Wrath of Iron by Chris Wraight – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius finds flaws within the rarely seen Iron Hands novel, Wrath of Iron by Chris Wraight.
“Wrathful for all the wrong reasons” – The Founding Fields
Overlooked and underused factions are a dime a dozen in Warhammer. It seems these days that even with efforts to build upon what we know, authors and the franchise as a whole seems determined to stick with the most recognised names. The Tallaran Imperial Guard, Saim-Hann, Sa’cea, the Howling Griffons, the Kabal of the Flayed Skull, the list is endless. One of the most criminally underused however is the Iron Hands.
One of the first space marine legions, the chapter with the closest ties to the mechanicus, a force who fought in the Isstvan V Massacres; they’re important but have all but been ignored by Games Workshop. This was one of the rare opportunities for them to take the spotlight and be the focus characters. It’s also why it’s so depressing to read through this novel’s sub-par content.
Set during the retaking of the Contqual sub-sector, Imperial forces are staging an assault against the major world of Shardenus. With massive heavily defended cities capable of repelling the fiercest of assaults, the crusaders request the presence of a clan company of the Iron Hands. Joining them, the Iron Hands soon realise that there is far more at stake than first seems and the Slaaneshi cultists who now dominate the system will soon summon a being to crush the crusade.
Having written the excellently grim and very costly Battle of the Fang, Christ Wraight seemed like the perfect author to write this book. The Iron Hands were a grimly determined legion, bent upon punishing traitors and while they had an identity they were still flexible enough for creative liberties. The problem seems to have been that unlike the Space Wolves, Wraight doesn’t seem to have enjoyed writing about the Iron Hands.
The Wolves in his book as he wrote them were flawed. They had their strengths but also their failings and could easily make mistakes. Here though, the Iron Hands seem more a danger to themselves and everyone with them more than the enemy. The very first pages into the book establish the idea that everything the Iron Hands do, every tradition they have and every ideal they hold is a betrayal of their gene-father. That their every act of self enhancement is the exact opposite of Ferrus Manus’ will and that they are no longer “his” legion.
It only goes downhill from there.
Along with adding new weaknesses such as the idea that they are utterly reliant upon the Mechanicus for new bionic enhancements, they are utterly tactically inept. While previous depictions showed them having some degree of dislike for humans due to their weaker bodies, here the Iron Hands all but loathe them. Seeing them as apparently not even being worthy of learning vital information or just why so many Imperial troops are being massacred to bring down the city as fast as possible. The entire climax of the book could have been avoided if the Clan Commander had just taken the Imperial Commander aside and said “We need to end this quickly because…” They never take the time to co-ordinate in their actions when they’re supposed to be logically driven. This isn’t helped by one surprisingly decent scene which highlights how they are above the usual pride found in space marines and emotions which would cause such problems.
Such a portrayal of the chapter might have been forgivable were it not for the characters. The only word capable of describing them is “forgettable” as they have few to no characteristics you can latch onto. Wraight did a brilliant job with the various Wolves in his last Space Marine Battles Novel but the Iron Hands have no individuality. Even as you’re reading it you’ll end up forgetting the names of those involved and likely only remember them thanks to their rank. The only exceptions here are Guard Commander Nethata, Commissar Heriat and Princeps Lopi. This is because unlike the Iron Hands they seem to have actually been written to be sympathetic. They’re more victims of the Clan Commander’s unwillingness to actually co-ordinate or communicate than any personal flaws on their part. Unlike the Iron Hands it’s easy to root for them and want to see them win because they seem more individually defined.
Still, we’ve spent long enough on this point. While it is a big problem within the novel, a huge one, the bits beyond this core point are sometimes decent.
While Wraight has the problem of portraying the military as far smaller than a crusading force would normally be, and Titans as extremely vulnerable machines, the action is solid. Graphic moments of the initial airborne invasion past the city walls as troop carriers are ripped from the sky and the tunnel battles are clear highlights. Furthermore the final battle at the top of the spire is the moment you’ll truly remember with a very powerful, and to some readers very familiar, daemon prince arising. Facing down first a trio of Codiciers and then the Clan Commander himself in combat, all the while taunting them. It’s the only time the enemy is given a real face, but the delivery in that final moment is well worth it.
The pacing is also extremely fast but never moves so quickly for readers to lose track of events. Something fitting of the continual mentions of how quickly the army is forced to advance and never allows one setting to become dull or overused. The actual writing style is also fairly strong with that balance of environmental description and fluid action only Wraight seems to be able to deliver.
Unfortunately such strengths are moot when the basic point of the novel, to explore the Iron Hands, seems to only portray them as a mistake. A force no Imperial in their right mind would go anywhere near and one who needlessly wastes allies while holding them in little regard. Even the briefly explored point of the Iron Hands’ absolute faith in their leaders is only touched upon and doesn’t excuse their behaviour.
It’s obvious what Chris Wraight was trying to do, he just didn’t do it very well. With the core point of the whole novel being so flawed, it ends up being average. It’s only just passable due to the strength of his writing when it comes to action and the surprising likability of the side characters. You might enjoy it as an isolated story but as an introduction to the Iron Hands it’s a very botched presentation.