same fate is unavoidable for himself and accepts it, but intends to delay it for as long as possible. This leads to some fun scenes between himself and Eidolon since he essentially takes no gruff from no one and also shows how several of the traitor legions are already starting to fracture into what are essentially smaller warbands. None of the Emperor's Children in this book even know what their own Primarch is up to or where he is at.
The true stars of the novel, at least to me, are Yesugei, the Chief Librarian of the White Scars, and Arvida, a Thousand Sons sorcerer who joined the legion's ranks in Scars. Arvida is really a great character in that he sees the White Scars as his family now, but still refuses to take their colors and instead continues to wear the red and gold of his old legion. He does this almost as a mark of shame since he doesn't think he is worthy enough to don the white and red, and also because he himself will always view himself as an outsider who doesn't belong. He is also continually fighting against the flesh change that afflicts his whole legions, trying to master it while keeping it a secret from his new Battle-Brothers the whole time. Yesugei is the smartest and most humane of all of the White Scars. He is the most human and empathetic, and because of this, understands their place in the galaxy and the Imperium better then his brothers. He knows the role of the Space Marines is to safe guard the normal humans and ensure their survival, not the survival of the Marines themselves. Between himself and Ilya, a General from the Departmento Munitorum who joined the White Scars in the last novel, they act as the soul and moral guidance for the legion, and close advisors and friends to the Khan himself.
There are plenty of action scenes scattered throughout, with some fairly large ones opening up the story and acting as the finale. Like I said, they are pretty much all void battles, but I think this really showcases the abilities of the Space Marines at their best. The finale is particularly well handled, with the combined Death Guard and Emperor's Children forces trying their best to stop what is essentially a Hail Mary from the White Scars. The battle between the two forces is exciting and fun, as is the more mysterious and slightly slower paced investigation by the White Scars into their ticket home. There is also a divide amongst the astartes of the White Scars on whether Terra should really be their goal or if they should just spend their might against the Traitors in the void in an effort to slow their progress, or even head home to their true home world of Chogoris to safe guard it in the turbulent times. Like Pharos before it, The Path of Heaven really does a lot to move the story forward towards the final confrontation on Terra, which, as someone who has been reading this series since Horus Rising came out in 2006, is nice to see. It really gives the series a sense of momentum and finality that it was somewhat missing for a bit in the middle. It's all coming down to Terra and it's coming soon by the looks of it. I wouldn't be surprised if we start to see books focusing on the final showdown within the next two years or so. The days of the Horus Heresy series are coming to an end, but it will definitely go out with a bang, and this novel did a terrific job of continuing to set that up. Everyone know that the White Scars need to be there for the final siege, so seeing how they got there and what it costs them is fantastic. Not only did it move the overall story forward, but it continued to flesh out this mysterious legion in a way that it wasn't prior to Chris Wraight taking the reins. Sacrifices are made and familiar faces leave us, but I very much doubt this is the last we will see of the White Scars in the series. In fact, I would be pretty shocked if Chris didn't helm a novel focusing on them while on Terra. Not only do they have the traitors to contend with, but an Imperium who is distrustful of their legion, and a brother Primarch, Russ, who has a bone to pick with them after their abandonment of his forces in Scars.
All in all this was a great addition to the Heresy and did a fantastic job at taking what could have been a rather boring point A to point B story and made it into an exciting and thoughtful novel. It also does a lot to set up future plot lines, including a showdown, or reconciliation, between Mortarion and his wayward son, Typhon, which is the book I'm most looking forward to. As a pretty much direct follow up to Scars I would recommend reading this if you're a White Scars fan. It's also pretty essential to the buildup to the Siege of Terra, so I would put this on your must read list for the Heresy in general. The only book I think you REALLY need to read ahead of this to understand what's going on is Scars. Having said that, Fulgrim, A Thousand Sons, and any of the shorter stories focusing on Eidolon would be an added bonus and only add to your understanding and enjoyment of the novel.
The Path of Heaven is another stellar addition to the series by Chris Wraight and I definitely look forward to his conclusion to the White Scars storyline in the Heresy and anything else he has to add. If you're a Heresy fan pick up this book, you won't be disappointed.
Until next time,