Friday, 28 June 2013

Iyanden: Character Examination - Iyanna Arienal

The last two parts more or less covered everything which did need to be said about the Iyanden Codex Supplement. It was more of what was expected, bad from beginning to end save for a sliver of a halfway decent idea here and there. Despite this, there is one last thing which needs to be talked about in the form of the characters, and what has been done to them. Yriel everyone knows and while I could spend time talking about some of the minor changes to his character and later actions, the one who suffered the most is Iyanna.

Iyanna Arienal, as mentioned last time, was an old character brought back for a new book. Alongside the likes of Nuadhu was someone introduced back in third edition but had fallen by the wayside and only cropped up in the occasional mention. While never the deepest of characters, suffering from a common problem of being written to surround events or the actions of others, she had a place in the craftworld's history.

Along with a long standing opposition to Yriel, she was an especially gifted Spiritseer capable of guiding and communicating with the dead far more effectively than many of her kind. Her background strongly suggested a big reason Yriel had anything left to rescue was her ability to quickly utilise the souls of the recently fallen and send them into battle. While lacking in comparison to the better written details of today, it was enough for the time and had neither any major flaws or problems. It was simple enough to not be contradicted by other writers, had a few small elements which could be interpreted in different ways and contained nothing overtly stupid.

You can guess where this is going.

For starters, the new book makes huge efforts to have the two even more opposed to one another than before. Rather than having served alongside one another and built up any kind of relationship which can be worked with, Iyanna only became a Spiritseer following Yriel's disgrace and the death of her family. Who cased her family's death? Yriel of course, when he left Iyanden open to an exterminatus attack. No, that doesn't make any more sense reading it now than it did then. 

Following Yriel's exile Iyanna left the Path of the Witch and wholeheartedly devoted herself to her duties as a Spiritseer. Rather than being driven mad with grief or sorrow, she focused her efforts upon her role and her service to the craftworld. Her section specifically notes "her mind was ever afield in the infinity circuit, communing with the kin she had lost." 
Crude and more than a little heavy handed but serviceable as a background, save for that last bit. What's wrong with it? Well, in Ward's desperation to ramp everything up to eleven (exterminatus strike rather than just an attack, Iyanna's connection to the dead stemming from the loss of her family and countless other examples) he decided that having thousands of eldar killed wasn't enough. Apparently instead the strike was so powerful that it destroyed the spirit stones of all those hit by the cyclonic missile.

So yes, Iyanna is now communicating with family members in the infinity circuit that have been written elsewhere to have been consumed by Slaanesh. Either they were somehow saved despite a lack of spirit stones, or she's hearing voices in her head. This is either a continuity error, or something intentional which will result in a potentially very disturbing characterisation.

We already covered what had been done to Ynnead last time, and Eldrad's warning, but here's what that specific part of the text stated in full:

"When Eldrad Ulthran brought warning to Iyanden, he spoke of more than the Great Devourer. He spoke too of Kysaduras the Anchorite, of his predictions that the Eldar's only chance of atonement lay with Ynnead, the God of the Dead. Just as the Council of Iyanden ignored Eldrad's warnings of the Tyranids, so too did they dismiss his talk of Ynnead as a morbid fantasy. To her, the prophecy of Kysaduras sang out as the most dazzling of truths. The future Eldrad described was inevitable, Iyanden doomed, and she swore she would be prepared for its arrival. In a moment of enlightenment, Iyanna perceived a glorious apotheosis, where the spirits of the living Eldar would become as one with the dead. The resulting psychic backlash would stir Ynnead from its slumber, she believed; Slaanesh would at last know defeat, and the Eldar would endure within the infinity circuit's embrace."

Okay, you got all that? You might notice one very specific thing here: The text never confirms if she's right or not, or even substantiates her personal beliefs. Nearly all of what she thinks Ynnead will do is just coming from inside her head and is never truly confirmed by others. We know Eldrad's mentions of the prophecy causing her to believe this, but it never really cites research, thought or even consideration on her part as to whether this could be true or not. She just sees a vision which comes completely out of nowhere and believes it.

While there might be some substance to this, Warlocks and Seers have never been depicted to truly have far-reaching gifts of foresight. When operating in groups yes, or performing rituals with multiple people but rarely if ever as individuals. That's what Farseers are for and Eldrad himself was one of the few who was noted to see something as galaxy shaking as Horus Heresy would surely occur. The only recent example of a lone Seer catching a far reaching glimpse of the future we've had was Thirianna in Path of the Seer. She saw the impending threat to Alaitoc which would prove to be an Imperial invasion force, largely due to the deaths it would cause. This is from a book which, again, was made non-canon with this recent codex, and even taking it into account it's nothing so grand as seeing the fate of the entire eldar race. 

I'm not saying that food for theories, ideas or vague hints is a bad thing in Warhammer, if anything it's something many armybooks need more of, but here there's nothing to support her. Absolutely nothing is done here to help make the reader believe she could be right and it makes her look more deluded than it suggests her to be a prophet or savior.

Things only get worse in the aftermath of the Battle for Iyanden. To try and set up further infighting and conflict between the survivors, Ward ultimately divided the remaining eldar into two camps. Those who had rallied behind Iyanna and those who ultimately had accepted the return of/still followed Yriel. Now, in fairness this was actually an initially good idea. One thing people have brought up is how well several thousand battle hungry corsairs would adjust to being a part of a restrictive craftworld again and the potential divides between the people. There are good ideas behind this and opportunities for clashes of ideology, but this is crushed beneath Ward's other plans.

As mentioned last time they act more like C.S. Goto's romulan eldar houses and are constantly arguing and bickering against one another over very stupid things. In this case it's the fact that Yriel's faction wants to take the Kurgan route and burn out rather than fade away, while Iyanna wants to rebuild the craftworld. This already raises many problems from the fact Yriel had come back to save the craftworld only to now want to destroy it, the fact all eldar are traditionally depicted to seek survival above all things, and the fact that they know they can recover if they are smart about it. This is only made worse by Ward's inclusion of various prophecies and the determination of the faction's leaders to carry them out. Something which results in insanely contradictory behavior.

Despite being the head of group preaching about survival above all, Iyanna is written as being hellbent upon fulfilling the Phoenix Arisen Prophecy and bringing about Ynnead's birth. To this end she is determined to find the artifacts known as Morai-Heg's tears and recover them as they might assist her. Despite her characterisation as caring for the dead and rebuilding the craftworld, she seems to suddenly want these items above all things. Her efforts to reclaim them result in what can only be described as an intergalactic rampage. Coming into conflict with humans, orks and various alien species and leaving almost a dozen worlds in complete ruin just to gain one of these mythic items.

Let this be made clear: Despite her goal of long term preservation, she is more than willing to bring the weakened Iyanden into conflict with just about everyone in her way and enter multiple wars to fulfill her personal beliefs.

Rather than people questioning if she's right in the head, this results in her only garnering further support among the craftworld's populace. Iyanna herself serving as a figurehead to the belief in Ynnead and their ultimate goal of salvation through the god's awakening.

Here's what we have so far in terms of her characterisation:

  • Iyanna has suffered a traumatic event in her past which has likely resulted in emotional or mental scarring.
  • This resulted in her having a fascination, a borderline obsession, with the dead of her kind.
  • She receives mental images of an unknown source and lack any factual backing displaying a grand vision of the future only she can realise, along with possible voices. This causes Iyanna to put her faith in something widely ignored or dismissed by her people.
  • Following a great cataclysm she gains support and becomes a spiritual leader. Obsessed with a single prophecy she begins following it above all things, despite only a single mental suggestion indicating this is the right thing to do.
  • She claims to support the craftworld's future but puts it at risk to fulfill her own ambitions and behaves just as badly as the group she seems to oppose.

At the moment the "Angel of Iyanden" reads less like a hero of her people and more like the figurehead of a cult. Again, nothing has been done in this codex to truly substantiate her personal beliefs or indicate she's in the right. As a result we have no reason to think any of what she's doing is beneficial to the eldar to think she has any rationale for going on her merry crusade. All Ward would need to do is keep the old fluff about Ynnead to make her actions seem justified, but no, that's now gone. Hell, if you actually look at the book as a whole various examples are brought up which are against the vision she had and suggest it's a falsehood. The biggest of these being something shown to Yriel by the Harlequins, with the Eldar Gods reborn and a true war against Chaos in full swing.

Still, this book needs that one slight more push to turn her into a true monster; a completely irredeemable religious zealot who even in 40K's twisted morality scale would be disturbingly immoral. Naturally, Ward gives us this:

"the Spiritseer Iyanna Arienal begins the preparations that she believes will cast the souls of Iyanden into the infinity circuit, and hasten Ynnead's awakening." 

You can find that on page thirty-five of the book. As usual this means one of two things, mostly because this could be an intentional statement or a result of the author doing no bloody research. Why? Because it simply states the souls of Iyanden. It's not referring to the departed souls or those who have succumbed to old age or battle.

  • Option A: Ward has forgotten how the Infinity Circuit works yet again while writing this book. He has failed to realise that the heart of the craftworld stores the souls of dead eldar despite, as quoted above, Iyanna communing with those same souls. It's unlikely, but just about possible.
  • Option B: Iyanna is planning to kill and harvest the souls of those still living on Iyanden in her final gambit. Turning on them once she has what she needs from them and ultimately using their essences for her own ends. Forcing them into the infinity circuit and trapping them to supposedly awaken Ynnead.

... I can only imagine somewhere in the distance Asdrubael Vect is watching this with a shocked expression, announcing "WOW! That's pretty brutal even by my standards!"

You can claim this is justified, you can bring up other examples of where similar things have taken place, but just remember one thing: Ward specifically rewrote Ynnead's existence so no one was sure if it was real. He never gave any solid indication that any of what is being done was going to work nor that Iyanna was doing the right thing. Her crusade killing millions, her apparent preparations to sacrifice the craftworld's entire populace; all could be for absolutely nothing.

When the Black Ships harvest billions of psykers from across the galaxy and feed them to the Emperor, they at least know it's working. They know that it will sustain his spirit and can see their work is needed due to the astronomicon's existence.

When the Word Bearers use the blood of innocents to call forth the Brazen Host to murder millions and feed the souls of countless worlds to their gods, they at least know it's in the name of an actual deity that exists.

Iyanna? She has no true backing, no indications she is doing what is right and is in-fact betraying the long standing efforts of their race for continued survival. Here she is not just a cult figurehead, but the master planner behind a ritualistic suicide cult in service of the god she is somehow the prophet of. Nothing in the book indicates anyone beyond her is aware of this or her long term plans to achieve Ynnead's awakening via the sacrifices of others. 
To say this has destroyed all prior characterisation of her goes without saying. As do any points citing how this makes no sense and contradicts half the things written about this race both in the actual codex and all prior books. Instead I'll just leave with this:

When Ward first got his hands on the Sisters of Battle he diminished them from a powerful military force, to a minor faction of limited influence of only a few hundred thousand. He then proceeded over his next several books to sever all connections with the Inquisition, any role they would truly have with the Ordo Hereticus, suffer repeated humiliating defeats and had Grey Knights slaughter them in a daemonic ritual.
This (the first time he has really gotten his hands on a female major character without editors or other writers involved) has him turn a savior of a craftworld determined to keep her people alive into a deluded religious fanatic. One whose long term objective is to sacrifice everyone in the name of a possibly non-existent god.

Just food for thought.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.


  1. Regarding your last paragraph, Matt Ward is an athiest after all, and the original creators of the 40k and fantasy worlds no longer control the canon of the company anymore. It's all about the money now!

    1. I don't get it

      Matt ward rapes elder canon with a sharp stick, ????, Profit!

      doesn't make a lot of sense to me there, far as im going, Codex lore trumps supplement. This is just one great big sucky fan fic to me.

    2. That seems to be the attitude to a lot of longtime fans to these books. Especially Iron Hands players given what he did to that chapter.

  2. Thank you for the in-depth discussion of what is actually _in_ this book. I have been trying to find it out before I decide whether I need it. Now I know, I am ... PG version not very happy about the content and its execution, but thanks for the warning :)

    Someone told me Phil Kelly wrote this. They are not going to be happy he didn't, either.

    1. He might have been talking about the actual codex. Kelly wrote the main one with Ward writing this supplement.

      Thank you for taking them time to read all this and comment.

  3. Thanks for the thorough review. This is actually quite depressing. I can't believe a talentless hack like him got to write an eldar supplement. That guy fuggin hates the eldar.

  4. I actually prefer this version of Iyanna Arienal.
    Games Workshop has long suffered from a Madonna–whore complex when it comes to portraying female characters (more accurately its nurturer-stripper ninja) and it's refreshing to see them slowly break away from that.

    Changing Iyanna from the Everqueen in space into an insane cult leader is an idea that I wish had been attempted by a better (or at least less loathed) writer whose history with the Sisters of Battle doesn't leave people wondering if he's just being sexist in a different way.

    1. Except of course Iyanna was never space Everqueen. There's few to little comparisons between the two characters besides the fact they're elves, sorcerers and in power. By that logic Eldrad is the Everqueen more than Iyanna due to his more prominent position.

      As for the Madonna–whore comment, Iyanna was never really in line with that to begin with. If anything she was one of those who managed to avoid that trope for the most part. She didn't need to be changed and certainly didn't need to be turned into someone who reads as if they're on the receiving end of a tzeentchian plot or would be more at home in Codex: Dark Eldar. Even if it had been handled by someone who wasn't an incompetent hack, it would have been difficult to sell any of the ideas brought up here well.

  5. "Iyanna was never really in line with that to begin with" Except when she was unironically known as the Angel of Iyanden, that's really about as in line with it as you can get.

    1. If all it takes is a fancy unironic title such as that to earn the label "Madonna-whore" Sicarius, the primarchs and at least half of the 41st millenium falls under that category as well.

  6. ... I'm not sure you know what a Madonna–whore complex is if you think that's a valid counter argument and I'm pretty sure most instances of the word 'Angel' in 40k are there to deconstruct lighter and softer, relatively modern notions of what an angel is.

    Ultimately, as a woman myself I can't help but be pleased to see more variety in the roles of female characters in 40k and to me she always felt like the passive yin to Yriel's yang. I guess I identify more with ambitious and crazy, at least in the 40k universe.

    1. It's pointing out an extremely flimsy attempt at an argument. You single out a title then try to use it to prove an entire argument declaring "there, point proven." Mostly because it uses the word angel apparently. I was simply pointing out that going by that logic, everyone from Angron to minor side characters in Warriors of Ultramar could be deemed to have a Madonna-whore complex. You use nothing beyond that and actually support your point.

      You also completely ignore two aspects which likely serve as the reason for that title's inclusion:
      The first is the overt religious tones of Warhammer. While usually attributed to the imperium or traitor legions, many factions have faiths and deities of their own kind. Often referring to figures of respect as "saint" "angel" or some symbolism with their gods. Aspect warriors as a whole represent this on a number of levels due to the entire system upon which their units are based. As a result "Angel of Iyanden" could easily be a title of respect, just not one handled very well by the original author.

      The second is it was more likely intended to evoke a direct comparison with the term "angel of mercy". A term the connotations of which her original background deconstructed quite well. She gained her name thanks to being responsible for saving many souls, but then required them to be pressed into war time and time again to preserve the living. An act of great torment and risk for her actions to damn those she commanded. For explosions, stray fire or lucky shots to sentence them to eternal torture should their spirit stones be shattered. Iyanna was ultimately attempting to ensure the survival of her kind, yet at the cost of the honourable dead.

      Furthermore, the idea that this is somehow an improvement as it adds variety to the universe is quite simply baffling. Consider for a moment the female characters which exist in Warhammer 40,000.

      You have the Sisters of Battle as a whole. Religious zealots more concerned with burning the heretic, punishing the guilty and purging foes in fire than preserving lives. Should the need arise they were often depicted as more than willing to sacrifice the lives of themselves, their kin, their comrades and every Imperial citizen in the nearby vicinity to achieve victory in the Emperor’s name.
      Many of the times they were called to defend worlds, was either to keep rebelling factions in line. There are few recorded times of them singularly protecting lives but many more had them defending relics, tombs and places of faith. Themes of purity within their army translate to “Purge the heretic! Abhor the unclean! Kill the alien!” rather than protecting common folk.

      You have the Dark Eldar. Sadists, madmen and slave drivers. Cruel torturers who were devoted to appeasing a dark god and consuming the souls of others. They have a literal rape culture, find ecstasy in misery of others, pain, slaughter and are figures who make the traitor legions look sympathetic.

      You have the tau who desire the unity and conquest of the galaxy. They are ambitious, patient and desire the subjugation of all. Whether they are truly good is unknown, with some details suggesting true benevolence while others that they are an Orwellian dominion.
      To focus upon Shadowsun for a moment – She is a figure who is seen to spend lives but not waste them, understanding when sacrifices are necessary. She is a master of Kauyon, drawing out enemy forces before ending them in sudden ambushes; keeping casualties low. Yet when losing several systems to the Zeist campaign was beneficial to the Empire as a whole she sacrificed them without hesitation.

    2. Every single last one of these are figures who have conquest and death/domination of their foes as their primary objective. Iyanna was the only exception, instead determined to keep her people alive. A doomed cause perhaps, definitely with decisions born out of desperation and more than willing to take lives if necessary, but it made her a different general. Now that is gone, removing that one minor bit of variety within the 40K universe.

      The final thing to really note is that despite your praise for Ward, he has inflicted problem you are decrying. In-universe many of Iyanna’s kind have elevated her to living martyr status, holding her as an idol of all that is good and dear, pure beyond reckoning.
      Out-of-universe she is playing second fiddle to Yriel even more than before, with her character leading her people along the path towards death. Utilising deception and cult of personality to gather power. Yriel meanwhile is at least honest about his objectives and despite his early considerations in dying in a blaze of glory, was given hope by a more credible source. Rather than any ying and yang relationship you now have one who is outright wrong in her actions, while another is entirely right in his.

  7. Goodness Grace. Ward indeed.
    In all honesty, I love the idea behind this new Iyanna. A crazed, messiahnic cult leader bent on the destruction of her already devastated world and people for a sake of a psychotic dream does sound like something that should have had happened in the Wh40k lore ages ago. Placing her as a craftworld Eldar character also feels like a surprisingly good move. Given the absurd amount of bodycount statistics applied to every single other faction, that kind of a character wouldn't make the readers to raise an eyebrow if it didn't come from a dying race focused almost exclusively on survival. In the long run, she even works fine as an Iyanden character. The mass trauma the craftworld suffered makes for a ripe ground for such an insane self- proclaimed saviour to bloom, and painting an apocalyptic theme for Iyanden as a ravaged craftworld does sound like an interesting idea.
    There's just one thing I absolutely hate about her: The fact that she uses the name of a minor character who was established in the fluff about a decade and half ago, then abandoned.
    Iyanna was a great sketch of a special character. She served a very unique role, and for the longest time her name and few special rules were the only things an Eldar player had to put together with the term Spiritseer. While there was very little information on her, she still served a somewhat iconic role. For that reason, she deserved to be fleshed out. Instead, she was turned into something she was never intended to be.
    I'd still say it's a pretty interesting character. She deserves a name of her own, however. If Ward is so dead bent on dividing Iyanden (not such a bad idea in its own right, given the likely collapse of the social rules that kept the craftworld together so far), she also deserves a doomsday faction of her own. Just leave Iyanna out of it, or give her a separate role and build the whole "power struggle" into a triangle.
    Goodness Grace, that's exactly what I'd do if I were writing this story. However, I was not. Unfortunately for all of us, Ward was. I think even I would have done a better job, and no, I don't have any confidence in my writing skills.

  8. An opportunity has arisen to acquire this codex supplement, as a huge fan of Wraith units and the Ynnead prophecy I was very keen... thankfully, I found this review.

    A well written piece and thank you - I shall not waste my money, I'll buy another unit of Wraithblades instead!