Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Horus Heresy Book Review: Betrayer By Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Anyone who read my Angel Exterminatus review last month how much I enjoyed that book. Now feeling somewhat spoiled, it's time for my next Horus Heresy fix in paperback in a matter of months. With Mark of Calth not due till January next year this will be the last Heresy book I read this year. So will Betrayer be another home run? Could we have two outstanding reviews in succession? If anyone can do it it's Aaron Dembski Bowden, author of the stunning 'The First Heretic', so without further ado let's get stuck into Betrayer. 

In the first instance let us establish setting; Betrayer is set shortly after the events of Know no Fear and Presumably Mark of Calth although it precedes it in publication. Although the title uses Kharns adopted moniker (and the World Eaters captain does indeed feature heavily) it in fact is Angrons story, as Lorgar Aurelian (there's a limited -spit- novella we are still waiting for) seeks to both save his savage and permanently irked brother whilst using him to achieve his own goals. As with Angel Exterminates the relationship between the two Primarchs is the core around which this book is formed. Although a very different relationship exists between these two than that of Perturabo and the Phoenician, the detail and car that has been put into their portrayal is comparable. Lorgar is painted as possibly one of the most compassionate of the Emperors Sons and his concern for his stricken brother is well described and realised. A complicated and multifaceted character, Lorgar of the Word Bearers actually comes across as one of the more likeable Primarchs even if his grand designs are utterly evil. Angron too is far more three dimensional than you might expect, at once savage and stubborn, even callous but also depicted by Bowden with a tragic element. A character with a dark past and dark character inflicted by circumstance. An enigma at many stages yet as brutally visceral as you would imagine for the most part. Nor are these the only Primarchs featured on Betrayer. Four more Sons of the Emperor feature, albeit in vastly reduced roles as multiple threads, some of which originated in Novels published many years ago are slowly woven together. 

In fact, Betrayer is one of the novels that most frequently refer to previous works whilst supplying a plethora of new material itself. Many of the characters from 'The First Heretic' reappear as the Word Bearers prove a worthy foil for the World Eaters as they continue their blaze of destruction across Ultramar. In fact it seems obvious that events that were no more than a footnote in the original background of the heresy are destined to be infinitely more important this time round. In fact one wonders just when this arc will end and the march to Terra will commence. Still, if the quality remains as high as this ill have no complaints if we have a few more books as both Betrayer and Angel Exterminatus are anything but filler.. Along with the relationship between the two Primarchs the fraternity between Kharn and Argel Tal, the possessed Word Bearer from First Heretic is fairly prominent. Of course it wouldn’t be a Dembski Bowden book without a strong supporting human cast and as seems to be his penchant considerable word count is given over to a titan crew, Lotarra the feisty Captain of the Conqueror and another that I’ll not mention here as the review is meant to be largely spoiler free. However I will say that this characters inclusion initially seems a little superfluous and silly. Of course when the Cabal shows up it becomes apparent that this character also has a greater destiny than might be initially considered from their seemingly shoehorned inclusion. Now it is obvious that the author high lords are in collusion regarding the Cabal (and I would expect several other elements) and I have to wonder if this communication between authors may have resulted in probably the only problem I can identify in Betrayer. 

Some events in Betrayer are VERY similar in many aspects to Angel Exterminatus, don’t get me wrong, Betrayer is its own book. It is one hundred percent a separate entity and I make no claims of plagiarism or any lack of originality. That said a few similar events do take place in both books. Particularly those at the very start and the very end. This may well be coincidence but it is rather noticeable. BUT elsewhere there is SO much about Betrayer to like. Like Angel Exterminatus there are many memorable sequences and events that will stay with you long after you close the book. Be it the titan battles, the ship boarding sequences or the entirety of Leman Russ' attempt to bring Angrons Legion to heel, this novel often gives more to the reader in the space of a few chapters than a couple of entries have in this series in their entire length. In fact it may be a little TOO ambitious at times as it just seems here and there that the main thread gets slightly lost and the overall plot loses a little cohesiveness. 

So in summary, Betrayer is a VERY strong Horus Heresy book, I enjoyed it immensely and apart from the first couple of chapters devoured the entire novel in one very quiet nightshift. Although the narrative stumbles very slightly at one point (you'll spot it when it happens) it turns out to be necessary and could well be of supreme importance in the future. In fact the only bugbear that I can land on Betrayer that cannot be contended is a couple of VERY similar events (a small part of the book but noticeable in their similarity) to Angel Exterminatus which immediately preceded it. This is the ONLY reason that Betrayer scores just under a perfect score. Had Betrayer been published first then Angel Exterminatus would have suffered the ignominy of losing half a point. 

4.5 Skulls out of 5. Highly recommended.

Friday, 13 September 2013

There is Nothing Wrong with Being Told What to Do. (Learn to Love a GM on the Tabletop)

If you dont know who this is i pity you your crappy childhood.

If you read my recent article about the origins of Rogue Trader (below) you would have heard me mention the role of games master. You are more likely to find games masters involved with RPGs than tabletop miniature games. In fact I am hard pressed to think of any miniatures game that required a games master since Warhammer Quest! Players are far more autonomous in tabletop miniature games and most people wouldn’t see the need for a games master even if one was available.

But why not?! If you are serious about your hobby and your gaming then why wouldn’t you entertain the idea of a games master? At its most basic level a games master is an arbiter. They oversee the game and pronounce judgments on rules queries. They allow a game not to be bogged down in petty arguments or misunderstandings as long as they behave impartially. That means a quicker game with possibly more time for another.

At the other end of the spectrum the games master is an active participant in the game. They may have designed the scenario that is being played. They may activate various in game effects that add extra challenges for the players. They may even control a small force of their own that are part of an objective. The possibilities for a games master are only limited by imagination and how much you are willing to let them get away with.
It's not about who wins

Although in their role of arbiter a games master has a role to play in competitive play the games master is really a tool for enhancing your games narrative. They provide an opportunity to shake up your usual play style and offer the chance to try something different and memorable, as long as they are up to the task! 

Allen and I have talked at length about the difference between competitive players and non-competitive players. We are both firmly in the non-competitive camp. Whilst we like to win (who doesn’t?) we don’t believe in winning at the expense of enjoying the game. Some people want to use the hobby as a sport, a contest of one-up-manship which is fine if you can pit yourself against like minded players. Unfortunately for 40k, this is not really practical as 40k is not designed to be a truly competitive game. Codex creep is too prevalent for an equal playing field. The newest army, most likely the newest 3+ armoured army wins. If 40k were a video game Space Marines would be playing it on the easy setting, Space Marines with a special character would be very easy and Grey Knights with Guard allies led by Draigo would be the tutorial level. 

Some of us just like making our toys look awesome then getting a chance to play with them on the table. Why should our models not have back stories and personalities and if they do then why not showcase that through narrative play. Enter the games master!

What opportunities do you see?

So you are thinking about giving games mastery a try and maybe you are thinking you have what it takes. What are your options? Well start small. Choose an existing scenario and tweak it. Have you got a striking or interesting piece of scenery? Perhaps you could theme a board? From there what armies will be playing? Can you come up with a narrative objective that is compelling enough that both forces have their reason for wanting to play? 

Let’s think of an example. A world has recently been freed from the yoke of Ork dominion. The Orks enslaved the population for 30 years Terran standard using them as work fodder where even Gretchin would boss them around. Runt herdz grew rich in teeth and influence on the trade of ‘oomie’ labour. The most notorious of these runt herdz, Manmangler Grotbasher managed to escape the final purge of the Ork’s last strong hold on the planet and escape to one of the many now abandoned mine workings dotting the landscape. A strike force of Space Marines has been tasked with cleansing the mine network and putting an end to the Ork menace.

First off you are going to need a themed board. Lots of rocky outcrops and abandoned mine equipment. Getting together with your friends you could plan out a smattering of terrain projects you could work on to give that extra level of detail to the board. A drilling machine, a rail line with half full ore buckets. Not only will it look great but it will expand your terrain collection.

Next is force composition. Underground fighting creates problems for both forces. Obviously there will be no flyers, jump or jet pack troops or skimmers. Dreadnoughts though walkers could pose a danger of a cave in with their heavy tread. Space Marines would want to avoid this but the Orks might not care so a few Killa-cans wouldn’t be out of place though what you are looking at is mostly an all infantry battle.

Space Marines would want to use scouts to map ahead of the main advance with Terminators being on point as close quarter tunnel fighting is their speciality. Orks would have a lot of Gretchin units as the Runt herdz were the most powerful force on this particular planet. Main lines of advance could be covered by big guns that would need to be charged in order to clear a path.

As if they need any more protection

As this is a special scenario why not introduce some new units to add even more depth? Terminator armour is supposed to be rare so perhaps limit terminators to one unit and bolster their numbers with siege shield armoured marines. The Orks could field squads of ravenous cave squigs which are the only units on the board that can deep strike with a chance to charge on the turn they arrive.

During play as games master you could give each player secret orders they must complete to gain additional victory points and control earthquakes, cave-ins and grumpy cave monsters. Ambulls anyone?

If that doesn't gear you up for some narrative led mischief what will?

And that was just off the top of my head. With some forethought and preparation you could be on your way to really enriching your hobby and play time. Give it a try and let us know how you got on.


Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader Overview - Cover to Cover


One of the very first things in Rogue Trader is a piece of text that adorns the intro pages of 40K Black Library books to this very day . A statement of intent with an unmistakable tone that has become synonymous with the 41st millennium. In the background is the Iconic double headed Aquila along with some symbols that will be familiar to most Space Marine players.

The next page lists (quite literally) the major players involved in RT40K including many names that todays hobbyists will recognise such as Jes Goodwin, John Blanche, and Dave Andrews whereas a glance downwards at the playtesters will reveal the origin of the name of the commander of the Crimson Fists. Rogue Trader is broken up into different sections called books (something taken more literally in 2nd Edition) each focussing on a different area of the game.

This greets you as you open the book...... quite a statement. 

Book 1:

The first ‘Book’ Combat presents all the major rules for the game, accompanied by some deliciously 80’s artwork recalling H.R.Giger and 2000AD amongst others. Even in this primitive version of the ruleset the basic structure is readily identifiable. The stat line is broadly similar, although it does have a few additional mental characteristics; Intelligence Cool and Willpower an early indication of RT40k’s RPG roots. Dotted around here and there are some colour pages showcasing some early Citadel miniatures that may seem crude to some by todays standards but have an undeniable charm. 

Nostalgia Trip!!

The Turn Sequence is practically the same as that in 2nd Edition (to be discussed in a future article) One thing that does stand out though, is the large amount of movement modifiers in the game, including modifiers for armour, turning about as well as the usual terrain modifiers present in todays game. Also carried through to 2nd Edition were BS modifiers (also used extensively in Necromunda) for range and cover, although weapon categories are somewhat different Further driving home the fact that this is a RPG/skirmish game are a multitude of Random Generation charts and Percentiles present with the rules for random characters and NPCs

Monsters also take up a sizeable portion of the book overall all with different attacks and behaviours. The emphaisis on the need for a GM is also prominent, something Jervis Johnson revisited in his recent Standard Bearer article in White Dwarf. Rules for vehicles and flyers are also present although it is obvious that they were never meant to be a large part of the game, something borne out by the fact that dreadnoughts actually operate more like infantry than vehicles. Even vehicles themselves have armour saves and toughness rather than an armour value. Other weirdness includes dedicated separate rules for the way robots and automotons work and hexagonal bases (hexagonal? What heresy!)

Robots have a high techincal level. Which makes sense really...

Incidentally the Horus Heresy is one thing nowhere to be seen in this book as Horuses rebellion would be conceived sometime later. Indeed Chaos as a whole are entirely absent from RT40K to be featured later in supplement books Lost and the Damned and Slaves to Darkness. Psionics and the Warp are featured in the book but the primary denizens of the Warp are called Enslavers which honestly look like a cross between that Pleasure GELF from Red Dwarf and a Triffid. There are Warp Entities which look vaguely familiar but certainly the word Daemon is never mentioned . 

Not particularly Daemonic is it?

Indeed a lot of the now established races either didn’t exist or were very much in their infancy at this time. Slann, Zoats and Squats taking the place of such factions as Chaos, Dark Eldar and Tau. Next up is a scenario ‘The Battle at the Farm’ (more on this soon) not a particularly grandiose or imaginative title granted, but RT40k is in many ways a profoundly humble game. A small scale engagement and more of a GMs guide than anything else it is a concise scenario with narrative, victory conditions and at the back of the book the templates, army rosters and even counters to use in lieu of models should you wish. 

This would never happen these days....

Book 2:
Book 2 is Equipment and with a few exceptions the armoury is broadly similar to the ‘Wargear’ book from 40k 2nd Ed. Many of the weapon designs are actually unchanged even to this day although there are certainly a few oddities such as the neuro disruptor and antique pistols for example. Again random weapon charts and special rules pervade this section such as rules for using unfamiliar weapons (requiring an Intelligence test) betraying RT40Ks RPG core, but most of this section will be familiar. A smorgasbord of varied and imaginative grenade types and rules for Mines and Missiles rounds out the weapons section. 

The Vehicles and Robots/Armoured suits section takes up a surprisingly small amount of space. There are no named vehicles except the mighty Land Raider which garners itself a colour entry. Instead a vehicle is broadly defined as crawler, tracked, walker, hoverer or flying before it is further defined by weapons loadout. There is however no shortage of actual equipment options (evidently before the coining of the term ‘wargear’) Many of the entries will be familiar to those who have played Necromunda, in line with the rest of the book GM involvement is heavily encouraged. 

Even in this early inception that is still recognisably a Bolt Pistol

Book 3:
The background section is Book 3 entitled ‘Age of the Imperium. Unlike in in subsequent editions even this background section is interspersed with profiles, charts and even more special rules acting as fluff-cum-bestiary. 

The seeds of the background are certainly here and humanity in general is given rather a lot of attention. In fact Rogue Trader is heavily skewed towards Man and there is very much an ‘us vs them’ philosophy on display. Fluff wise, the Age of Strife is over, Mankind is exploring the galaxy, (not a Great Crusade) mostly through the means of Rogue Traders, officially sanctioned merchants often given command of entire fleets to aid them in their endeavours. The different types of world in the Imperium are given a fair bit of attention and the Imperium as a whole is well established and described. Indeed much of the lore is still valid and potentially serves still as the greatest example of its kind. 

There are significant changes however, The Emperor (NOT God Emperor) although still a living corpse is burnt out more as a result of saving humanity from psychic predation (still not Chaos) than as a result of an epic duel. The Golden Throne is absent but the Adeptus Custodes are present with crested helmets and plumes intact albeit presented in a startlingly homoerotic fashion. 

Everything in this section is decribed from a GMs perspective rather than narrative flow, with a view to giving the GM enough information to create NPCs and embellish and solidify the environment in the game. Inquisitors are present with the named example given being Obiwan – Sherlock –Closseau (I kid you not) again, charts percentiles and minuate like clothing descriptions and the like abound. 

The Emperors Finest V.1

One huge part of 40k is the Adeptus Astartes, The Space Marines. Yet even the Emperors finest, whilst lavished with a little more attention than most are still treated in a fairly bare bones way. A little of the initiation process is described although it is pared down. No named tanks (except the Land Raider) and no different squads, veterans or Terminator armour (although it could be argued that Dreadnoughts at least partially fill that role – possibly where Tactical Dreadnought armour came from. ) There is a wonderful cutaway illustration of a Space Wolf fortress monestary with fascinating annotations, but there is no real character to any of the chapters, rendering them little more than than colour variants. Abhumans get a section with Halflings, Squats (totally different entities) Ogryns and Beastmen in a capacity that at least partially has been recalled in the latest edition. 

We remember you Squats, even if GW doesn't

The Eldar are featured, albeit in a very limited fashion. Craftworlds are in, The Fall and Slaanesh are out, as are Avatars, Wraithbone and The webway. They are mostly portrayed roving pirates or mercenaries and there are no aspect warriors. It does mention that they use hover vehicles exclusively but offers no more than that. 

Orks are up next but again bear little resemblance to the greenskins of today. These are quite literally Space Orcs with none of the character or background that they would later come to enjoy. Gretchin are featured briefly and it is established that Orks hate Squats (as do GW it would seem) 

Slann and their Inheritence are next, another since abandoned element. One look at the Aztec styled illustration on the facing page instantly reveals the origin of Lizardmen from Fantasy (there is even a recognisable Slaan Mage Priest on one of the Glyphs)Little more than sci fi Lizards, they didn’t really have a place in the 40k universe even back then occupying a similar background to that that the Eldar would come to adopt. 


Next are an element that HAS survived till modern times, or at the very least been resurrected. The Jokaero, as Lee alluded to in his Origins of Rogue Trader article, were based upon Dave the simian Mayor of Megacity 1 from 2000AD. Orangutan like uncommunicative technical geniuses they deploy in small family groups or tribes and have access to all the weapons and vehicles, able to build the most sophisticated machinery from the most nondescript junk. 

Tyranids are barely recognisable in RT40k, bizzarely designed and slight on background, although their roving all consuming hivefleets are intact. The example picture is obviously what would evolve become a Termagant and no other bioforms are mentioned. They are described as wearing harnesses and the ubiquitous weapons chart even includes bolt pistols, powergloves and chainswords with nary a mention of symbiotic bioweapons (although the weapon the picture is readily identifiable as a fleshborer) 

The Age of the Imperium is completed by a veritable horde of flora and fauna from across the galaxy all presented as GM controlled hazards and monsters. There are some real forgotten gems in here and whilst far too exhaustive a list to repeat here in full, some favourites include the Tyranid Slave organisms Zoats, Ambull Carnivorous Sand Clams (seriously) the infamous Catachan Devil, Genestealers (not associated with Tyranids at this stage and looking nothing like the genestealer we know) Spinethorns, Grox and Razorwings. Many of these exist in the 40k lexicon still, some, like the Ptera Squirrell were unfortunately fated to fade into obscurity.

From top to bottom: Sand Clam, The Pterasquirell and a Genestealer (really)

Book 4:

Book 4 is ‘The Advanced Gamer’ where some advanced optional rules and painting guides are imparted. Unlike these days there is a strong emphasis on improvisation and proxy. There are also rules for campaigns and an extensive plot generator effortlessly adding an incredible narrative and cinematic sense to the game. Its not all unending war adinifinatum, there is a real wealth of different settings and scenarios creating potential for some very interesting skirmishes that I would love to explore in greater detail at a later date. 

Which leaves just the summary and quick reference pages. Worthy of mention here are the Authors Notes, hidden nuggets offering even more information and detailing tech such as Electoos (which I had always assumed was a Dan Abnett creation and STCs. 



Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader can be comfortably labelled as a skirmish RPG, GM involvement is practically mandatory and the sheer amount of random generation charts and percentiles could be perceived as somewhat daunting, although the core rule mechanics are recognisable as what would become 2nd Edition 40k. It is obvious that grand mass battles are not the aim here and the standard would be no more than 30 models a side. At the Conclave we will soon be embarking on a series of games using the 40k ruleset so we can hopefully formulate a more informed opinion then. Suffice to say however that RT40k is loaded with enough off the wall character and special rules to ensure that with a decent GM battles will be an engaging and enjoyable affair effortlessly capturing the narrative and cinematic feel that GW strives so hard to artificially create these days. There is also a wealth of detail, making for an incredibly vital and visceral game setting. Even though there is much missing what is there is gritty and inmmersive if not ‘grimdark’ something which ruleswise has long been lost.

There are a LOT of these in the book

The artwork in Rogue Trader is something of a mixed bag. The iconic front cover by John Sibbick (perhaps best known for his series of definitive dinosaur paintings) is an incredibly evocative piece depicting the Crimson Fists last stand against overwhelming Ork forces on Rynns world and was used by Grindcore Band Bolt Thrower for the cover of their album Realm of Chaos. The internal artwork varies greatly, from Will Rees superbly de0tailed crosshatched illustrations (heavily reminiscent of H.R.Gigers biomechanical stylings) to pictures that look like unfinished sketches by comparison and actually startlingly crude. One artist, Martin Mckenna is remarkably adept at faces and did the fantastic rogues gallery which appears at the end of the book. Some of the artwork looks like it could have been ripped straight from the pages from 2000AD from its black and white comic panel look and there is an early full colour John Blanche piece that has been reused many times hence. There are a few errors here and there that remind you this is an early effort from a fledgling gaming company, and incorrect header here, a repeated piece of artwork there, (even on the same page) However the art is functional and characterful even if it varies in technical competency as much as it does in style.

A couple of Reeses Pieces (Yeah i went there)

The rules are present throughout the book rather than being assigned one section and it does appear that the book is designed as a reference guide or sourcebook for GMs rather that something to be read cover to cover Difficult to judge by todays standards the presentation (diagrams and maps can be rather crude) it seems to be perfectly serviceable for its time, with some nice colour pages to show off the miniatures. 

There is a strong sense of 2000AD about much of the art. 

More than anything else the thing that keeps me and I imagine a lotof others playing 40k, the background here is undeniably basic. Elements are here of greater things to come and it is obvious that this is the genesis of everything, but it’s more gritty than Grimdark and rather irreverent. Focussed firmly on the Imperium of Man, other races are paid a little attention and featured only in their most nascent stages. It almost seems the other factions are included only as antagonists for the human elements to fight as wandering monsters or the like, devoid of any real variation or real identity. Still, the Imperium is very well presented with all its various divisions featured in some way at least. The absence of Chaos is jarring, it really does feel as if something else is missing, the lack of a tangible nemesis for the Imperium making it feel like a much more sparsely populated galaxy. Obviously these and other races would be featured in time but for now their absence is keenly felt. 

I love this piece, theres a real zaniness and irreverence that has long since been lost. 

The weird and the wonderful permeate this book and although it would not go as far as to call it student like it does display a refreshing originality and informality that unfortunately was doomed to diminish with each successive iteration of the game. Space marines in particular are a very different concept to the version of the Astartes that we have today. But as I mentioned everything feels fery fresh and original. Not to say that there aren’t influences. It is obvious that a vast array of sources have inspired Priestly and co in the creation of this book, the universe itself being a heady mix of elements from Dune, Bladerunner, Alien, 2000AD and Mad Max, with even Star Trek and Star Wars hidden in the universes DNA in places. 

Rogue Trader is a fascinating look at the embryonic state of the game and universe we all know and love today. In many ways I wish I had been involved in the hobby back in this time (I started in 2nd Ed around 1995) and would have loved to have been part of it and felt the excitement inherent in the inception of this new type of game. ]Packed with insights into the very genesis of 40k Rogue Trader is well worth a look for any hobbyist. Much of what lies within has been retconned out of existence but there is plenty which endures to this very day. Indeed when it comes to many of the aspects of the Imperium RT40k holds up as probably the most comprehensive source of information even now. More than anything else however, RT40k stands out as a labour of love. Soemthing put together out of a real desire to do something different (something Rick has been trying to recreate with his Gates of Antares project) as opposed to the mass miniature selling behemoth franchise that it is today. If you ever have the opportunity grab yourself a copy and indulge in the earliest days of 40k. And should you be fortunate enough to do so, keep an eye on Conclave of Har as we will be playing many more visits to this earliest of tomes in the near future. 


Monday, 9 September 2013

Book Review: Path of the Eldar Series

So, Path of The Eldar. Comprising of three books dealing with the paths of the Warrior, Seer and Outcast respectively, it marks perhaps the first time that the ways of these eldritch aliens have been explored In such depth. Previously I would have held Bill Kings ‘Farseer’ up as the finest example of an Eldar novel and they have featured heavily in other books but as far as I am aware this is the first time they have had a series to themselves. With Gav Thorpe at the helm (whose other works I hold in reasonably high regard) I was quite looking forward to reading these books and had very little idea of what lay ahead. 

Starting off with Path of the Warrior I must say it took some time to really get going. Obviously proper introduction of the characters is required and the pace is not particularly slow, but there is a fair bit of meandering and although the dialogue is written in a believable enough way the characters themselves are fairly unabsorbing as ill expand upon further in a bit. Thorpe does a good descriptive job when it comes to describing the craftworld Alaitoc, Eldar philisophies and technology are well explored and the book comes across very well as a Eldar focussed book with much that is brand new. Familliarity is twinned with new ideas and concepts and Gav should be lauded both for the creativity of his ideas and their integration into the wider Eldar world, all the different paths and gizmos that are described seamlessly integrate into the Eldar universe and it was prehaps surprising not see more of them creep into the Eldar codex and become part of the canon as many other authors terms and concepts have. 

Plot wise it goes like this: Eldar artist gets all emo when his long time female friend won’t return his affections and buggers off to join the Striking Scorpions and work on his anger issues. I’m not kidding, it actually is. And here we come to my only real problem with this series, the characters. The first part of this book actually reads almost like some hideous teen romance story. It does pick up once the action starts and it does all have a point (kind of) but it’s kind of hard to accept nonetheless. Nice to see everything isn’t bolterporn (although some of the action scenes are very good) but its jarring to say the least. The blurb on the back of the book says ‘Thorpe’s characters actually sound like real people’ and this is the truth because I wanted to punch Korandril in the face. He whines incessantly, is generally constantly depressed or angry and is in general very irritating. I’m not sure whether Gav should be congratulated or bemoaned for creating such a convincingly abhorrent character. Korandrils fate continues to unfold thoughout the book and it does eventually all have a point as a great threat looms over Alaitoc and the three central characters are all involved to some extent in an ambitious and well thought out narrative. 

Path of the Seer focuses on Thirianna , Korandrils would be romantic pursuit. She spurns the advances of Kornadril AND her other friend Aradryan (the titular Outcast from the last book in the series) and then promptly decides that poetry (yes there is a path of the poet) isn’t for her and she rather fancies giving being a seer a go. So what follows is lots and lots of pages about her exploring and developing her talents. It is a bit dull in all honesty but it’s not a deal breaker and there are some important plot developments along the way. Again Thorpe does a great job with fleshing out the psychic side of things with vivid descriptions of the webway and ‘skein’ and is to be commended for that at least. Then as the book progresses we find out that Thirianna has daddy issues… again im not kidding. Far from adding to the story it just feels unnecessary and forced. You’d honestly think that such an enlightened race would be above such things. 

Elsewhere Thirianna’s story intersects with that of Korandril in not entirely unclever fashion. It became apparent to me within a matter of pages that these three books would essentially all tell the same story from different characters perspectives and whilst it can be a little fatigue inducing to re read the same events repeatedly (especially if you read the whole series within a week or so like me) it is at least interesting to gain the thoughts and motivations of the characters in turn. With the readers perception of events and characters somewhat altered as new elements of conversations and motivations are explored (although Korandril is still a dick) Again interwoven paths become more divergent as time goes on before each characters destiny becomes more apparent towards the end of each respective novel and Thirianna is far more instrumental in events than Korandril was. Path of the seer ends setting up the last book in the trilogy nicely with a cracking battle sequence. 

Path of the Outcast is much more a separate entity than the other two in the series. It starts off with familiar events being told yet again but once you get past all that it really takes off. Thirianna rejects Aradryan who being a bit of a roamer anyway (he is returning to Alaitoc after a lengthy absence at the start of the story) runs away and becomes a ranger. By FAR the most interesting book, perhaps due to so much of it being set apart from the soap like events on Alaitoc, Path of the Outcast is probably the book I enjoyed most overall although it s certainly not without its problems. The great thing about Path of the Outcast is its esotericicty. Cast free from the confines of Eldar society Gav is free to explore some fantastical events and locations and this makes for some memorable scenes, be it the quest to an Eldar Crone World in the Eye of Terror to obtain spirit stones (accompanied by a troupe of Harlequins no less) or the numerous space battles that take place once Aradryan becomes a corsair, there really is some great material here and although much of it is a world apart (literally) from the previous two entries it really ties everything together into one cohesive whole with some style. 

Aradryan is also a slightly more likable character than his compatriots (although not by much) not as Emo as Korandril and more interesting than Thiriranna, his path is also the most interesting and overall I would say it is the best of the books in the series. THAT SAID, there are two GLARING errors in the book that mar it slightly, the first is an incorrect name being used (although thankfully the effect is not as drastic as in Ravenwing where essentially it wrecks an entire plot point)but the second really hacked me off. Without giving any spoilers away we have renegade Space Marine saying ‘praise the Emperor’ I’m not sure if this is a mistake or if the Space Marines were meant to be loyalist and Thorpe changed his mind but it absolutely ripped me out of the story and any immersion (I flicked back through the pages to check I wasn’t mistaken) and there really is no excuse for it. I assume people proof read these novels, If so they need firing. Thankfully the error doesn’t have any real impact but it is at an absolutely critical point in the book and I find it unforgiveable. The final resolution to the entire series and the salvation of Alaitoc is also a bit ‘eh’ especially for something that has been built up from the latter stages of the very first book. I can kjnd of see how Gav painted himself into a corner but I wish something a little more inventive had been concocted. 

So, in summary: A decent effort that brings certain elements of the Eldar fluff to light like never before. Gav is inventive and careful in his exploration of Eldar Society and philosophy and the various paths and there is great attention paid to why the paths exist and the dangers that the Eldar face if their minds are not disciplined. Also of note are the little mini prologues which in the first book deal with Eldar creation much like Tolkiens Silmarillion, in the second book deal with the various different runes employed by Eldar Psykers and in the third book just focuses upon different aspects of Eldar lore. These are actually very enlightening in places and a welcome addition. Something else I must mention is Neil Roberts artwork for the three books Simple yet elegant, the one for Path of the Seer in particular is absolutely stunning. Not so good are the characters, whilst I commend the authors commitment to flesh each character out as much as possible and the various personality traits do lend themselves to the various paths they end up taking, the characters are just horrible. For the record: Korandril is a selfish emo who gets so angry at being jilted that he has to become a warrior so he can hit things. Thirianna is a smug cocktease (although perhaps not intentionally) with daddy issues and really rather dull, and Aradryan is an arrogant insular loner who again takes rejection badly and abandons his homeworld heading down a dark path and eventually partaking in events that could potentially lead to its destruction. Prehaps I have just misjudged Thorpe’s efforts to portray the aloof and capricious nature of the Eldar but I didn’t care a jot for ANY of the main characters and although I found the books engaging to a degree I couldn’t really say I was particularly invested for the most part. If I had to describe Gavs characterisation in one word I think it would be clumsy. In fact I found the excellent cast of supporting characters much more compelling. I don’t want to take away from the good stuff that Gav does throughout this series but the characters are a major stumbling point for me. Elsewhere the book is reasonably well written, Gavs easy to digest style is evident here and the prose is free flowing and non obstructive. The best book is probably Path of the Outcast overall due to its strong sense of individuality which makes it all the more shameful that it is afflicted with two major errors. Overall a decent series, by no means bad but it could have been much better. Certainly readable and even enjoyable at times but I’d be surprised if it makes anyones list of favourites.