Review: Corax by Gav Thorpe

Posted by DarkChaplain at 11/04/2016
The Lord of Ravens, Master of Deliverance, Primarch Corus Corvax of the Raven Guard takes centre stage in a collection of works by Gav Thorpe that explore his campaign of vengeance against Horus' allies and his desperate attempts to hold his Legion together.

After Isstvan, after Deliverance, the Raven Guard still endure. Their primarch Corvus Corax has rallied countless warriors to his banner, striking back at the forces of the Warmaster on every front – from the degenerate hereteks of the Mechanicum to the cruel legionaries of the Sons of Horus, none shall escape his wrath. But although Corax has managed to stall the physical corruption of his own Space Marines, what of their spirit? And what sinister end must await those who dwell forever in the darkness?
Well, we've reached #40 in the Horus Heresy series now. Despite the naysayers in comment sections across the net, the series is definitely on its final approach to Terra - and Corax takes us close to it. In fact, it even goes beyond the Siege of Terra and shows us a glimpse of the Scouring-era Raven Guard, and their Primarch. This anthology wraps up the Raven Guard story arc started with Raven's Flight and Deliverance Lost, which I recently re-read and reviewed in preparation of this one.

The Story:
"The Lord of Ravens, Master of Deliverance, Primarch Corus Corvax of the Raven Guard takes centre stage in a collection of works by Gav Thorpe that explore his campaign of vengeance against Horus' allies and his desperate attempts to hold his Legion together.

After Isstvan, after Deliverance, the Raven Guard still endure. Their primarch Corvus Corax has rallied countless warriors to his banner, striking back at the forces of the Warmaster on every front – from the degenerate hereteks of the Mechanicum to the cruel legionaries of the Sons of Horus, none shall escape his wrath. But although Corax has managed to stall the physical corruption of his own Space Marines, what of their spirit? And what sinister end must await those who dwell forever in the darkness?"

The Review:
Corax is an anthology of three novellas and three short stories. With the exception of Weregeld, the exclusive final part to the Raven Guard story arc, I have read them all before, with somewhat lukewarm feelings on most. Re-reading them all so soon after re-reading Deliverance Lost, all in conjunction and without months if not years of wait between the installments, made me appreciate the whole thing a lot more than I did piecemeal. Every bit adds another piece to Corax as a character and the Raven Guard's struggles after the Dropsite Massacre. While not a sweeping, continuous narrative, the somewhat episodic nature of the novellas and shorts allowed Gav Thorpe to explore various defining elements of the Legion and their Primarch and keep piling up drama, before making it crash down on Corax in the finale.

I was contemplating just how to approach this review. With it being an anthology, reviewing the individual parts might be appropriate, but then I also think that a kind of strict separation would do the book a disservice. While yes, all pieces have been released individually over the years, they still form a compelling hole and carry character arcs throughout, and the satisfaction I got from it was in large parts down to seeing things flow from one to the next, whereas individually I wasn't sure about the novellas. So I am going to be all over the place with this write-up, trying to do both.

The book opens up with a prelude cut out of Weregeld, the new novella. It takes the reader right into the action of the finale, showing us a gravely-wounded Leman Russ, his Wolves and the Raven Guard surrounded by Alpha Legion, World Eaters and Thousand Sons. Now you may ask how that comes to be (and so does Corax, at the end of this prelude), the Thousand Sons haven't officially joined Horus yet, after all, and Russ has barely left Terra at the end of The Path of Heaven. The answer is simple: Weregeld is placed later in the timeline than anything else before it, with Horus about to take the key system to attack the Sol System in force.
What exactly Russ was up to isn't elaborated on, but various hints were and are given which make me look forward to whatever Chris Wraight may be up to with him (since it is a safe bet he'll be in charge of the next, and potentially final piece of the Wolves' plotline before the Siege, given his track record).

After this damn exciting prelude, the book goes back to the start: Corax: Soulforge, here without the prefix. It is set maybe a year after the conclusion of Deliverance Lost, and Corax and his Legion are still raiding supply lines, ships and freeing planets that had fallen to the traitors. One such boarding action gets Corax, Branne and Agapito onto a Word Bearers ship, and shows the mad hunger for vengeance Agapito has been harboring since Isstvan V. Due to his actions, the whole thing almost goes bust, and he becomes a central figure to the plot afterwards. His need for vengeance is a focal point in Soulforge, and stands in for the Raven Guard's collective need to get back at the Traitor Legions.
While this Agapito character arc was fairly predictable in its outcome (him getting over it and getting his priorities straight again), it was nice to see the collective trauma of the Legion being addressed in a personal manner. It also reinforced the whole "attack, retreat, attack again" mantra of the Raven Guard - Agapito was all too willing to commit to a fight unto death, rather than using the guerrilla tactics the ravens and liberators of Lycaeus have been known for.

The novella itself leads Corax and Agapito to a Mechanicum world. A delegation of Word Bearers has seemingly come to turn the highest-ranking Mechanicum adept and instigated a row of despicable experiments attempting to merge daemon and machine. Yep, this is where we see the first Defilers making their way into the universe. I liked that it wasn't just the more recent Chaos machine breeds, but the iconic spider-legged monstrosities. They have been relatively overlooked in recent years, whereas they've always been something monstrous and cool in my eyes, and set the Chaos Space Marines of 40k apart from the loyalist Chapters' tanks.
Either way, Corax is hell-bent on stopping the Word Bearers and Archmagos Delvere, and allies with the loyal/undecided adepts to achieve victory. First contact is made through Corax running in on a secret discussion between the adepts, trying to figure out a course of action for their barge-city, and whether or not to recognize Delvere's leadership and the Dark Mechanicum as a whole. Corax joins in and convinces them that they can take back the planet, and subsequently assumes command of the barge-city of Atlas.

This part of the book mostly shows off just how much of a tactical genius Corax is, commanding disparate forces from multiple sources and maximizing the effect every piece in the game has on the outcome. He stokes a civilian uprising, distracts the opposing forces with his own legionaries under Agapito, and then swoops into the action himself for the deciding decapitation. While I can see complaints of Corax not being shown as kick-ass like other Primarchs who engage more in open combat, I felt that the rebel leader role of Corvus and his Legion's guerrilla spirit are well-presented here. Corax, despite his close combat gear, is more interesting to me as a tactician, overseeing the greater whole of a war rather than stumbling into the thick of it.

When he finally makes his move, it is to great effect, even though he does get a bit of a beating before the end. On top of that, he gets confronted with the nature of the Warp once more, and sees its corrupting influence first hand and at a larger scale than before. This causes new doubts and fears in the Primarch, returning the plot back to the mutated Raptors and his experiments in Deliverance Lost. While the Raptors themselves only featured in the first chapters of the novella, their increasing degredation is undeniable, and Corax draws obvious parallels with the Word Bearers since Isstvan.

After this novella follows the short story The Shadowmasters, featuring and, in fact, introducing the Mor Deythan, an elite part of the Raven Guard, based on legionaries that seemingly inherited Corax's ability to make themselves near undetectable. It is an infiltration-type story that supports Soulforge from the shadows. It isn't necessary to the overall plot but still a nice bit that connects the additions from ForgeWorld's Horus Heresy line to the ongoing Raven Guard plot. Originally this story was part of the Limited Edition of Soulforge, so I'm glad to see it in print for everyone now.

Next up is Ravenlord (which always bugged me for not having the Corax:-prefix of its predecessor), the second novella. Where Soulforge tackled the vengeance topic and the abhorrent experiments of the Dark Mechanicum and Word Bearers, this one deals with the Legion's paranoia post-Deliverance Lost, and has Corax issuing a call to arms to re-unite the scattered loyalist forces under his banner. It also makes dealing with the Raptor-problem unavoidable for Corax, as it throws the experiments Fabius has been working on in the meantime right in his face.
It also shows the measures of psychic screening that the Raven Guard adapted after Deliverance, with Balsar Kuthuri, who featured before, taking on the task of mind-reading and, surprisingly, encountering barriers around secrets in a Raven Guard force that seemingly managed to escape Isstvan V long after the Primarch.

Ravenlord kept me guessing. Like Deliverance Lost, it threw the possibility of a traitor among the ranks into the air, and tried to mislead the reader. It works to reflect the Primarch's own paranoia and distrust, even when reunited with one of his closest sons. Secrets and shame, arrogance and betrayal all factor in here. Corax, with his "I don't need a bodyguard" bravado from Raven's Flight, is walking on a knife's edge here, and even when support arrives his paranoia starts to make him run in circles, second guessing the intentions of his lieutenants.
In many ways this novella threw me back to the pre-Imperium time of Lycaeus, with Corax reminiscing about it and reconsidering his actions, decisions and the way he granted some of his early supporters absolution for unworthy deeds, in recognition of their services to him and the rebellion. To me that just showed that Corax is willing to compromise justice and integrity in a bid for a greater good, and that this may lead to further troubles down the road.

Where Soulforge had Corax firmly on the path of vengeance, Ravenlord sees his doubt about everything he has done, every fibre of his nature, grow and almost consume him. He is haunted by his past, both of his life on Lycaeus and the Raptors experiment. Some people claim that Corax is just "emo", but I think differently. If Fulgrim, Ferrus, Angron, and even Horus have their vices, doubts and grudges, then Corax is in good company with his own struggles. He is as broken as all the rest, yet still getting back up for a greater good.

The vile experiments of Fabius and the Sons of Horus were nicely done here, and exemplified just how much of a risk this line of research poses to the Imperium. The "New Men" or "Astartes Superior" are brutal, and brutally efficient, and catch Corax off-guard. His own experiments might have led him to similar results, had he chosen to continue them. To the reader it also makes clear just how much of a cost the Primarch's arrogance had; without him losing the gene-tech to the Alpha Legion, these things would have never succeeded in the first place. While he himself is seemingly unaware of his own role in the matter, it shows him how close he came to his own corruption and loss of integrity.
On the flipside, the Raptors under Branne are confronted with the failed experiments in a very grim and regretful way, making them doubt their own origins and use to the Legion as well. While at the start of Soulforge, Navar Hef was doing relatively fine, his condition has worsened significantly here. They start to see the lie in Corax's attempts to integrate them as fully respected Raven Guard.

Other elements I enjoyed with Ravenlord were the overall structure, with each chapter being timestamped in relation to the "Day of Vengeance", Corax's attempt to free the war prisoners of Carandiru. It gave the whole plot a sense of scale, and made the planning stages more believable. It also gave room for the assimilated loyalist forces to join up and receive some training by the Raven Guard. To my delight, both Captain Noriz of the Imperial Fists and Arcatus of the Custodian Guard are back, though not the focus. Surprisingly, Arcatus has come to agree with the Primarch's decision of taking the war back to Horus, and plays a key role in convincing the loyalists to stick around. Seeing Soukhounou interacting with a youth on Carandiru, talking about the value and bravery of rebellion against oppressors also made me happy; the commander certainly received a lot of attention here, and as a Terran-born Raven Guard, these scenes made him feel more part of the Legion than I expected.

The relationship between Corax and his former bodyguard Gherith Arendi is explored nicely as well, giving us a lens through which to see the Primarch's mental struggles, arrogance and paranoia. I am not entirely certain, but this might also present the first occassion on which a Primarch has been called out for being an idiot in no uncertain terms. Arendi even highlights Corax's own hypocrisy, teaching his Legion to think and act independently, while forcing his own opinions and mistakes on them and rejecting their advice when he is clearly in the wrong. Had Arendi been around during Deliverance Lost, things might have turned out far better for the Legion - after all, every Primarch needs a naysayer, unafraid to object to their lord when needed.

My initial reading of this novella, on its own back in spring, left me a bit underwhelmed. But in context of everything else and with more awareness as to Corax's development from story to story, I felt it was rewarding and I kept wondering why exactly I didn't enjoy it that much back then. Corax takes a more active role in the fighting, gets whooped for his arrogant behavior and more problems and doubts are piling up, almost to breaking point. It is a good story that drives the tragedy of the ravens further home.

Before the final novella Weregeld, we have two more short stories to go through. The first is called The Value of Fear and presents a decent excursion following a Raven Guard supposedly "training" one of the loyalists Corax attracted in Ravenlord. It wasn't a world-changing story, but neatly played on the parallels between Night Lords and Raven Guard - something Corax has been contemplating since Isstvan V, where he faced the Night Haunter and fled. It is presented through an argument between both characters, on how to best flush out the traitors they're chasing. Their philosophies clash slightly, but the mesh of both turns out quite beneficial.

The second story is Raptor, originally released as an audio drama. It stars Navar Hef and his contingent of "Rough" and "Smooth" Raptors, investigating a Space Wolves ship in distress. The Wolves turn out to have made planetfall and are being bothered by the Sons of Horus, and prepared for a glorious last stand and suicide-bombing of their stronghold.
Here we get to see the Raptors' own abilities as Raven Guard in action, but also their problems with their suits, Hef's mounting speech problems and the fear they hold for being discarded or causing Corax ill by their mere existence.
Raptor is regretfully grim, showing Navar Hef making bad decisions out of good intentions, and causing a big problem for the future. It's a sad story about self-loathing and fear, and intolerance, and the hypocrisy of the Wolves regarding their own Wulfen.

With Hef being moved into place through this story, we can talk about Weregeld at last, the only new (but significant) story in this collection.

Weregeld is set many years into the Heresy, close to the Warmaster's strike on Terra, and starts out with the Raptors boarding a Night Lords ship, showing them as truly devolved. They are distorted creatures, and often losing themselves to their own bestiality. This is something that becomes more and more apparent through Hef, who is a truly tragic figure here in my opinion. Before long, he reveals his shameful acts to Corax, and as a result drags his entire brotherhood further into doubt and leads them to sacrifice. Hef, more and more, feels like an outsider, an inferior legionary, and in a way despises Corax's comforting lies. He longs for release, more than anything.

This tragedy and need for an end is prevalent with Corax as well, who descends further into nihilism as things come tumbling down. He seeks to continue his war of vengeance against Horus, yet is unwilling to commit his Legion to any large engagements. Cornered by a Night Lords fleet, he scatters his gathered forces instead of facing the threat, losing a commander's host in the process, and abandoning much-needed supplies. His commanders are appalled at Corax's indecision and avoidance of conflict, especially as he keeps turning down invitations from loyalist Iron Hands to join battle at Beta-Garmon, a vital system for Horus to take as it offers passage to the Sol System.

The Primarch's previous bravado is gone. He doesn't believe that Horus has been bled enough to stop him from reaching Terra. Everything is poised for the Warmaster's final assault, and Corax wants to stay behind the lines, pick off supply lines and the likes, rather than throwing his Legion away for lost causes like Beta-Garmon. He does, however, attempt to summon reinforcements, which reach him from as far as Deliverance.
A thousand new Raven Guard stand ready, as do Marcus Valerius and the Therion Cohort. We haven't seen Valerius since The Divine Word, set after Deliverance Lost. In said story, he found his way to the Lectitio Divinitatus, attributing his prophetic dreams to the Emperor. This is an important plot point here, though I feel more could have done with it. Valerius doesn't get as much attention as he would have deserved, and his involvement in the story basically adds the final nail in the Legion's coffin. At least Valerius's fate is going to be addressed in a short story later this year, as confirmed by Gav.

On top of it all, a delegation of Space Wolves arrive to meet with the Primarch, and ask about the Watch-Pack sent by Malcador and Russ to guard/observe Corax. This, of course, has never reached the Primarch, thanks to Navar Hef and co, and the latter feels obligated to confess his sins to his lord. While Corax plays it cool in front of the Wolves, he is clearly shaken by this new knowledge, confines the Raptors to their cells and decides to throw everything away, sending the non-Raven Guard loyalist elements home to Terra and travels to a system close to Beta-Garmon in a gamble to save his brother Russ from death at the hands of multiple Legions.

Weregeld really brings the whole Raven Guard arc to a close. It shows the end game of the Heresy, the loss of hope and morale, the spiralling fears and the result of all mistakes coming crashing down. It is Corax's darkest hour, his time of relinquishing all control and will to live. He wishes for a "good death", Wolves-style, and to purge his sins. He has come to very troubling conclusions about the Primarchs and his own connection to the Warp, and it takes some very touching, important scenes harking back to what we have seen in Deliverance Lost, to decide the Legion's fate.

In many ways, this novella is a crossroads for other plotlines too. Balsar Kuthuri's departure for Terra will likely see him join the Knights Errant, while the return of Noriz and Arcatus as well as the other "Long Shadows" will add some welcome diversity to the Siege of Terra when it arrives. Russ and co are obviously missing a piece to bridge their departure from Sol to where they are here, and The Crimson King might catch up the Thousand Sons for this one.
One odd thing stood out to me, though: The commanding officer of the World Eaters is named Delerax, who, as far as I remember, was executed by the Alpha Legion in the short story The Face of Treachery, which is set parallel to the opening chapters of Deliverance Lost. I wasn't too keen on his inclusion here, since it didn't really add anything and it was just a simple name-drop without facetime. [Edit: Gav just let me know via Twitter that it is a nod towards the Alpha Legion's presence, which makes sense. Guess poor Delerax was simply replaced ;)]

The worst thing I can say about Weregeld is that the ending was a bit abrupt, albeit reminiscent of Raven's Flight's escape from Isstvan V, which was also featured shortly in DL. The abruptness fit the story, however, and the prologue/epilogue combination wraps up a big plotline entirely while implying a lot for the rest of the Heresy.
Besides that, I was thoroughly engaged and satisfied with the novella. Corax finally loses control, Ephrenia gets a key role, the Raptors realize their inevitable fate, and all the secrets and lies from the story arc are revealed at last, resulting in massive character drama. There are more bits of information about the pre-Legion days, and the Wolves are shown as defiant even in doom. Heck, Gav even included the Spear of Russ and its meaning to the Wolf King!

One thing I am uncertain about though is the way an infested Night Lords ship is described, however. I took it as daemonic infestation, which makes sense in the scenes it appears (which is to say, it is wrapped up quickly), but Gav certainly dropped some hints and links to the Tyranids' coming. It doesn't feel like a Tyranid threat in any tangible way, though, so I consider these links more of easter eggs than anything else, until proven otherwise. [Edit: Confirmed as Not Tyranids by Gav. Put the pitchforks away!]

If The Path of Heaven showed the White Scars' weariness and grief, then Weregeld does the same for the Raven Guard. The way they express it is different, but very down to character of their Primarchs. It is the culmination of everything that has gone before, forming a logical conclusion to the story arc. Overwhelmed by his own failings and connection to the warp, Corax becomes a tragic figure full of misconceptions and pain, looking for a way out.
To me, Weregeld also presents yet another telling difference between Konrad Curze and Corvus Corax: Whereas the Night Haunter longs for his actions to be vindicated, for himself to be proven right by history and his enemies, Corax seeks to hide the results of his arrogance, and when everything goes belly-up, he seeks absolution. He realizes his failings and wants to atone, or at least escape them, whereas Curze owns them while also shedding responsibility by claiming that the Primarchs are puppets of the gods.

I have been talking a damn lot about Corax, the Primarch, haven't I? The reason for that is that in my eyes, Corax, like Deliverance Lost, appears as more of a character study spanning the whole Heresy. Where a lot of novels in the series make certain events, certain battles the narrative focus, with these stories I always felt that the Legion and their Primarchs themselves were the important point being explored, and the battles and warzones vehicles for further exploration. That is an approach that I wish other authors had taken with previous novels, rather than focusing overly much on the action. In Corax, the focus is clear and well-developed, and even if you've read the previous novellas individually, I would strongly suggest reading all three plus short stories in sequence with this book.

With the Raven Guard story of the Heresy firmly under wraps, I cannot wait to find out what Gav's next contribution to the Heresy series might be. After Angels of Caliban, I am honestly hoping for more Dark Angels...

Corax on Goodreads

About the Author
DarkChaplain is a big nerd who spends too much time reading and thinking about books, organizing them on his ever-growing shelves, and yet increases his backlog by the month. DC is also an avid Gamer and owns more PC games than he'll ever be able to play. He is certainly spoiled for choice!
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain

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