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Lord of the Night reviews the first of the new Space Wolves novels by Chris Wraight, Blood of Asaheim.
“A thrilling return to the Wolves of Fenris, in that excellent mix of humour and strength that Wraight did so well in Battle of the Fang, and the start of a gripping new story.” – The Founding Fields
It took me a bit longer than i’d have liked to get around to reading Blood of Asaheim but having finished it last night I can say that it was definitely worth the wait. Though it has a few flaws, one of which is not a flaw so much as something that was a bit too overdone for my liking, BoA is a good book and judging from the events within, it is the starting point to what will be a very good trilogy.
The Wolves of Fenris are a strange breed. Their packs are unbreakable bonds, their disdain for the rules legendary and their combat prowess is surpassed only by their belligerence. When Ingvar Gyrfálkon returns to his pack after half a century in the Deathwatch he returns to a pack on the edge of breaking, wounded by losses and divided by the unexpected return of the prodigal wolf. Sent off to war before they can even address their concerns Járnhamar pack finds themselves facing down the forces of the Death Guard, seven wolves against uncountable enemies, with allies that disdain them as savages and the tensions in the pack threatening to tear them apart, the Rout must band together to survive this merciless Hel that they have been hurled into.
The story in BoA is not just about the battle of Ras Shakeh but is mainly a character plot about Járnhamar. The pack’s tensions with each other, their growth through the battle and how these tensions are resolved are the key points of the plot, while the battle serves as a background for them to advance their character plots and to introduce the two other stories that I suspect will play a greater role in the coming books. That said the battle is important, but it’s clear that this is a character-driven story rather than a battle-driven one, which of course is a good thing when you have the strong and varied characters that Wraight does so well. But it’s the potential for more that I look forward too the most, Wraight hints at a future plotline that is shocking and one whose outcome I can’t predict.
The characters are all as you’d expect from Wraight, strong with varied personalities and in some cases not what you’d expect at a first glance. His Wolves are in my opinion the best depiction because they are a mix, a mix of the drunken-viking marines of William King’s Ragnar series and the ferocious Rout of Dan Abnett’s Prospero Burns. His Wolves are the kind that can be joking and boisterous one minute, and then deadly serious and imposing the next. But the weariness of the Wolves in this era allows him to explore several new types of characters like the stoic and unsure Blademaster Váltyr; the Blood Claw Háfloi who turned out to be one of my favourite characters; and the deeply cynical Jorundur who actually said what I have always said about the Sororitas, it was a very nice moment to hear somebody in the universe say it as well. Wraight’s Death Guard are also an interesting bunch though we only get a few glimpses of their personalities, their weariness of war and depressive outlook on life is something that I wondered about with them, the idea that some Chaos Space Marines are tired of fighting is something that should definitely be explored further.
The action is great, and since it’s the Wolves of Fenris, is often funny to boot. Wraight gives each of his wolves their own style of battle with their own weapon, and those weapons have awesome norse names like Dausvjer and Sigrún, which makes each character’s fights feel distinct from the rest, which of course ensures that no two battles are alike. That and the varied, and disgusting, troops of the Death Guard that take the field, there’s plenty of fast-paced and brutal battle to satisfy the readers. The main fight is very well-written, the settting for it was describely well enough that I could picture it and that is sometimes hard to do, the atmosphere was nicely set as well with the enemy’s chant adding a touch of eerieness to the battle and the siege of the walls followed by the wolves hunting was great, with one moment that surprised me, and another that was the most awesome moment of the entire book. Wraight wrote a really good main battle, but it was the personal battles of the characters that were the stand-out of the novel.
The pacing of the book is nicely done, the novel felt like it had a good reading speed and I was never bored by it, even in the moments of inaction the conversations of the wolves with each other, the exploration into their unique culture and the teasing of the mystery behind certain events kept me interested the whole way through. I only have two issues with it; the first is that said mystery could have used a little bit more exploration, perhaps another scene with the hunters or seeing the first actual glimpse of the Fulcrum. The second is the, best word I can think of, level of bromance shown between the wolves, I understand that they are a chapter that feels the bonds of brotherhood much more strongly than others but one or two scenes in the book I think went too far, the wolves seemed too emotional and bromantic with each other, one particular moment I felt that what one wolf did to another was something more along the lines of a relationship of lovers rather than brothers.
Now for my favourite quote, the Wolves have plenty of violent or funny lines, or both, but this one stands out for me,
“Finished? Then make the first move. I always allow my prey the first move.”
The ending has pluses and minuses. The character stories have either been resolved or renewed, the fate of one character in particular is something I am keenly interested in, and some more teasing hints of the mystery behind the Fulcrum have been revealed, and the promise that this war will take a much more epic turn with the revelation of who exactly is leading the invasion of this sector. But the minuses are that it feels like the book just stops, and that the next book will pick up where it left off, which makes the ending feel incomplete in ways, and that the epilogue felt like it would have been better placed somewhere else in the book and that the epilogue could have teased on something to come rather than showing something that happened long before the book even began.
For a good story, some very good characters and the potential for a great new series I give Blood of Asaheim a score of 7.6/10. This is a good book that any fan of the Space Wolves can enjoy, and really any fan of the Space Marines who likes strong and memorable characters with a good plot with plenty of twists and plenty of fast-paced and visceral battle scenes. But if you do buy Blood of Asaheim be forewarned that it is without a doubt a series in the making so don’t expect a stand-alone novel, I predict this will become a trilogy at the very least.
That’s it for this review. Next will either be Gilead’s Curse by Nik Vincent and Dan Abnett or Mark of Calth by Various Authors. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!