For reasons that still remain kind of mysterious to me, I find myself reading more and more Warhammer 40k novels. Path of the Eldar is the first series of books that has alien characters as the main characters that I have read, which offered a nice alternative look at things in this giant, ridiculous universe of magic, lasers, demons and orcs. The Eldar, the main race of this book, are a diminished race of space elves (kinda) who mostly live on giant, space bound Craftworlds that hold hundreds of millions of their race. They are not friends with humanity and they offer a very different point of view and look at the dark, grim future of 40k. Also, thousands of years ago they grew to be so depraved and gross that their orgies of drugs, sex and violence gave birth to a sadistic pleasure goddess who hunts them for their souls and killed their entire pantheon of gods.
Path of the Eldar is actually a collection of three novels that tell a connected story about three individual Eldar. The omnibus volume I got has all three books in it and the story only functions as a single work, so I will be referring to it as one book from here on out (and frankly, you should read the omnibus version of an 40k book series you can). In book order, the protagonists are Korlandril, Thirianna and Aradryan. three friends who take wildly different courses in life that will have big ramification both for themselves and their homeland. Each book explores a different aspect of the Eldar culture and society. Korlandril loses himself in their pseudo samurai/Bushido warrior culture, Thirianna learns to shift through possible futures as a physically powered Seer while Aradryan wonders the space ways as an anarchistic Ranger and eventually a Corsair who preys on other species. They pop in and out of each other’s novels and share several key scenes that anchor the book’s desperate stories into an overarching narrative that decides the fate of their Craftworld, which is a giant, miles upon miles large space station where most of the Eldar live in the current times of 40k. If you read the first book and like it at all, you should read all three; Thorpe is a capable author who seems to have a great grasp of the universe and Eldar in particular and the story only really comes together if you read all three. Having read several human-centric novels in 40k, seeing things from this different point of view is really nice. I don’t think new readers should start here, that honor goes to the Eisenhorn Trilogy, but this book definitely serves as a great introduction of the Eldar. I think, I don’t know, there are like a HUNDRED BOOKS IN THIS SETTING. It can be overwhelming.
Anyways, the Eldar are brilliant, insightful beings who experience the world and life with such emotional intensity and heights that it doomed their race generations ago (they are like over the top Vulcans). In response to that disaster, they have developed a philosophy and way of life known as The Path, hence the name of this trilogy. An Eldar picks a path and commits to it completely until they are lost on the path forever or pick a new one. The paths are anything and everything; The Poet, The Servant, the Warrior, the Builder, The Weaver; anything an Eldar does to pass the time seems to have a Path constructed around it. Korlandril’s story in the first book is a small, desperate struggle to control his anger and bloodlust as he goes down the Path of the Warrior. Thirianna’s journey down the Path of the Seer is more wondrous and fantastical than the other two. She develops magical powers and the ability to see the future, which she uses and abuses to protect her people as best she can; I really enjoyed how the Eldar use their ability to see the future to protect themselves. Reading about teams of seers and military leaders for a battle plan around what they know and don’t know is coming was a lot of fun. Aradryan’s story is the most traditional of the three; a young man full of wanderlust forsakes his home and takes up the life of a Ranger and then a pirate. He travels the galaxy, sees wondrous things and accidentally dooms his home world and must make a fateful decision in order to save or doom his people.
I enjoyed all three books, though I think the first one is the weakest. Korlandril is a particularly unlikable character and it’s hard to really figure out what is happening to him as he becomes a warrior and learns to kill. It’s clear by the end, but the road there is a bit hard to really understand or enjoy. The later books build on his actions though that’s what makes the trilogy such an interesting read. A book series builds on itself, obviously, but they don’t always add layers and parallel lanes of action and stories like this one does. I really enjoyed the parallel storytelling both because I knew all three books were headed in the same direction and because they gave me three unique looks at the world I was reading about. Big, shared universes like this one, or Marvel Comics or Star Trek, work best when they tell different stories that all work to paint a better picture of the universe they are set in. Thor gives you a different look at Marvel than Spider-Man does but they are both filling in the blanks of the same tapestry. Well, that is what these books are doing with each other and it works rather well. Thorpe is a good writer with a really great understanding of this world and the characters he is has on hand. I found a lot of the battle scenes to be merely competent in their execution, but that is surprisingly a small aspect of these books and by far the least interesting aspect of them. If you have an understanding of 40k, or just want to try something new, I recommend Path of the Eldar wholeheartedly.