Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Review: Path of the Warrior

Non spoilery review:

Good, but the last third has next to nothing to do with the first two thirds so the whole thing feels incomplete and disjointed.

It does have some excellent insights into Eldar culture and society, but unfortunately many of these plot threads are left sparse in favour of overly repetitive battle scenes.

Major Spoilers Ahead!

Path of the Warrior tells the story of Korlandril, and his eventual stumbling onto the titular path, and his fall into Exarchdom (told you there were spoilers).

The book opens with Korlandril , on the path of the Artist, waiting with Thirianna, a poet and forme Aspecct Warrior, waiting for their mutual friend Aradryan – he is on the path of the Mariner and has been sailing the distant stars for some time. Korlandril is basically in love with Thirianna , but is trying to suss out if she feels the same. Korlandril is also very jealous of what he sees as Thirianna ’s attraction to Aradryan .

Each chapter is prefaced by a legend of Eldar myth relating to that chapter’s subject. For example when Korlandril is injured and healing, the story of Isha giving a lock of her hair to Eldanesh to heal him is told. They are done neatly and don’t intrude into the narrative, and certainly enhance the Eldar mythos.

The first section goes on to cover how paths work, how the Eldar change their psyche (and personalities to an extent) when they take on certain paths, and how everyday life on the Craftworld goes about its business. This is very well written and the characters, while relatable, still seem alien.
Korlandril is further put out by his friend’s return as Aradryan seems distant and distracted, and uninterested in Korlandril ’s upcoming unveiling (he’s a sculptor).

It all comes to a head when the sculpture is unveiled and Aradryan criticises Korlandril ’s work, calling it uninspired and derivative compared to the marvels of the cosmos. Korlandril flips out and storms off, and Aradryan leaves the craftworld (to become an Outcast/Exodite).
After unintentionally insulting Thirianna ’s military past Korlandril makes a pass at her, asking her to stay with him as artist and poet. She tells him it is inappropriate to concentrate on one path, as well as unhealthy. Korlandril flips out again and storms off, raging and brimming with rage.

Seeking to find a control for his feelings he seeks out his friends Arthuis and Maerthuin, brothers walking the Warrior path as Dark Reapers. He also meets Elissanadrin, a Striking Scorpion. Korlandril tells them of his feelings and his need to be rid of them, while the Aspect Warriors tell him he needs to find a release for his anger.

I thought this part was superbly done – Korlandril wants nothing more than to be rid of his anger, he finds it ugly, wasteful and against everything that creates beauty. His mind is truely set as that of someone seeking nothing more than the creation of splendour, destruction is totally abhorrent to him. The Aspect Warriors, here at rest, tell him that they put on their ‘war mask’ to release their anger, but take it off outside of battle so they can release it and be free of it.
Korlandril ’s conversations with Thirianna reveal that as a former Aspect Warrior she finds that the experience has better helped her manage her anger outside of the Path.

I found this very interesting as, while Korlandril is certainly a self centred layabout (all his paths we know of are self indulgent), he reflects the Eldar’s natural distaste for violence. Other Eldar sit apart from the Aspect Warriors in communal places, and the Warriors seem only to associate with each other for the most part.
It also ties in with the prologue where an Exarch loses a member of his squad, and is not concerned as another always appears. It is basically saying that there will always be Eldar driven to the Warrior Path, as if the Paths simply create a proportional balance of the Eldar psyche across the whole society. So there will always be roughly the same number of Aspect Warriors at any given time, as there will be Bonesingers or Mariners. This appears later when Korlandril becomes an Exarch and a number of Eldar are drawn to him as soon as he takes the mantle.

Elissanadrin takes Korlandril to her temple, the Shrine of the Deadly Shadow, where he meets Exarch Kenainath who takes him in. He goes through an extensive Kung-fu training montage sequence, learning about his War Mask and how to control it. He does this in isolation lest he harm others, and is confined to the Shrine. After a time he is allowed to mix with the rest of the squad, Elissanadrin (there is brewing attraction between the pair), Arhulesh ( the joker), Bechareth ( the silent mysterious guy without a past) and Min (the older jolly guy).
The training continues and Korlandril eventually gets to put on his helmet, and thus his War Mask. It doesn’t go well, with him losing control and blacking out, but he eventually gets there and is allowed to leave the shrine.

The montage of training I found well written, as with the descriptions of the Kung-fuesque stances and moves. The training fights were short and sharp, and focussed mostly on Korlandril ’s thoughts about his skills and feelings. He also is growing as a character, and when on the outside he meets Aradryan again he apologises, revealing his mindset is now more serious, less emotional than before (again, the changing psyche). Basically he was a snotty, whiney brat who got a reality check and realised what a douche he was being for not accepting his friend had changed.

Aradryan reveals war is brewing on a distant world, and that he had seen Thirianna . Korlandril is unmoved by this, saying if they meet again he won’t be angry, but similarly won’t be sad if they don’t. Aradryan draws his friend out into revealing the attraction to Elissanadrin , but Korlandril gets embarrassed and says nothing is happening as it would be unprofessional.
Battle draws near and Korlandril receives a token of well wishing from Thirianna – a rune from her Aspect Armour, which makes him happy (Love triangle alert!). All through the book the Eldar’s psychic nature has been used very subtly and effectively in instances such as this. Communication is done through the Infinity Circuit, and people can look for each other by seeking out their imprints in it. Instead of doorbells people go to a doorway and send a psychic ‘request’ to enter, that sort of thing.

It is integrated smoothly and never feels like Gav is going ‘look at how psychic the Eldar are!’, as the Space Hulk novel often clumsily introduced Overwatch and such into the text.

As war draws near the Avatar wakes up and Korlandril is drawn back to his temple and to war. After they suit up the Warriors mill around, and see another Striking Scorpion group, the Fall of Dark Rain. Their Exarch Aranaraha , unlike Kenainath , is talkative and disturbingly friendly. His group is also much more sizable than Kenainath ’s. Elissanadrin explains that Aranaraha enjoys being an Exarch, while Kenainath hates it and that he is needed to train others to control their bloodlust. Kenainath is revealed to take a very personal interest in his pupils, wishing they didn’t need training, while Aranaraha teaches en masse and actively tries to recruit new members (I’m not sure how this works as Exarchs aren’t meant to leave their Shrines [excpt when they do]).

So basically Kenainath is Mr Miyagi and Aranaraha is Cobra Kai.

Things go badly for in the battle and Korlandril ends up nearly getting killed. We are then treated to a scene where we have Korlandril helped back to life, so to speak, by a healer. Korlandril has to face his fears and the terrible pain he feels to survive, rather than shying away from it. He eventually does, and awakes to discover that his psychological damage has been compartmentalised into his War Mask persona, and that he has to don it to repair the damage lurking inside. Initially reluctant to return, Korlandril ’s healing is interrupted by Aranaraha on a recruitment mission. Aranaraha attempts to lure Korlandril to his Shrine by blaming Kenainath’s teachings for the injury, and claiming the FDR training will make him strong.
This freaks Korlandril out, who vows to return to the Deadly Shadow. The healer is also furious at Aranaraha for coming into a place of healing with his bad vibes.

The healing section was interesting, but felt incomplete. The subject of Korlandril ’s fears being locked into his War Mask is never really mentioned again, and he is basically back to normal in a few pages. I would have liked to see more about the psychological/psychic healing personally, at least another couple of pages.

Korlandril rejoins his squad, meeting Min as he leaves the Shrine – he is finding it too hard to take off his War Mask, and cautions Korlandril against overconfidence in his ability to do so. Of course Korlandril laughs it off and goes on as normal.

We then get some good banter between the remaining squad, until time passes and Arhulesh is headhunted by Aranaraha . This provokes an honour duel between the two Shrines to prove who’s style is most worthy, and who keeps Arhulesh . Naturally Korlandril is set to fight him, being the newest Deadly Shadow as Arhulesh is the newest Dark Rain. It is doubly important as without Arhulesh the Shadows will be too few to operate as a squad and would be disbanded. A very interesting point, tying in to the whole Exarchs drawing people to them, as it shows there is some higher authority over them to do so (maybe simply tradition). The warriors do not know what would happen to Kenainath if he lost his squad though.

Of course Korlandril wins the duel, but a jibe from Arhulesh at the end causes Korlandril to lose control and almost kill him. The two make up and Korlandril is set to train by himself for some time, and upon his release makes the conscious decision to seek non warlike companionship, forsaking his squadmates initially to meet with Thirianna .

Thirianna is happy to see him, but reaveals that as a Seer she read his runes and they are confused and that he is treading down a dangerous path.
It goes badly, with Korlandril deriding Thirianna ’s concern for him and mocking her observation that he treats everything as a battle to be won. He then goes on to call her jealous of his feelings for Elissanadrin , and sees her crying as an attempt at attention (smooth move dude). Returning to the Shrine for some training he meets with Elissanadrin , and they have some sexually charged banter before another war breaks out.

Honestly, I was pretty annoyed with this battle scene. It went on for a bit too long (there are only so many descriptive ways to kill someone with a chainsword), and it interrupted a very interesting part of the story. I’ve often heard people say Eldar only have few children because sex is so intense emotionally and blah blah blah (though no idea on the source – anybody?). But here we have two Eldar basically saying

Korlandril : “I like you and am attracted to you, we should go out some time.”
Elissanadrin : “I’d rather just do you now, and then we can go out after that.”

Prettymuch flies in the face of the whole “no Eldar gettin’ jiggy with it” thing.

Na-na-na na-na na-na, Na-na-na na-na na-naaaaa, gettin' jiggy with it

The battle is doubly annoying as after he comes back Korlandril falls off the deep end with his growing insanity and becomes an Exarch. There are some scenes I found amusing where Korlandril will do something perfectly normal, everyone will freak out, and he’ll review it in his mind revealing he was acting all crazy. One example is that he walks out from a grove to ask for directions, but in reality he leapt out of the shadows in a combat stance. I thought it was well done, but unfortunately he doesn’t pull back from the brink at the last minute and the book goes down along with him.

From here on in, everything you have read is basically irrelevant.
Korlandril no longer exists, being replaced by the Exarch Morlaniath (he puts on the suit and the gestalt personality subsumes him); the Deadly Shadow squad don’t appear much, certainly no meaningful interaction; and the few characters (Thirianna , Kenainath ) who are around are talking to an essentially new main character – one with all the personality of a rock.
Morlaniath also gets a bunch of new recruits who are basically irrelevant. Eventually Thirianna comes to Korlandril (or rather Mor), asking for his help. She is a Farseer now and is having strange visions of doom that no-one else listens to.

Wait... she’s a Farseer now? lolwot? Didn’t she abhor the idea of getting caught on a path? If only there was a main character who had feelings and emotions to comment on this...
I’m inclined to think this might be an error, and they mean a scryer of some sort, rather than a full blown Farseer, but if it is it a terrible mix up for a 40k book to make – Mutilazorz level of bad IMO.

It’s fairly irrelevant in either case as Morlaniath doesn’t care in any way, shape or form about Thirianna , so he sends her away. Eventually he convinces himself to call in a favour one of his past incarnations with an Autarch, and it is revealed her visions were in fact true and the Imperium is about to invade Alaitoc!

Strap yourself in for a hugely tedious battle scene! Short version is: a bunch of Phoenix Lords show up, including Karandras. Kenainath gives Morlaniath the Deadly Shadow as his own squad is too inexperienced and Kenainath ’s mortal body is dying. We are treated to page upon page of epic battles – from the POV of Morlaniath waiting in the shadows mostly. See, the thing about stealthy close combat dudes is that they tend to wait and hide and spring ambushes. Not very exciting when they’re waiting around watching other guys do the fighting.

Eventually they team up with Karandras, Elissanadrin gets killed (maybe, she’s described as wounded later), Bechareth is also hurt (but must survive as he’s actually an Incubi and his reformation proves the worth of the path) so it ends up with Karandaras getting ‘killed’, and Korlandril /Morlaniath giving themselves to him so he gets up and goes back into the fight.

So basically Elissanadrin (probably) dies with no emotional reaction, despite being a love interest at one point – its literally a couple of lines - and the main character, who only peripherally exists at this point anyway, now totally ceases to exist. You see while Exarchs house the souls of their former ‘bodies’, Karandaras simply absorbs their energy but not their personality so they gain peace at last.

Now, why I hate all of this:

1) If you look at the inside cover of the book it is listed as ‘Path of the Eldar Series, Book One’. So there will be others. My guess is Path of the Seer (Thirianna ), Path of the Outcast (Aradryan ), and probably one about the Incubi guy.

2) This means that this entire book was essentially set-up for the others. The only real carry over is that Morlaniath convinced the Autarch to listen to Thirianna ’s vision. Aside from that Korlandril ’s story is largely irrelevant.

3) That it’s irrelevant wouldn’t be so bad if it was a complete story – Korlandril ’s relationship with Elissanadrin is never resolved, his own personal development just stops when he ceases to exist. I would have much preferred the final battle scene to be massively cut back, maybe just to be the part where they fight the Space Marines at the end with Karandaras.
This would have left room to have Korlandril step back from the brink, a bit more love triangleness between him, Thirianna and Elissanadrin , and then have Kenainath give his life to Karandaras at the end – it would be symbolic of Korlandril ’s mentor attaining peace at the same time as he does and have him leave the Path and resolve his personal issues (ie being a self centred ass [though to be fair he only seems to be around Thirianna ]).

Essentially it was like the first two thirds were a separate novel from the end, and the story never completes. For all it’s worth it could have been Kenainath instead of Morlaniath as the Exarch at the end, such is the character. It makes sense in terms of the universe to have the personality change, but it really ruined the narrative for me (and that last battle goes on far too long).

Overall it started great, but the sudden shift in the thirds section left me deeply disappointed.


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