2015’s Asurmen: Hand of Asuryan, the first Phoenix Lords novel, was a short, tightly-written book from Gav Thorpe that gave us the first proper glimpse of both a Phoenix Lord’s thought processes and the time immediately before and during the Fall – the pivotal moment in eldar history. Fast-forward to 2017 and Jain Zar: The Storm of Silence carries on the series with a tale of the first Howling Banshee as she uses any means necessary to reach the craftworld Ulthwé and prevent them starting on a path that will lead to disaster far in the future.
Like Asurmen, this also tackles an earlier strand as well, intersecting with the events of its predecessor and showing the path taken by Faraethil to become Jain Zar, under the tutelage of Asurmen. The two narratives are distant in terms of the timeline, but come together to paint a fascinating picture of Jain Zar as a character, weaving in a few other famous names as well. There are no pre-Fall events here, but instead that narrative deals with Asurmen and Jain Zar’s initial steps towards founding the first shrine, while the later narrative is still in fact fairly early in the overall eldar timeline, as evidenced by a certain character showing up in unexpectedly youthful guise.
Where Asurmen was by necessity incredibly tightly plotted in order to cram plenty into a short word count, here Gav has more room to breathe and so covers a bit more ground. It perhaps takes a little time to really kick into gear, as while the early narrative is interesting right from the off it’s not immediately clear where the later one is heading. Once the pace picks up, however, it proves to be a fascinating look at two intriguing stages of eldar history, full of great ideas and interesting insights into the eldar psyche. Jain Zar herself gets time to develop through interaction with all sorts of characters, from Harlequins to eldar corsairs, though it’s her youthful incarnation’s dealings with Asurmen that offer the most insight into her character and what drives and empowers her.
If you’re an eldar fan then this is essential reading, with the cleverly chosen story arcs and timeframes giving Gav the opportunity to really delve into the early stages of what you might call ‘current’ eldar development, and spend time with unusual characters across the range of eldar archetypes. While it might not have the wow factor of a pre-Fall story, it has a depth and breadth of exploration that’s beyond pretty much any other eldar story. For the same reasons, if you’re not already a fan then this might just be the book to persuade you otherwise and demonstrate why these characters are so fascinating. Crucially, though, as a standalone story (well, sort of two stories) it’s well executed, with great characters and a clever plot, and once again demonstrates Gav’s natural touch for writing eldar stories.