I promised myself I wasn’t going to gripe about Horus Heresy fatigue yet again in one of these Primarch reviews. Instead I’ll gripe about how I’m not sure I understand the point of this series. I love Guy Haley as much as the next person, but Corax: Lord of Shadows left me generally confused. For a primarch who arguably gets the shortest end of the stick during the Heresy, I expected a tale of the before times when Corax was awesome and his exploits legendary. What I got was something quite different and a little underwhelming.
The Problem with Rebellions
The book is essentially divided into two stories. Things going on back on the home front, and a peace negotiation gone awry. Part of Corax’s legend was how he helped the workers of his home world rise up against the oppressive ruling class that abused them. Once the Emperor comes to collect Corax, it seemed safe to assume he could leave his homeworld and it would be in good hands. And that is true, from a certain point of view.
Corax was an inspiring leader who taught a downtrodden people that they could take control of their destiny and strike fear into the hearts of those who would stand above them. The problem with this is that with any world and economy there is someone on top, and people on the bottom. That is the nature of a society. Which means that a group of plucky revolutionaries will always have enemies to rebel against.
As Imperial factions seek to establish order and industry, a group of freedom fighters work against them. Violently. As they wreak havoc and discord, they are adamant in their belief that they are merely carrying out Corax’s wishes and vision. Their leader may have left them, but they are still continuing his work, in his name.
What makes this part of the book interesting is that in many ways it feels like a mirror to the current state of WH40k. The leader of the militant group fought alongside Corax and feels that he understood Corax’s vision best. He’s merely taking that vision to its logical conclusion, just as you can see how so many successor chapters have deviated over the centuries from their primarch’s vision. They were started by a dude who felt that he understood how the primarch would want this to go.
Same trick, different dudes
Meanwhile, across the universe, Corvus Corax has been called in to help bring a collective of worlds into the Imperial fold. The worlds are resistant to join the Imperium, rightfully arguing that they have survived just fine in the wake of the Long Night without a unified government (the Imperium), why change things now? Their methods and manners may not be great, but in all fairness, their argument is sound.
We learn in both the Konrad Curze book and this book that the Night Lords were originally called, but were too busy* to attend. Corax feels extra pressure to bring this world to compliance peacefully given this circumstance. There is a lot of page space given to Corax worrying about the similarities between him and Curze. Like, a shocking amount of page space.
Corax gives a badass speech to the leaders of the worlds, and launches his assault in the manner that has worked so well for him over the years. Launch a stealth attack, sow confusion by taking out key leaders, but leave the “normal” people largely alone. Corax’s war is against those in charge who make the decisions, not the rank and file who merely enact, or are affected by those decisions.
Which is all well and good, and why we love the Raven Guard so much. Except, of course, this playbook doesn’t always work. Not only does it not work here, Corax grossly underestimated the disdain for their own people these leaders had. As they release a toxin that essentially reduces the populations to mindless zombies Corax and his men are forced to kill, Corax has to face a failure.
Corax: Lord of Questionable Decisions
What’s interesting about this primach book is that it is a glimpse at a primarch failing on multiple fronts. Corax is forced to return home to face the rebellion being carried out in his name. He is forced to see his way of war is not a one-size-fits-all solution. For a brief moment he has to acknowledge that perhaps Konrad and his terror tactics would have worked better here.**
What makes this so odd is that it’s disappointing to see Corax floundering as much as he does in this book. The Horus Heresy is difficult for Raven Guard fans because SPOILER ALERT, Corax really gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop throughout the entire Heresy. Between the Dropsite Massacre and everything that comes after, Corvus Corax is the HH’s favorite punching bag.***
Generally, the Primarchs series has been a chance to deep-dive into the primarchs, to give us better understanding of said Primarch. In Konrad Curze, we see his lunacy and torment unfold; in Perturabo, we get a better understanding into how he ticked from start to finish. Both Curze and Perturabo had phenomenal endings that gave us such insight into them as people, but Corax never quit gets there.
Maybe I really wanted to see Corax be the sneaky freedom fighter he was rumored to be. Maybe I wanted him to have a moment of “holy shit!” before the HH knocks his legs out from under him. Instead the book makes him look very insecure (his constant worrying about whether or not he and Curze are too similar) and like an ineffective leader. Not that he doesn’t inspire his sons, but that he doesn’t really understand people. Which can be said about a lot of the primarchs, but Corax feels particularly detached as he fails to understand why people would continue fighting “good guys” in his name, and that some people really don’t give a single, solitary $#@% about their people. It’s not a bad book, but in the end, I wish I hadn’t read it. Which is probably all you need to know.
*Too busy foreseeing this would be a cluster $#@%.
**Which is exactly what Konrad knew and loves to hear.
***Cry me a river, Thousand Sons fans.