Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Review: Wrath of Iron

So, I just finished Wrath of Iron last night. I think I mentioned once or twice before that the Iron Hands are my favorite GW Chapter of Space Marines. Naturally, I was really looking forward to reading this, and decided to hit it up next after fully catching up on the Horus Heresy books (Fear to Tread is also awesome and I highly recommend it).

What drew me in to the Iron Hands initially was the tale of Ferrus Manus in their original Index Astartes article (Hey, remember when GW used to make those?). His stubbornness and drive to always improve himself spoke to me more than any other primarch, and his Legion's hatred of weakness I found appealing. So, I elected to make my own Lords of Oblivion among the sons of Manus. Then the book Iron Hands came out, and that was a pretty big fail, and the Iron Hands themselves slowly slid back into obscurity, quite unbefitting a Chapter that has been part of 40K since the very beginning.

Then, finally, we started getting some attention again. A supporting role in Fulgrim (even if Manus is, at times, portrayed in a somewhat "unrealistic" light), some mentions in Promethean Fire and then a starring role in The Primarchs. Finally some well-written material about us. And apparently there was a short story in the Hammer and Bolter as well, a sort of initial foray for Chris Wraight, though I've yet to read it.

Anyway, on to Wrath of Iron, the first real (and good) novel we get. This is also my first Space Marine Battles novel, so I have no idea how it compares to any of the others or whether it deviates from the "norms" of that series. I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, since it's a fairly recent release (I'd swear I've had it since before June. I probably got it early at Adepticon or something). I can, however, compare it to the dozens of other 40K novels I've read, and literature in general.

When I first read the preview of the story, I was a bit weary, as the Contqual Subsector campaign was part of the original IA article, and the battle for Shardenus, the focus of this book, was already covered in detail there. Thankfully, Chris does such a good job of inserting new elements and presenting it well enough that, even though I know the ultimate outcome, it's still interesting.

The first thing that I think makes this stand out compared to many other 40K novels is that it actually has this radical concept called character development. Characters actually change and grow over the course of the story. Even the Iron Hands characters, which is fairly surprising, given how little depth they've been given in the past and their very nature of cold fury and mechanical augmentation leaves them, well, not overly personable. They're practically the living embodiment of the mythical aspects of the Space Marines: imposing, aloof, inhuman, and almost as deadly to their allies as their enemies by simple virtue of being so far removed from mortal concerns and power.

It's obvious Chris struggled on this, perhaps most notably in how the Iron Hands are barely even present during the first half of the book (though this quickly changes not long after you get past the map/organization inserts). However, he does an admirable job of keeping them interesting, in part by giving us multiple "outsider" perspectives of the Iron Hands, ranging from normal humans, an Imperial Guard commander, and an Adeptus Mechanicus Magos. It all adds up to a fairly complete portrait of the Iron Hands that not only follows, but expands upon, the image presented in their IA article, and even takes into account more recent developments in the general 40K fluff with references to the Horus Heresy novels and such.

So, for example, we have Brother-Sergeant Naim Morvox, a Tactical Squad leader, and less initiated in the ways of the machine as his superiors (I get the sense he hasn't even attained Veteran status yet, and thus is still very young). Compared to Clan-Commander Rauth, who is maybe 95% bionics and an unrelenting force to both the enemy and those under his command, Sergeant Morvox is still unsure of the wisdom of the machine and actually displays mercy and pity to the humans he encounters. Librarian Telach sits somewhere between these two, being more senior but, due to his special talents, remaining mostly biological and understanding how both sides of the issue exist. Just with those three we can see they're quite different people within the Chapter, though we see some changes come over each of them.

"The Iron Hands believed, perhaps even correctly, that no force within the Imperium was as resolute as they were. More deadly warriors existed, they acknowledged, more violent, more flamboyant, faster and more devout, but none that possessed the capacity to endure as they did, to weather any storm with infinite stoicism, to keep going even when the enemies ranged against them had no limit."
I think this quote from the book, an observation by Magos Ys of the Mechanicus, describes the Iron Hands beautifully, and outlines their own unique characteristics.

TL:DR - Great book overall. Certainly not the greatest 40K book ever, but he makes a solid effort at adding actual character to the Iron Hands and keep a story whose ending I already knew interesting. Good action and drama, though it could have used more actual Iron Hands characters. I hope Chris gets to write more about them in the future.

One final thing.

Look at that. Dual. Wielding. Bolters. You can't get much more BAMF as a Space Marine beyond that.

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