Review: Deliverance Lost by Gav Thorpe

Posted by DarkChaplain at 10/23/2016
As the Horus Heresy divides the Imperium, Corax and his few remaining Raven Guard escape the massacre at Isstvan V. Tending to their wounds, the bloodied Space Marines endeavour to replenish their numbers and return to the fray, taking the fight to the traitor Warmaster. Distraught at the crippling blow dealt to his Legion, Corax returns to Terra to seek the aid of his father – the Emperor of Mankind.
Granted access to ancient secrets, Corax begins to rebuild the Raven Guard, planning his revenge against his treacherous brother primarchs. But not all his remaining warriors are who they appear to be… the mysterious Alpha Legion have infiltrated the survivors and plan to destroy the Raven Guard before they can rebuild and threaten Horus’s plans.
I took some time to revisit Deliverance Lost before going for Corax, the latest Horus Heresy installment. I'd recommend you do the same.

The Story:
"As the Horus Heresy divides the Imperium, Corax and his few remaining Raven Guard escape the massacre at Isstvan V. Tending to their wounds, the bloodied Space Marines endeavour to replenish their numbers and return to the fray, taking the fight to the traitor Warmaster. Distraught at the crippling blow dealt to his Legion, Corax returns to Terra to seek the aid of his father – the Emperor of Mankind.
Granted access to ancient secrets, Corax begins to rebuild the Raven Guard, planning his revenge against his treacherous brother primarchs. But not all his remaining warriors are who they appear to be… the mysterious Alpha Legion have infiltrated the survivors and plan to destroy the Raven Guard before they can rebuild and threaten Horus’s plans."

The Review:
Deliverance lost was, admittedly, one of my least-favorite Horus Heresy novels when I read it upon release, many years ago. With Corax finally released, collecting the novellas and finishing the story arc begun with this novel, I figured it would be best to re-read the old novel in preparation for the new anthology.
And what do you know, it is far better than I remembered, and much better than the internet's denizens would have you believe.

In essence, this is a book about the Raven Guard dealing with their trauma after the disastrous Dropsite Massacre of Isstvan V. The Legion is in tatters, with a mere few thousand remaining of their number. Corax is willing to throw even those remaining sons of his away to hurt Horus in simple vengeance missions, but after arriving on Terra for an audience with the Emperor of Mankind, he is offered a new opportunity:
Rebuilding the Legion using the Primarch Project's genetech, and striking back as a Legion again.

On the other hand, we have the Alpha Legion plotting against the Raven Guard and Horus. They have infiltrated the ravens by replacing Astartes at the Dropsite Massacre with their own, psychically implanting memories from the real legionaries into their own dudes, changing faces surgically and the likes. They know of the Raven Guard's gift from the Emperor, ahead of time, and wish to steal it for themselves.

Sprinkled throughout, we find flashbacks to the time up to the arrival of the Emperor on Deliverance, showing Corax and his group of rebels acting to free the prison moon of Lycaeus from the Tech Guilds. Corax is presented as super intelligent, but morally unstable until he gets taught philosophy, history and more by old wise men in the prison complex. Where he seems, at first, eager to just end the guards on his own without fuss, he is taught not to be too rash and consider carefully.
This, to me, seems like a cool counterpoint to Konrad Curze, the Night Haunter, who grew up in darkness as well, but had nobody to rely on or to trust, nobody to teach him right from wrong. Corax himself fears and hates the Night Haunter and recognizes that he could have ended up similar under slightly different circumstances: A terrorist rather than a revolutionary rebel leader.

The flashbacks, though I didn't like them occuring in the middle of regular chapters, relatively suddenly to lead in other scenes and give them expanded contrast (such as Captain Branne being willing to sacrifice innocents for the greater good, like Corax reluctantly did before the coming of the Emperor), were well-done and reinforce Corax' relationship with various key figures and his early philosophy of being a freedom fighter, not a conqueror.
This stands in heavy contrast to the obsessed, blind figure Corax becomes throughout the book, caring less and less about his fellow Raven Guard and more about his own need for vengeance and the fastest ways to achieve it.

Despite all the bits of pre-Legion history or the Alpha Legion shenanigans orchestrated by Alpharius and Omegon, the book really is about Corax. It is about the gene-experiments and the creation of the Raptors, too, of course, but primarily it seemed to me as a study of Corax' growing distance between himself and his remaining Legion, his obsession with a supposedly simple solution, his impatience and disregard for what he has left in favor of reaching for the stars and risking to lose everything he had left.

Throughout the book, Corax goes from contemplating self-sacrifice in a suicidal charge against Angron of the World Eaters to numb to angry and spiteful, before throwing himself at his father's feet to ask for his blessing in throwing his remaining sons away to hurt Horus anyway possible. While recovering the gene-tech, he risks throwing away his trusted sons to pave the way for the future. When the experiments start back home on Deliverance, he pushes aside obvious problems within the Raven Guard, especially between Isstvanites and the remainers under Branne, and the odd behavior of some Legionaries, to focus on the creation of new super-soldiers.

Corax becomes increasingly ruthless in his pursuits. He ends up disconnected from the actual proceedings and appears to put a lot of pressure on his captains over it. Instead of solving squabbles between two of his most favored and longest-serving sons, he figures he could just replace them if they carry on, but their strife isn't a priority. He keeps making demands of the apothecary and magos working on the gene-tech that are unreasonable and too much, too quickly, and when Branne confronts him about the rash, overzealous nature of the first batches of Raptors, Corax gets significantly angry and shrugs it all off - instead of listening to the sound advice of his senior staff, he wants to expand the recruitment instead of doing a thorough job, to hit some arbitrary goals he set for his Legion.

Deliverance Lost is a story about Corax's obsession and hubris, first and foremost. While the Alpha Legion scenes were great and well-done, throwing the reader off on multiple occassions and seeing their perspective of their host-Legion (and the effect the memory-implantations have on them), it is the Primarch of the Raven Guard that was best characterized. His shame is more than losing his Legion, disappointing the Emperor and screwing up his recruits in the later batches. His biggest shame is neglecting his Legion, forgetting his principles and turning on his friends. Re-reading the book has made that pretty obvious to me, and for that I love the book.

I also want to praise it for the way Gav Thorpe managed to plant the seeds of suspicion within the reader. Piling up erratic behavior through the Alpha Legionaries and certain characters and ramping up the tension of the infiltration, he provided a magnificent red herring for readers to follow. He plays on us to put the hints together in a suitable way, and the resulting reveals end up more surprising than they otherwise would have been. It was well executed throughout the whole book, which shows that Gav does pretty well with intrigue stories; no surprise considering he has been writing Dark Angels for so long.

What I didn't quite enjoy were things like the absence of Marcus Valerius and the Therion Cohort for most of the book. They play a part early on and have a pretty great scene midway, but due to logistical reasons they only take part again at the very end. The Custodes, too, felt a bit too nitpicky and their presence on Deliverance was hardly felt. More could have been done with them, I am sure.

Another gripe is the very end of the book. Corax finally gets his will when the Raven Guard assault the Perfect Fortress of the Emperor's Children in the final chapter, following on from scenes within the same chapter that would have made for a pretty good ending to the book already. But instead of closing it, the story carries on with Corax and his Legion going back to the action.
I can see why this was a necessary part of the book, and that it had to go there after the apparent realizations of Corax. Still, I cannot help but feel that this final part was an afterthought, thrown in to show Corax and co in action, as the majority of the novel didn't have much bolter activity to show. The climax at Ravendelve certainly did, and I thought that appropriate and good enough to not require another batch of combat scenes afterwards - but Corax didn't take an active part in it. As a result, there had to be more to present the restored Primarch.

That said, it felt like the book overstayed its welcome with the Perfect Fortress. It threw the pacing off, adding action to a book whose strengths lay in the subterfuge and internal strife of its characters.
Some people still go on and on about Corax being "emo" and like an edgy teenager, but that's not at all how he is. Rather, he is as driven and prone to obsession as any of his brothers. For him the direction just ended up different. Instead of looking for higher powers like Lorgar, longing for perfection and ever greater stimuli like Fulgrim, or even just for order and structure like Guilliman, Corax turned to vengeance, and it consumed him until the big wake-up call. That doesn't mean that his trauma of Isstvan V is over and he should forget it, or that his mistakes from this novel should not cast their shadow over the novellas that carry on from here.

Gav Thorpe managed to detail a Primarch that is in many ways familiar and like his brothers, but also notably different in tone. I appreciate that and think that Deliverance Lost, as a book, is far more worthy of respect than many fans seem to think. It sets the stage for many things to come, and even answered some questions as to the Emperor's whereabouts and what happened to the Remembrancers within the Loyalist Legions.
It gave some valuable insights into the Primarch Project and the Emperor's plans and showed his genius via the mechanical labyrinth guarding the gene-tech. While I found the chapters dealing with the recovery a little tedious, I cannot dispute their necessity to the story, as the intricately designed lock it presented made the defenses seem plausible and functional.

Deliverance Lost has a lot to offer to fans of the Horus Heresy, the Raven Guard and the Alpha Legion and enriches the setting as a whole. I wish we could all just dispense with the cries of "emo" and condemnation of Corax and Gav Thorpe's vision for him. It is fitting for the Lord of Ravens in my eyes, and never done to the extent that it would reach into the comical. Nothing here is as melodramatic as the simple farewell Corax left to his sons, as per the old background material.
As for myself, I am happy I gave it another shot instead of declaring "Nevermore" and turning my back on the Raven Guard plotline. It was well-worth the time investment.

Deliverance Lost 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


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