REVIEW: Wrath of Iron by Chris Wraight

SYNOPSIS: Something foul is afoot on the planet of Shardenus in the Contqual sub-sector. Imperial Guard, Adeptus Mechanicus, and the fearsome Iron Hands Space Marine Chapter descend to cleanse the world of an unholy taint that has taken root.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Plenty of action from the perspectives of Imperial Guard, Titans, Space Marines, and even a Death Cult assassin.
CONS: Lack of plot and character depth; nothing new in regard to the Space Marine Battles series.
VERDICT: This is an average quality book in an average quality series.

The Space Marines of Clan Raukaan, Iron Hands Chapter, descend upon the hive world of Shardenus as part of a concerted Imperial effort to purge the world of mutant, heretic and daemon. Once the Iron Hands make planetfall it quickly becomes apparent to the mortal Imperial commanders that the space marines have an agenda of their own. Regular soldiers of the Imperial Guard are fed into the meat grinder of war at an alarming pace in order to expedite this superhuman agenda and eventually the question must be asked: “Are the Iron Hands any less monstrous than the enemy?”

“…there were few forces in the galaxy capable of resisting it: ten thousand years of anger, of rage, of bitterness, all concentrated into a single, machine-augmented storm of vengeance. Now the storm was coming. Now Shardenus would face the wrath of iron.”

Wrath of Iron is the second novel of the Space Marine Battles series written by Chris Wraight. As new blood to the Black Library it came as quite a surprise to me how well written Battle of the Fang, Wraight’s first Warhammer 40k novel, was. Battle of the Fang reconciled the Horus Heresy version of the Space Wolves with the commonly-accepted modern version. The novel provided some great action and decent character development, all the while telling an important story and easily becoming my favorite of the Space Marine Battles novels. I expected that the Iron Hands would get a similar treatment, shining some light on one of the most underrated of all Space Marine Chapters. Regrettably Wrath of Iron is not the novel I was hoping for. Instead it joins the mundane ranks of what has been a lackluster series from its inception.

The purpose of the Space Marine Battles series is to focus on notable engagements of various Space Marine Chapters and display some famous heroes in all their glory. So far the series has been rife with action and noticeably lacking in depth. I like action as much as the next guy (and probably more) and I have even defended earlier entries of the series as being fun fluff. That said, after reading books of the series such as Battle of the Fang and Rob Sanders’ Legion of the Damned, it has become evident that “fun fluff” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “shallow.”

Wrath of Iron starts out strong with a revealing quote attributed to the Primarch of the Iron Hands Chapter, Ferrus Manus. This quote sets the stage for the real conflict to come – not so much Good vs. Evil but instead Flesh vs. Metal. The Iron Hands Chapter has always interested me. The They are stoic even when compared to normal Space Marines. They aspire to emulate their fallen Primarch by replacing their biological parts with machine ones. No longer trusting in their gene-wrought perfection, the Iron Hands have become callous with regards to human life. They are careful with objectives and careless with assets. This robotic attitude sparks a disagreement with Lord General Nethata, commander of the Imperial Guard forces, as Clan Commander Rauth continually sacrifices lives in return for results. Given the nature of the Warhammer 40k universe this seemingly careless indifference to the sanctity of life should not have surprised me, but I couldn’t help but be awed at the extent of Rauth’s inhumanity. This on its own is an excellent start toward depicting the Iron Hands and giving the novel flavor, if only Wraight had capitalized on this and developed it.

This theme fails to mature past infancy as the characters are evidence enough. Wraight neglects to designate a main protagonist. The narrative bounces around between Clan Commander Rauth, Lord General Nethata, a squad commander by the name of Morvox, two conspirators of a Hive rebellion, a Titan princeps, and a Death Cult assassin. Generally the diversity of such a cast would be a benefit, but none of the characters grow past the reader’s first impression. Morvox displayed the most potential of all, with brief glimpses of humanity beneath his impassive exterior, but he ultimately falls short of becoming anything more than a flat representation of an Iron Hand. The divergence in strategy between Rauth and Nethata is interesting to say the least. Oftentimes Space Marines and Imperial Guard have separate goals and objectives but Wrath of Iron takes this a step further with clashing ideologies and the added complication of the Adeptus Mechanicus.

The main appeal of the Space Marine Battles series is bound to be the action and there is no shortage of it here. Readers will experience the gritty, personal melee as only a space marine can deliver it. Whether soaring into battle with the Harakoni Warhawks or striding across the wasteland in the awe inspiring might of a Warlord Titan, Wraight offers the whole experience. The enemies of the Imperium range from poor deluded guardsmen who falsely believe that they are fighting for the Emperor, to mutants, and eventually daemons of Slaanesh. Despite the variety I did find the action to be slightly vanilla at times. I commend Wraight for writing a Space Marine Battles novel where the good guys are doing the besieging for once, but there is nothing really new to be found here. I feel as though I have contracted shell shock from this series, with all the battles blurring into one bland whole.

Wrath of Iron is a decent addition to the Space Marine Battles series, even if its quality resides in the median of the Black Library spectrum. If you are looking for some light reading filled with plenty of violence then you could do far worse. Hardcore Warhammer 40k fans are likely to purchase this book for their collection regardless, but I would recommend that those on a tight book budget pass this one up.

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