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Bane of Kings reviews the eleventh novel in Black Library’s multi-author Space Marine Battles series, Wrath of Iron, written by Chris Wraight and set in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe. The latest novel in the series features the Iron Hands Chapter and details the Purging of Contqual.
“If you’re looking for a reason why you shouldn’t cross the Iron Hands Chapter, Wrath of Iron provides that reason. Action-packed, bloody, gory and page-turning, Chris Wraight shows that he is making himself a Black Library author to watch out for.” ~The Founding Fields
Ah, The Space Marine Battles series. Whilst I’d like to say my experience with them has been entirely positive, that would be a lie. I didn’t like Rynn’s World by Steve Parker, nor did I like Gav Thorpe’s Purging of Kadillius and Andy Hoare’s Hunt for Voldorius. If this series was written by the same author, I would have probably given up on them by now. However, whilst it has produced some bad novels, we’ve also seen some excellent books in this series. It really is hit-and-miss, and you never know whether you’ll be disappointed or pleased by the next Space Marine Battles novels, no matter how much you like that author. (As was the case with Gav Thorpe – I’ve enjoyed pretty much every other work by this author, although Purging of Kadillius didn’t quite win me over.) So, with that in mind, I was a little reluctant about diving into Chris Wraight’s Wrath of Iron, even though I haven’t read a bad novel by him yet.
And was I disappointed by Wraight’s latest novel?
No. I was not. However, whilst Wrath of Iron is now my fourth favourite novel in the Space Marine Battles series, I still had a few issues with it.
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.
Anybody who has read the fifth edition Space Marine Codex (so far the current one, although that could change with the new sixth edition of Warhammer 40k being released), will have probably heard about the Purging of Contqual. It’s one of the, if not the only Iron Hands story in the Codex, and details how the Iron Hands unleashed a ruthless campaign against the traitors in the sub-sector. This Purging shows just how cruel the Iron Hands can be, and just how a grim dark the Warhammer 40k Universe is. This is one of the darker novels published by Black Library, and reinforces the stigma that there is no straight line drawn between Good and Evil in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe. Whilst many newcomers may think the Imperial faction are the good guys simply because they’re human (or genetically enhanced humans) and fighting for humanity’s Imperium, then Wrath of Iron is going to show that there are no good guys in this playground. There is only evil, and not-so-evil.
So basically, don’t go into Wrath of Iron expecting a Star Wars-esque novel, because you’re not going to get that here. The Iron Hands are perhaps the most heartless bastards of all of the loyalist Space Marine Chapters, and Wraight pulls this off superbly. Although it may be a depressing read, Wrath of Iron still manages to prove itself enjoyable, even if it is merely a novel full of non-stop action.
But then, with a Space Marine Battles novel, that’s pretty much what you get. Page-after-page of non-stop, well-written, gory action. The pacing is fast throughout the whole book, making it quite a quick read. Wraight writes brutal, well-described action scenes that pit the Iron Hands and the Imperial forces against the armies of Slannesh, and there is a very interesting nod to Graham McNiell’s spectacular Horus-Heresy novel Fulgrim which fans who have read it will spot the reference. I’m going to also add that if I could be any Warhammer 40k character, I wouldn’t want to be Ferrus Manus, that’s for sure, as his fate is also touched upon in Wrath of Iron – and it isn’t a particularly happy one. (One that’s even worse than getting beheaded.)
Fans of the Iron Hands Chapter will love Wrath of Iron. Chris Wraight gives the Chapter new life, and we learn that Companies are called Clans in this novel, with Clan Commanders instead of Captains, and we also find ourselves learning more about the internal battle that each Iron Hand is facing – one between flesh and metal, and the characters presented in this book each allow us to get a different perspective on what it’s like to be a son of Ferrus Manus. The characters are varied, and like Legion of the Damned by Rob Sanders, there is a lot of attention focused on the non-focus Chapter, but in this case it’s more on the Imperial Guard than the Iron Hands, rather than on different Space Marine Chapters. This allows Wraight to show just how detached from humanity the Iron Hands really are, making you almost feel sorry for the non-Astartes forces who are serving alongside them.
However, whilst Wrath of Iron had some strong elements, it had some weak points as well. None of the characters were strong or memorable, and they lacked depth – which is a common flaw that I found in previous Space Marine Battles novels. Maybe Wraight could have slowed up the relentless pace a bit to give time to explore the characters in further depth, making us care for them more – and this would allow him to make the ending even more depressing than it actually was. There isn’t a lot of plot in Wrath of Iron as well, it’s just a straightforward invasion, which also happens to be what the Space Marine Battle series is mostly about, as most famous 40k events such as this one are straightforward invasions, and you’ll find the Marines either defending or attacking a planet.
But don’t let that put you off Wrath of Iron. It’s an awesome read, even if it isn’t quite up to the standards set by Battle of the Fang and Helsreach. Although I initially favoured this novel over Legion of the Damned, I think – after having another look at it, I’m going to say that Legion of the Damned is now my third favourite Space Marine Battles novel, with Wrath of Iron being my fourth.
Space Marine Battles Series: Rynn’s World by Steve Parker, Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Hunt for Voldorius by Andy Hoare, The Purging of Kadillus by Gav Thorpe, Fall of Damnos by Nick Kyme, Battle of the Fang by Chris Wraight, The Gildar Rift by Sarah Cawkwell, Catechism of Hate by Gav Thorpe (LE), Legion of the Damned by Rob Sanders, Kraken by Chris Wraight (SS) Architect of Fate edited by Christian Dunn (NA), Bloodspire by CZ Dunn (AD), Deathwolf by Andy Smillie (AD), Wrath of Iron by Chris Wraight, The Siege of Castellax by CL Werner (TBR)