With a few notable exceptions the Warhammer 40k universe is largely shown to us through the eyes of the Imperium, lending it (not inappropriately) a very human perspective. Occasionally though, Black Library releases something which shows a different side to 40k, in this instance Guy Haley’s Valedor which follows in the footsteps of Gav Thorpe’s Path of the Eldar series to look through the eyes of this ancient, dwindling race. We see the eldar of Iyanden, still reeling from the latest in their string of disasters, as they set out to prevent the merging of two tyranid hive fleets; in order to avert a disaster that would have terrible consequences for their entire race, they are forced to ally with not only the eldar of another craftworld but also their dark kin.
Billed as an Apocalypse novel, essentially a Space Marine Battles book without the Space Marines, it takes as its subject an existing event from within the 40k canon – in this case the Battle of Duriel. As such it is essentially a simple story which in the wrong hands could just be a dull series of big battles; instead Haley has concentrated on creating a cast of interesting, relatable characters who flesh the story out and elevate it above a glorified battle report. We see via wildly differing perspectives, from the arrogant but tortured Prince Yriel to a pair of young twins compelled by their sibling bond to become titan pilots, and even the infamous wych Lelith Hesperax. Through this varied cast we get a glimpse of how the eldar see the world around them, and with Iyanden to the fore everything is tinged with a real sense of tragedy and loss.
Ultimately it’s a Black Library novel so follows the general blueprint, with a good pace to keep events moving and plenty of visceral action as the eldar face up against the endless tyranid hordes. In his usual style however Haley has incorporated an impressive amount of depth and detail into his world building, from the physical locations such as the craftworlds and the webway, to the cultural and social elements of eldar life, their hopes and fears and attitudes towards each other and the wider galaxy. His eldar are a conflicted people – burdened by the errors of their ancestors yet still full of pride and a deep-seated arrogance; wallowing in the sadness of their ever-fading glories yet largely scared to hope for the future. In much the same way as he did with goblins in the excellent Skarsnik, he really seems to have got under the skin of the eldar, and it shows through in his writing.
So, it’s a book about a really big battle…but it’s actually a lot more than that. Fans of the eldar will absolutely love it, but there is plenty to enjoy for any 40k fan, not least a genuinely scary look at the tyranids (given the impact their psychic horror has on the psychically-sensitive eldar). Excellent stuff.