Monday, January 31, 2011

Prospero Burns - Grievances Galore



I just managed to finish reading Propero Burns and I wanted to say what I thought about it as a Space Wolf fan and get it off my chest. First off I think it was a very good novel. It was well written and plotted, and frankly any Black Library novel about the Space Wolves is always welcome.

I have been following the reviews of this book closely and most of them are favourable and I understand why after reading the book. Dan Abnett knows his craft and knows how to write a gripping novel. That said, my thoughts about this book are ambivalent, because although I did enjoy the book as a novel I was a bit disappointed with it as a Space Wolf book. So I will play the devils advocate on this and tell you why I am so disenchanted with it.

My first problem with this book is a matter of personal taste. I do not like the fact that for some reason they all have a face with a developing snout! I prefer the subtler Space Wolf Codex and the Lee Leightner approach to this by far, where the Space Wolves develop these features when they succumb to the curse of the Wulfen. I also do not like the idea that all the wolves hide their faces behind masks. Whether it is to hide these features, or to ward off malificarum or just to look more fearsome makes no difference to me at all. But as I said this is a matter of personal taste.

My gripe with the book does develop with the writing technique Dan Abnett uses to describe the Space Wolves. He describes the Space Wolves through the eyes of a third party. He uses a scholar by the name of Kasper Hawser and we see everything through his eyes – and this is where I have an issue with it.

Personally I don’t mind Kasper Hawser as a plot device to further the story, but to be honest I do not care about Kasper Hawser, I don’t feel anything for him and I am really not interested in what he thinks, what he fears, his problems, his anxieties, his doubts, his relationships with others etc, etc.

Why? Because this is a book about the Space Wolves and not about Kasper Hawser. I wanted to care about a Space Wolf character and not Kasper Hawser. I did not need Dan Abnett to use Kasper Hawser to TELL me what the Space Wolves are! I wanted Dan Abnett to SHOW me what the Space Wolves are through their actions and reactions, their conversations and dealings with others and among themselves.

I wanted him to take a Space Wolf character, anyone and there are quite a few, and experience the world through the eyes of a Space Wolf, not through the eyes of a normal man. I don’t need Kasper Hawser for that, I need Bjorn or Bulveye or Wyrdmake. Due to their genetic make-up, Space Marines see and experience things in a different perspective. The Space Wolves’ perspective is more different still because their senses are sharper and depended upon more; so their reaction and approach to things would not necessarily be the same. We cannot experience this through the senses of Kasper Hawser.

Unfortunately the book is set in a world of Space Wolves revolving around Kasper Hawser, but to its defence it is still a good book about the Space Wolves, but this is where it gets worse. Why? Because frankly, you can take the basic plot structure of this story with the central character (ie Kasper Hawser) and modify it for any period in the 40K universe and it would still be a great story about Space Wolves! You could even adapt it for the current time line and use for example Logan Grimnar instead of Russ etc; but you cannot take Leman Russ out of the 30K period and this is the tragedy of it. This was supposed to be a book set in the Horus Heresy. A book about Prospero burning. A book about Leman Russ and the Space Wolves of his time. I think it is safe to say that we mostly get a 3rd hand view of the Space Wolves during this period and very little of the rest.

This was an opportunity to show Leman Russ in all his glory. It was an opportunity to flesh the character out in a way only a brilliant author like Dan Abnett could have done. The few scenes with Leman Russ were excellent and I honestly felt our Primarch jump out of the pages and stand before me. Abnett did nail Russ’ character but he only scratched the surface – another tragedy. There was so much potential here that it breaks my heart to read so little of our Primarch in this book. I wanted to read about the relationship between Russ and his brothers – his rivalries, his jealousies, his gripe with Magnus and how this feud began – Who sowed the seeds? Russ is not a man to give respect freely – with him you have to earn it - the council of Nikea was a chance to see who Russ respects and how he acts towards them. How does Russ react when he is in the presence of the Emperor? We will not know by reading Prospero Burns. This was the book to do this in; this was the time for Space Wolves fans to read about Leman Russ – unfortunately the opportunity was lost and has passed us by!

There were other things in the book that were not addressed and do bother me, but compared to the above are secondary.
  • The actually Battle of Prospero was painfully short and spanned mostly around – guess who – that’s right – Kasper Hawser.
  • We see very little of the Silent Sisters and the Custodes during the battle and even less of Valdor. Now who would you have preferred to see fighting – Kasper Hawser or the Custodes – I wonder? What’s in the book is all we have.
  • Abnett directly uses Kasper Hawser as an outsider to take us into the Sixth Legion, but he could have easily used another Astartes from a different cultural setting to the same effect. In fact, come to think of it, I would have preferred one of the Astartes of the Traitor legions as the main character - an antagonistic one. At least it would have been a better literary device to connect to the bigger picture gong on behind the scenes with Horus and his rebellion.
  • A lot of the book could have been used for a better look at Terran Space Wolves that were absent except for one who was indistinguishable from the other Fenrisians. I would have like to see the differences between the two types of Wolves - and all the tension and confrontation that comes from being different but having to live and fight together - is it harder for them to trust each other if they harbour suspicion or resentment? All that flavour is lost.
  • What about Lorgar and his Word Bearers. Did they try to infiltrate and sway the Wolves with the lodges, and if so how did they go about it? Why did it not work?
  • And what about the beloved 13th company? Not even an honourably mention!
  • And what about Horus’ manipulation in the matter? How did the Warmaster actually go about it? We don’t know, but we do know a lot about Kasper Hawser- over a hundred pages from the beginning just to start with.
If the Space Wolves are so popular within the gaming community, it is simply because we – the fans – have made it so. We breathe life into the Space wolves with our models, our games, our discussions/arguments/debates and brawls. We ensure the Space Wolf longevity in Games Workshop’s products and publications with the money we put into to the hobby. This is our hobby and the Space Wolves belong to us. We are the heart that beats life into them. Games Workshop is just the skeleton – the infrastructure around which it operates. On this premises and this alone I think we Space Wolf fans deserve (and this is just a bare minimum) a modicum of respect - and more important still – and modicum of consideration.

So when a Black Library author writes about our chapter, I would appreciate it if he gave us what we as fans want to read about, instead of just giving us what he wants to write about. If you don’t like writing about Space Wolves, then write about a chapter of your own invention. I don’t want to set rules and restrictions, because if I did any writer worth his salt would not abide by them, but I do think he should strike a compromise. This is fan fiction after all. The author has the good fortune of making some money and fame by writing about something that exists because of the fans’ dedication – not the other way round. Prospero Burns was a good novel but it was not what I wanted to read about in a Horus Herersy novel about the Space Wolves.

In the end Prospero Burns was a missed opportunity.

As I have already mentioned in the beginning, if you go around the Internet reading reviews and comments about this book you will find that the majority are all favorable. To be honest there is a minority of Dan Abnett fans and apologists who don't think it is his best work either, but most of the criticism regarding this book tends to pop up with Space Wolf fans.

I think this is a very interesting trend and it says something about the book I had not realized before. Prospero Burns, in my opinion, is
not a book written primarily for Space Wolf fans. It is a book written primarily for Horus Heresy and 40K fans in general. In effect it is not a Space Wolf book, but a Horus Heresy book with Space Wolves. What do I mean by this.

Propero Burns is a psychological thriller of sorts about Kasper Hauser, and the Space Wolves are a very, very elaborated backdrop. This is how Dan Abnett gets away with murder so to speak. This is how he writes about Space Wolves without writing through them. Knowing his reluctance to write about Space Marines and especially Space Wolves, maybe this is his only way to engage. The fact that Kasper is used to provide an insight into the sixth is obvious but not the focus of the book. The focus of the book is Kasper 's manipulation and his journey in discovering the plot into his use. The world of the Space Wolves is a backdrop in which this unravels and it has been skillfully used at the same time to bring understanding into who and what the sixth are. For this I am grateful but not satisfied.

This is the main reason I say it is a good book, but a missed opportunity. This is why Dan wiped out the Terran Space Wolves with a swipe of the pen, this is why there is so little of Russ, this is why there is no 13th Company, this is why the Battle of Prospero is barely an honorable mention, and this is why the only developed character is Kasper Hawser. Simply because everything I have just mentioned is not necessary to tell the story of Kasper Hawser.

I think this is why, as Space Wolf Fans, a lot of us were disappointed or unsatisfied. We were expecting to relate to a Space Wolf character, but instead got a protagonist many of us don't care for or cannot identify with. To be honest, while reading the book I couldn't wait to get past all the Kasper Hawser stuff and get to the Space Wolf stuff. A lot of us Space Wolf fans wanted Prospero Burns to give Leman Russ the same treatment Lorgar and Magnus got in their respective books. Word Bearer and Thousand Sons' fans got to know and understand their Primarch deeply and learn aspects about them that were not immediately apparent. Not so in Prospero Burns. The only character we get to know really well is Kasper Hawser. This to some of us Space Wolf fans might have left a sour after taste.Therefore, this to me was all space that could have been used better, or to be fair - used differently.

The same is not true, and doesn't hold, if you are a Horus Heresy fan or a Dan Abnett fan/apologist in general. To them they get a good psychological/action thriller featuring the coolest chapter this side of the Astronomicon. Why on earth should the Horus Heresy or Dan Abnett fans complain and why should they bear grievances!

In their eyes they got the whole deal and maybe this is why they say that 'we don't get it’ or ‘we have missed the subtle references that all come together at the end’ or that ‘we were just looking for war porn and found something deeper’ and other conclusions to this effect.

Nothing could not be further from the truth. I like the added depth Abnett has given the Chapter, in fact it's one of the things I actually like about the book and gives the history of the Wolves more dimension - History is all about changes after all. I could have lived without any battle scenes if Abnett had made an effort and developed the characters of Russ and one or two of the Space Wolves instead of focusing on Kasper Hawser.

This is why I am so ambiguous about this book. I just don't know what to make of it really. Am I happy we have a book detailing the Space Wolves of another era - yes. Am I happy that it is not really a Space Wolf book but a Kasper Hawser book - no. So to be as objective as possible I would give this book a 7/10 as a
Horus Heresy novel, but only a 5/10 as a Space Wolf novel.

Although Abnett is an excellent writer, I honestly hope he does not write anymore Horus Heresy books with the Space Wolves in them, unless he is willing to make the effort he did with
Horus Rising and give us a character treatment like he did with Loken. Then again, I'd better listen to some advice given to me by one of the Moderators in the B&C forum and not hold high expectations when it comes to Black Library publications and just take the book for what it is and be thankful we have something.

What's a Space Wolf fan to do? 


Farewell and good health,

       NR

6 comments:

  1. I whole heartedly agree, and I have enjoyed the vast majority of Abnett's books, but this book's title is a scrap in the last chapter that is no where near the scale of "A Thousand Sons"

    I'm going to say it.......

    Dan Abnett cannot write Space Marines.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I beg to differ...
    By using Kaspar Hawser as a plot device, we learn of the culture and behaviour, concepts and workings of the Space Wolves from the outside to the inside as he becomes more and more accustomed to the Vlka Fenryka.
    This book made me want to start a Space Wolves Army more than the Wolves books did.
    It also helped explaining the reasons behind the Attack on Prospero and the role of the Wolves in the bigger picture.
    And Dan dropped a couple of bombs in the book ... (It was not the first Legion to be sanctioned, the resistance against Psykers, the way the Wolves work etc.)
    I think it was a very good book in makeing the Wolves more alien and better understood at the same time
    ... but this stems from my understanding that Astartes should be less human and more alien then normal men are

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  3. kasper was an awesome plot device, granted it may not have been to your taste, but that is how abnett writes. The idea of the wolves having bestial faces just goes back to the original wolf background, which i thought was brilliant.

    I actualy wish all the heresy book could be written from non astartes view points, it makes the whole thing more interesting.You, a normal mortal man, should not be able to feel for astartes, they are too far from human.

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  4. Interesting review, even if it feels that perhaps your irritation started to get the better of you for a moment there.

    PB certainly doesn't fit into the typical 40k book category. The Space Wolves display a tactical acumen miles beyond what's been written before. Here are some of the pre-Abnett SWs now.

    "Look there, countless enemies!"
    "Brothers, look to your weapons. For Russ!"
    "Charge with your teeth bared lads!"
    "Throw some grenades someone!"
    "Spit death with your bolter Steve!"
    "Leap into close quarters combat"
    "Would you look at that Beoawful!"
    "What?"
    "We've only gone and won again..."

    Er. So, As a huge SW fan I was pleased as punch with PB. This book left the old SW books in the dust. The SW come over as lithe, terrifying, disciplined, brutal, sensible, agile. You name it, they're good at it.

    The play around eyesight was a wonderful idea. Kasper is simply a point of view. He sees the SWs from within and without. He is one of them, yet completely alien. He is trusted with their intimate secrets and yet they know his every breath is drawn to betray them.

    Yeah. I think if you look again, you'll see that this book is stuffed to the gills with Space Wolves. Hawser is a device, a nonentity. I thought he allowed Abnett to ask and answer questions about the SWs that would have been ridiculous otherwise.

    Best book of the series. But, if you like being a Space Marine then yes, PB will leave you feeling empty. Personally I think that's the reader's bad but that's what opinions are for right?

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  5. Regarding the treatment of the Primarchs, I'm not sure Leman Russ needed nearly as much attention as Magnus, Horus, or Lorgar. With them, we needed to understand why they turned traitor, and that explanation could not be made quickly. It needed time and depth. With Russ, we know why he does what he does. The little attention he was given was enough to explain it. He is the Emperor's tool to keep other Space Marine legions in line, and take them out if need be.

    I agree that this book probably was ideally suited for showing off Russ, and that more could have been done. However, I do not think it needed to be done. As you said, it comes down to taste, and perspective. I approached PB as a HH novel, not as a showcase for the Wolves and their primarch. Speaking of show casing the wolves! http://www.blacklibrary.com/all-products/coming-soon/Battle-of-the-fang.html

    The beginning of the book did drive me up the wall. Far too much time was spent on developing Kesper. I wanted to get to the Wolves. I agree that he was overused as a plot device. His background and use as a spy was interesting, but more focus on the Wolves would have been much preferred.

    I'm not sure about your comments on the Terran Wolves. I was under the impression that Longfang was originally from Terra. There didn't seem to be much of a divide and mistrust to speak of. Should there have been? I simply don't know enough Space Wolves background material to answer that question.

    Overall, I can't disagree with anything you said. My view on the novel obviously contrasts with yours in certain key respects, but I see where you're coming from, and you obviously see where those who liked the book are coming from. I wouldn't have been at all opposed to getting the novel you wanted, but am happy with how PB turned out. Hopefully Battle of the Fang is done to your liking. Though, I doubt Russ will feature in it all.

    (And you have to admit that the bit at the end with Bear was pretty awesome).

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  6. First of all sorry for taking so long to answer. I was away at our sister island of Gozo for a few days. Anyways, thank you all for posting whether you agreed with me or not.

    @MC Tic Tac - The only one who shares my opinion, more or less. Thank you, i salute you.

    @Doc - I agree with what you say to an extent, but there still is a lot missing and more importantly there is very little characterization besides Kasper Hawser - and hardly any Russ even though it is 30K. Why? because it is not necessary to tell Kasper Hawser's story.

    @The Longbeard - We have to agree to disagree, but thank you for taking the time to comment and engae in the discussion.

    @GDMNW - Once again, the book describes the Space Wolves, but does not take it through their perspective. Dan told us everything about them but showed us nothing, so to speak. There was so much to tell but all the space was eaten up by Kasper Hawser, especially the first 150 pages, which could have been shortened to the same effect and used to add so much more.

    Also I don't think he left the current iteration of the Space Wolves in the dust, but the William King novels. The codex is excellent, besides Abnett is writing about the Wolves of 10.000 years ago. Change is good.

    @Sigismund - Possibly the most reasoned and fair comment I have heard about my review and my take on the book in general even though we agree. It shows beyond a doubt that you took the time to read the post. Thanks a mil.

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