Path of the Warrior by Gav Thorpe (Book Review)

The story of Warhammer 40,000 isn’t just about the superhuman Adeptus Astartes or the mortal men and women who live and breathe to defend the Imperium of Man. It is also the story of the various xenos species who inhabit the galaxy, whether that be the brutal Orks, the ravenous Tyranids, the broken Eldar, the aspiring Tau or any of the others. And as such it is always great to see the differing perspectives, although as far as the Tyranids are concerned, there’s not much of a perspective there. Even the Orks are better narrators in that respect!

Path of the Warrior is the first novel in Gav’s Path of the Eldar series. It explores the Eldar society of Alaitoc Craftworld through the eyes of an artist-turned-Aspect Warrior, Korlandril, who must confront his past and his prejudices and his relationships with those around him if he is to succeed on the Eldar Path. There is little direct action in the novel and it is instead very much a philosophical story, as befits the Eldar that is about. And I certainly enjoyed it to a degree, enough at least that I am looking forward to continuing with the rest of the series.

Path of the Warrior is almost seven years old now and I confess that in all this time, I wasn’t much interested in reading a Warhammer 40,000 tale from the perspective of the Eldar. I enjoyed reading about the Eldar at the time, rather than through their perspective. Even when I received an advance review copy for the final novel in the trilogy, Path of the Outcast, I wasn’t at all motivated. However, times change and here we are. Looking for a very different sort of Warhammer 40,000 tale to read from amongst my collection, I turned to Gav’s rather defining Eldar novel, and the experiment proved to be a success.

As a species, the Eldar are in decline across the galaxy. More than ten thousands years ago, their interstellar empire essentially imploded in a catastrophic event that saw their numbers and their strength decimated. Their decline paved the way for Mankind and the other races to take their place in the stars, and Eldar society hasn’t been the same since. To combat their reversal of fortunes and bring their lives back on track so they could survive in a much more hostile galaxy, the species divided its communal life along the guidelines of the Path. Their society is divided into various aspects of daily and communal life, and each aspect is considered to be a Path, a specialization of sorts. And when we meet him, our hero Korlandril is on the Path of the Artist, having ventured along the Path of Dreaming before. Over the course of the novel, he transitions to start on the Path of the Warrior and that’s the tale that is at the heart of the novel.

As a protagonist, Korlandril has flaws aplenty. He is uncertain and angry at the world around him, always attempting to force it to conform to his wishes rather than going with the flow and accepting what is placed before him. Gav’s approach is to frame these flaws in the context of the Eldar Path, which is ever-changing and ever-demanding at the best of times, doubly so for someone like Korlandril who is seemingly beset on all sides, whether by fate or what have you. This created some rather tortuous moments throughout the novel, where Korlandril became a significant unsympathetic character and I almost put the book down in frustration as a result. He is too conceited, too focused on himself to ever truly consider an outsider perspective. Living all his life on Alaitoc and always indulging himself, he has no cause and no interest in gaining a bigger perspective on Eldar life.

And so he often clashes with his friend Aradryan who is on the Path of the Ranger, an itinerant Eldar who is not strictly bound by the life of a Craftworld and instead roams throughout all Eldar territories at whim. This is what I liked best about the novel as a whole. At every turn, Korlandril’s views and beliefs are challenged and he always has to bend to the demands of the moment, for he is someone who needs direction rather than someone who creates direction. This marks him out as someone who grows throughout the story and ends up in a better place by the end (just barely so, actually), and that journey was a fun read for sure.

Reading about many Eldar just conform to their circumstances based on blind faith rather than self-awareness, proved to be a singular experience. Previous incarnations of Eldar have all been warriors rather than civilians and Korlandril is at the top of the latter hierarchy as an accomplished and celebrated sculptor. The story of him transition to being an Aspect Warrior of the Striking Scorpions and then on to greater things is something that I would love to read more of. Gav’s narrative style delves deeply into Korlandril’s psyche and while often the reward isn’t what I’d like it to be, I definitely see where Gav makes the decision to stick with it and wrap out his hero’s journey.

There are multiple high and low points of the novel. Most of the novel is dedicated to life aboard Alaitoc and Korlandril’s own journey, but there are also significant portions where we really deal with the intricacies of Eldar life in general, and learn a lot about their myths and their theology. The influence of their war-god Kaela Mensha Khaine, who defines their life in perpetual exile, is everywhere in the novel, and it was certainly fascinating because no other author has delved so much into the Eldar religion as Gav does, not even close. I enjoyed these bits the most, especially since Gav often went into major details. Ande the same holds true on a micro level for the Striking Scorpions themselves, who are among the more mysterious of all the Aspect Warriors and are extremely unique even for the Eldar.

However, I also wish that the novel was not as dense as it actually is. There are too many signpost events in the novel and I feel that some of them could have been cut to allow more focus on the characters, to flesh them out even more. Some of them such as the Striking Scorpion Exarchs Kenainath and Morlaniath, Korlandril’s many friends, they all deserve that certainly. I wanted to know more about our hero’s relationships and their effects upon him as he changes from one Path to the other. Instead, his life is in continual flux and you never really get to be comfortable with him as a character.

When the final moments of the novel finally click in, events are clearly at a head and it is all pure action with little time to reflect on how we got there. Korlandril is still developing by then and he is even more uncertain of himself and what the Path holds for him. Without the expected stability, I think the final act of the novel appears to be more chaotic than it is, and such a situation could certainly have been avoided. Additionally, given that the rest of the novels in the series are supposed to be concurrent stories of Korlandril’s friends Thirianna and Aradryan, I feel that this novel gets shafted just a little bit.

In the end though, Path of the Warrior was a pleasant enough read. My favourite moments where those exploring the Eldar psyche, particularly whenever we got details on the Path of the Warrior in general and the Striking Scorpions in specific. There’s a very rich history to explore here and Gav presents all of it rather nicely. I’m definitely along for the ride now!

Rating: 8/10

More Gav Thorpe:

  • Ullsaard #1: Crown of the Blood (Review)
  • Ullsaard #2: Crown of the Conqueror (Review)
  • Eldar: Howl of The Banshee (Review)
  • Legacy of Caliban #1: Ravenwing (Review)
  • Legacy of Caliban #2: Master of Sanctity (Review)
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Posted on May 6, 2017, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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