Review: The Path of Heaven by Chris Wraight

Posted by DarkChaplain at 5/07/2016
The Khan returns! After the events of 'Scars', the White Scars Legion have chosen their loyalties. Now, after years of battle against the traitors, it's time to return to Terra and prepare for the inevitable invasion. But first, Jaghatai and his warriors must brave a gauntlet of enemies and the terrors of the warp...

For too long had the Vth Legion ranged out beyond the sight of the wider Imperium, remaining ignorant of the Warmaster’s rebellion and the war that inevitably followed. Only once their primarch, Jaghatai Khan, had satisfied himself that the path before them was just and true did the White Scars choose a side, taking the fight to the traitors on every front. But, four years later, the Legion’s unfettered spirit has been broken by relentless attritional warfare against the Death Guard and the Emperor’s Children – the Khan’s Stormseers must find a clear route to Terra if they are to take part in the final, apocalyptic battle.
The Path of Heaven is a monumental entry in the Horus Heresy series. It achieves much, reveals details about the nature of the war and the Emperor's secrets, but also develops not just one but three Legions and as many Primarchs beyond what we have seen so far.
While some sections might drag on a little too much in the early chapters, things pick up speed later on, and end with some very powerful scenes. As a whole, I loved this novel.

The Story:
"The Khan returns! After the events of 'Scars', the White Scars Legion have chosen their loyalties. Now, after years of battle against the traitors, it's time to return to Terra and prepare for the inevitable invasion. But first, Jaghatai and his warriors must brave a gauntlet of enemies and the terrors of the warp...

For too long had the Vth Legion ranged out beyond the sight of the wider Imperium, remaining ignorant of the Warmaster’s rebellion and the war that inevitably followed. Only once their primarch, Jaghatai Khan, had satisfied himself that the path before them was just and true did the White Scars choose a side, taking the fight to the traitors on every front. But, four years later, the Legion’s unfettered spirit has been broken by relentless attritional warfare against the Death Guard and the Emperor’s Children – the Khan’s Stormseers must find a clear route to Terra if they are to take part in the final, apocalyptic battle."

The Review
Chris Wraight has set the foundation for the White Scars Legion in Scars, a couple of years back. He builds on his successes in this installment, set over four years after the conclusion of Scars. It shows a very different picture from the laughing speed-riders of the Ordu of Jaghatai, however. They are at breaking point; weary, their moods far removed from joy. The war of attrition they have been waging to delay the Warmaster's forces has taken its toll on them, and they are on the verge of losing their soul as a Legion.

The difference between the two books' renditions of the White Scars may be jarring to readers. Some characters, like Shiban Khan of the Brotherhood of the Storm, signify the strongest discrepancies - visibly scarred from the climax of Scars, he is bitter, quick to hold grudges, out for revenge and willing to throw everything away to get it. His position within the Legion has changed, too.

Even Jaghatai, Primarch of the White Scars, is feeling time running out. He is desperate to bring his Legion back to Terra to defend the Throneworld, trying to fulfill his oaths. With the Warp being unstable and the traitors at his heels, the way is closed to him, and he has to gamble with the lives of his sons.
He is also very reflective this time around, musing on the Emperor and his reasons for leaving the Great Crusade. One of those scenes brings one of the most evocative, tragic yet powerful quotes the series has seen to date to the table:

So I fight for a Father who I never loved, against a brother that I did. I defend an empire that never wanted me against an army that would have taken me in a heartbeat.

It does a wonderful job illustrating Jaghatai's position in the Imperium, yet also shows an incredible strength of character that catapulted the Khagan to my top favorite Primarchs. He is set apart from his brothers in so many ways, not least of all his will to be true to himself and do what he sees as right, even as he sees his Legion falling apart.

This puts him into contrast with Mortarion, the other Primarch in a main role here. The two have unfinished business, of course. Mortarion, though, abandoned the Imperium in an attempt to get rid of warpcraft and psykers. Ironically, he gave it all another, stronger foothold in doing so, and now he struggles with his new position. While at the same time he wishes to stand beside Horus at Terra and be in the Warmaster's favor, he is trying to understand the warp and sorcery while keeping it firmly leashed and outlawed within the region.

Wraight really dialed Mortarion's corruption-meter back from McNeill's version in Vengeful Spirit, where he unleashed a personified life-eater virus. While this could be interpreted as inconsistencies between authors' visions of a character, I think Chris sold it well enough to not feel that way to me. If anything, I enjoy how Mortarion is being shown as balancing on the knife's edge. He will fall, of course, and cut himself. We know the destination, as with many things Heresy, but The Path of Heaven gave us another satisfying bit of the journey.

The third Legion in play (beyond the sorta-cameos of two more) are the Emperor's Children, who have a bigger role overall than the Death Guard. Mortarion is shown more often interacting with Lord Commander Eidolon, now called the Soul-Severed, than his own Legion.
Eidolon is now in command of about a third of Fulgrim's Legion, and it all gave off vibes of early Chaos warbands, especially due to the introduction of Ravasch Cario, Prefector of the Palatine Blades. His encounter with Eidolon was both entertaining and exciting, and his role over the course of the story was cool to follow. His position within the Emperor's Children is a tenuous one indeed.

What I did not enjoy as much about the novel were early action scenes, which fulfilled their purpose of showing the complex maneuvering of the Khagan, but also felt a little disjointed and dragged on for almost a quarter of the book.
I wish the author had instead focused a little more on a couple of (in my opinion) underused characters and developed the relationship between Shiban and Torghun Khan more. The resolution to their plotline felt lukewarm to me, especially considering what they've been through since Brotherhood of the Storm, and how they were always set up as contrasting characters. They have made somewhat of a role reversal in this book, which I liked a lot, but I think that Wraight could have taken it a little farther still.

At the end of it, though, this book was full of memorable moments. Gutwrenching ones, too. There were many deaths I wouldn't have expected going in, and most of them left some sort of impact on me. Experiencing the Khagan's pained reactions to it all left a scar, too.
The Path of Heaven did a fantastic job showing us the weariness of the Legions, and how the Heresy is taking its toll on everyone. I felt that this installment did a better job at that than any other book so far.

But the end is coming at long last. This one definitely opens up the next phase of the Heresy War in a bombastic way (quite literally, all things considered), and progresses the plot on many points. To me, it felt revitalizing for the series as a whole, after many excursions to the Eastern Fringes or the bunch of anthologies following the draught of new releases in 2015 year. The series needed a book as strong as The Path of Heaven, and while it isn't without flaws and some missed potential, it is a very strong entry.

‘Do not grieve. I saw him before we were pulled out. He was already laughing.’

I could ramble on about many details and characters about the book that I enjoyed, but really, I am just going to recommend reading it yourselves. If you have kept up with the series this far, you owe it to yourselves to dig into The Path of Heaven. And if you have been frustrated by the lack of progress on the main plot points, or the Imperium Secundus arc, then this should still be something to look into.

The Path of Heaven takes the Scars through hell, and I was glad to be along for the journey.

The Path of Heaven on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


The Reading Lamp

0 comments:

Leave a Reply

DarkChaplain's bookshelf: read

The Dragon Engine
Tomb Raider II #7
Star Wars #22
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Adaptation #3
Deathwatch: The Last Guardian
The Harrowing
Whacky
The Awakening
Blackshield
Poe Dameron #5


DarkChaplain's favorite books »