Friday, 6 July 2012

'Wrath of Iron' - Chris Wraight (Black Library)

Ah, 'Space Marine Battles' series; we meet again... Here is a series that has given me many highs but just as many lows (have a click on the 'Black Library' link on the side and you'll see what I mean). The key theme here is that a battle should be part of the overall plot, it shouldn't be the whole plot. What more is there to tell other than that there's a battle, one side wins and the other side loses? Given that the Black Library are all about trying to dispel 'tie-in fiction' myths they've set themselves quite a task here, especially given that the Space Marines haven't lost a battle yet in this series...
What they're after then are good writers who can rise to the fundamental challenges of this series; it's a good job then that they have Chris Wraight on board.

Wraight has already delivered the goods with his Warhammer fiction (see my reviews of 'Sword of Justice' and 'Sword of Vengeance') but what is more telling is that he has also delivered with his 'Space Marine Battles' novel 'Battle of the Fang'. Wraight has risen to the challenge once already, can he do it again? That was the question I had with 'Wrath of Iron' and I'm really pleased to say that Wraight hit the target again. 'Wrath of Iron' isn't perfect but you can't complain with what's on offer here.
Blurb copied and pasted because you would not believe the kind of things that were jumping out of the woodwork and biting me on the rear yesterday...

After months spent in the service of the Chaos god Slaanesh, the ruling classes of the Contqual sub-sector have finally brought true damnation upon their people - innumerable hordes of foul and lascivious daemons swarm from a tear in the fabric of reality to embrace their mortal pawns and drive them on to ever more depraved acts of worship. It falls to the merciless Space Marines of the Iron Hands Chapter to cleanse these worlds of the warp's unholy taint, and it is upon the surface of Shardenus that the fate of a billion lost souls will be decided.

Since I first came across Chris Wraight, his work has done more than enough to make me pick up and finish whatever he writes. It's that simple.
It was no surprise then that I finished 'Wrath of Iron', in a relatively short space of time, but there was plenty to make the experience worthwhile. Wraight not only has high standards but has no trouble in meeting them.

He doesn't make the job easy for himself though... The Iron Hands Space Marines are warriors bent on glorifying their Primarch by replacing their flesh with steel, purging any trace of what little was left of their humanity. All they want to do is fight, not a lot to write about surely?

In a way there isn't, all the Iron Hands are there to do is fight and win, but there are interesting little snippets that hint at a wider (more tragic) picture. I'm talking about the words of the Iron Hands Primarch, that open the book, and the struggle of Sergeant Naim Morvox to accept his destiny as an Iron Hand. I say 'struggle' though... It's not much of a struggle to be honest given the conditioning that he has already received. Bit of a damp squib then? Possibly, there's no doubt how that strand of the book will end... These little hints give the reader a bit more perspective then but they don't do a lot to advance the plot.

It's a good job then that there's a lot more to 'Wrath of Iron' than just the Iron Hands. Wraight takes in everyone, with even a passing involvement in the conflict to give us a war that is truly all encompassing. The fighting itself is as brutal as you would expect with no punches pulled (albeit still a little too linear for my tastes, I’m going to have to accept that this is how the series will be on the whole). You can't pull any punches when describing just what it takes to lay siege to an entire Hive city… It’s a whole load of glorious (yet somehow futile) spectacles, I’m talking Titans going up against daemons, combining to show us warfare on a wide scale and personal scale all at the same time.

This is where Wraight really delivers the goods, as far as I was concerned, showing us what it's like to be a civilian caught in the middle and unable to tell which side is which. Even characters like Khadi, who know which side to fight for, are tested to the absolute limit when they see what waits for them within the Hive. Wraight gets it; you can't do half measures if you want to show just what war is like, you have to give it everything.

Contrasting this is the story of Lord General Nethata. Space Marines can seem very simplistic characters, just there to keep fighting, and the only way you can get across just how different they are is to see what it's like to be a human fighting alongside them. By having Nethata struggle to make sense of the Iron Hands command, Wraight makes it clear just how apart from humanity these warriors really are. This is made especially clear when the reader gets an idea of why the Iron Hands are prepared to sacrifice their comrades in the guard. The Space Marines have a perspective on this millennia old struggle that the rest of the Imperium will never have.

‘Wrath of Iron’ is a simplistic tale at heart, no doubt about it, but it’s covered in a lot of other stuff that will have you forgiving the linear nature of the plot. Wraight shows us just how futile war can be but, at the same time, also shows us why the fight here must never stop until it is won. I’m hoping for Wraight to make a return to the world of Warhammer but, if he keeps writing books like this, I’ll keep reading his stuff anyway.

Nine out of Ten

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i would've figured that the good in this series far outweighs the bad by now