Book 36 in Black Library’s Horus Heresy series, and (incredibly) the fourth in the series released so far in 2016, The Path of Heaven sees Chris Wraight pick up where he left off in Scars – albeit several years further on in the timeline. After years of hit and run attacks aimed at slowing Horus’ advance on Terra, the Scars now find themselves trapped with no route back to the throneworld and with traitor forces closing in, led by Mortarion. With his options limited, Jaghatai is forced to take more and more risks to avoid the straight fight that he knows would spell doom for his legion.
In Scars, Wraight did an unbelievable job of building the character of the White Scars, turning them into one of the most fascinating legions of the lot, and now he’s taken them one step further. Burned out and ground down by endless attrition, the Scars are a legion who have lost the joy and exuberance that once defined them – characters like Shiban and Torghun, the opposing Khans from Scars, are much-changed from when we last saw them, while only the Stormseer Yesugei remains relatively unaffected. The change in character is a defining theme of the book, cleverly emphaised by the choice of antagonists – the Emperor’s Children, a legion changed into horrific forms by their own hands, and Mortarion, who though desperately trying to keep his legion free from Chaos is already heading towards his inevitable fall. One particular subplot stands out, with a physically and psychologically damaged Shiban facing off against one of the few unaltered Emperor’s Children who still clings to the legion’s original philosophy of martial excellence.
Once again it’s all beautifully plotted and executed. For a book which ostensibly just needed to show how the Scars got back to Terra, it’s remarkably complex and full of twists and reveals. It’s also very dark. In his afterword Wraight talks about how this was a difficult book to write – at times it’s also difficult to read, not because it’s bad (far from it) but because it’s powerfully bleak, reflecting the legion’s fatalistic mood. It also has the most emotional heft this side of the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, putting the reader through the wringer as the story hits its final act.
Despite the tonal differences this is very much the counterpart to Scars, and between them (and the connecting short stories) they form one of the most complex, fascinating arcs in the Heresy series so far. As with all the Heresy novels this comes complete with the usual revelations and little hints at what’s to come, but it also does a phenomenal job of foreshadowing not just what’s to come within the Heresy but also for the Scars as they develop into their 40k incarnation. Lastly, perhaps most importantly, it feels like the first step on the final path to the end of the series – from this point on, things are going to escalate quickly. Hold onto your hats.
NOTE – for the full experience, try reading the whole White Scars arc including all of the related short stories and audio dramas:
Brotherhood of the Storm
Brotherhood of the Moon
The Path of Heaven