The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic – Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the brutal and epic first novel in the Rage of Kings series, The Iron Wolves, by David Gemmell Legend Award nominated author Andy Remic.
“A high-octane dark fantasy adventure filled with broken heroes, sociopathic villains, hideous monsters and the horrors of dark magick. A must-read for any fans of brutal and uncompromising fantasy.” – Lord of the Night @ The Founding Fields
Andy Remic is an author that i’ve been a fan of ever since I discovered the epic Clockwork Vampire Chronicles, and when I found out he was writing another fantasy series about a group of ex-soldiers called back into service, I was intrigued. Sadly there were no vachines, a machine-vampire for those who aren’t familiar with his work, but instead Remic creates a whole new world, albeit with some overlap with the CVC world, and fills it with the most unlikely heroes possible, villains that will make your stomach turn and a story that I enjoyed from start to finish. Admittedly Remic’s writing style is violent, very very violent, and this means that not everybody will enjoy it, but it’s all down to your taste, and I for one really enjoyed The Iron Wolves and found it not only to be full of exciting action and dark humour, but also some impressive character development and surprising story twists.
Thirty years ago the legendary Iron Wolves saved the land of Vagandrak from the Mud-Orc hordes of the sorcerer Morkagoth, and became heroes across the land. But that was then and this is now. The dreaded Orlana the Changer has escaped from the Chaos Halls and has created an army of the deviant Splices, but even these monsters are not enough and soon the Mud-Orcs are returned to rape, pillage and kill in her name. Only the Iron Wolves can save Vagandrak once more, but as the aged General Dalgoran sets off to find these living legends he starts to find out that the Iron Wolves themselves have fallen far from the heroes they used to be, and that the legends have been exaggerated. Now broken by the world, the Iron Wolves must find the heroes within themselves to save the day once again. But maybe, they were never truly heroes to begin with.
The story in Iron Wolves feels like both a part of a wider story and it’s own self-contained one, the former more than the latter. The key premise of the story is the re-uniting of the Iron Wolves and putting them back into battle once more, and while it does also focus on the current invasion of Vagandrak by the Mud-Orcs and Orlana the Changer, I felt that the book was primarily about the characters of the Iron Wolves, the fallen men and women that were once heroes and have now become either outright villains or shells of what they once were, and showing how they work to become heroes once again and find salvation. But things are never that simple and as the plot proceeds along the secrets of the wolves begin to come out, and we learn a great deal more about what happened thirty years ago and we gain hints as to what is truly happening now. Remic doesn’t rely on a great deal of exposition to reveal secrets, rather allowing twists and surprises to come out when they are most natural in the flow of the story. While not everything is explained fully, likely we’ll learn more in future installments of the series, Remic reveals enough to make sure that the story told in this book is understandable while holding enough back that we feel compelled to read the next book, at least that’s how I feel.
The characters are, at first glance, a collection of scum, villains and madmen. Remic doesn’t rely on the traditional idea of fantasy heroes, instead he goes as far from that as possible. The cursed Iron Wolves are a drug addict haunted by her dead sister, a whoremaster burning with bitterness and betrayal, two brothers as likely to kill each other as they are the enemy, a woman scorned with murder in her heart, and a sadistic torturer obsessed with fire. But as the story goes on we learn more and more about these characters and see that each one of them has hidden depths and the things in their lives that made them what they are in the story, and each and every one becomes a deeper and more sympathetic character for it. One in particular, the character Trista, at first I thought she was scum but by the end of the story I pitied her as her tragic story actually felt like something that could happen to a real woman. The villains do not disappoint either, the antagonist Orlana the Changer to me felt like an extremely disturbing creature who oozed unnaturalness and malevolence on every page she was in. She looked human, but right from the start it was clear she wasn’t one. And the insane King Yoon actually did feel like an insane character, someone whose actions couldn’t be predicted, which made his scenes quite tense right from his first appearance. If you are looking for white knights and honorable heroes, you won’t find them here, but you’ll find something a lot more interesting. Flawed men and women, looking for a second chance.
The action scenes are glorious, Remic writes brutal and epic battles as well as he does personal fights and intimate duels. The gore and brutality in battle are not shied away from when Remic writes, especially the battle scenes at Desekra which were great fun. Each and every scene is choreographed wonderfully, making it abundantly clear to the reader what is happening and how, and allowing the reader to picture clearly the soldiers of Vagandrak battling against the Mud-Orcs and the deranged Splices. But the scenes are also believable and Remic is careful to make the Iron Wolves powerful without being ultimately powerful, and by the end we get to see a lot of them in battle and in ways that I never saw coming and was stunned by. The final confrontation of the book was nothing short of epic and was a great way to close off the book’s battle scenes. One thing that I really enjoyed was that Remic has his characters use all kinds of weapons, including one character whose fists and forehead are as dangerous as any sword, and that each character fights differently in accordance with their weapons; Kiki who moves like a dancer of death with a sword, Zartaste and Trista whose rapier and knives combo made them feel like the fastest of the group, and Narnok whose powerful presence and battle-axe was a nice contrast with the rest of the group.
The pacing of the book is quite good. Admittedly the book does feel quite fast, Remic starts the blood and battle right off the bat with no time wasted, and as the Iron Wolves reassemble we get POV switches from numerous secondary and antagonistic characters to move the main story along. The book is fast-paced and I think that is fitting as we move from one battle to another, even the travelling scenes are action-packed which I loved because travel scenes are 99% of the time the most boring parts of a book, whereas the travelling scenes in this book were some of the best because they took the Wolves into strange, mysterious and terrifying places. The world that Remic builds here is a very interesting one, and rather than explain all of it’s history/rules/etc in info-dump paragraphs, he lets what is necessary come out through the story and what is not be left in the background for later. And somethings that don’t need explaining, I.e the Furnace and the Hall of Heroes, are not given explanations because it’s obvious what they are. There is some overlap with the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles world but only in some little ways, the world in Iron Wolves feels a bit closer to High Fantasy but with a wicked dark fantasy twist. Mud-Orcs, Elf-Rats, Horse-Wolf-Men Splices and all the other horrors that appear in the book or will appear in the next one, it really feels like a world covered in Remic’s signature. The only flaw in the layout of the book is that quite often the paragraph breaks that are used to switch scenes or POVs in books did not have the double-line space to mark them, which made the scene and POV switches feel abrupt and crushed together, hopefully that will be corrected in the next book.
My favourite quote, without a doubt it’s this one that made me laugh for quite a bit, though it makes more sense and is funnier in context;
“YEAH! THAT’S THE SOUND YOUR SISTER MAKES WHEN I GIVE IT HER GOOD!”
The ending is surprising to say the least, and it sets up part of the next novel very nicely. The Iron Wolves is, in my opinion, part one of a wider story and because of that feels a bit more like reading part of a much larger novel than reading a self-contained one that happens to be part of a trilogy. The best way I can say it is that the book focuses more on a wider series story than a single one per novel. Some may not like that but I find it to be a different experience and one that makes reading a whole series much more rewarding and engaging when you have them all together. Remic leaves some plot-strands in the novel unexplained and unfinished, and likely those are what the next book will explore in more detail as the story of the Iron Wolves continues. The only thing that bothered me about the ending was that it felt a bit too easy for that one protagonist to do what she did, but since things are far from finished hopefully we’ll learn more about what exactly happened there and what it means for the characters.
For a great story that promises to be a part of something bigger and greater, flawed and fascinating characters that are far more than they appear on the surface, and the visceral and uncompromising action scenes that Remic does so well, I give The Iron Wolves a score of 8.4/10. This is a book that I would recommend to any fan of dark fantasy or epic fantasy in general, hopefully you will find something you’ll quite enjoy here. However that said, Remic’s style is very bloody and he doesn’t hold back when it comes to violence and gore, so if you are squeamish about those things or you don’t care for large degrees of them, I don’t think you’d enjoy The Iron Wolves. But I think that to be sure you should try and read some extracts or ask a friend who may have read it for their opinion, taste is after all subjective and The Iron Wolves may be something you will like once you really get into it. The series will be continuing later this year with The White Towers, a book I cannot wait to read and review for myself, i’m not sure how many books will be in the series but hopefully it’ll be a fair few.
That’s it for this review, thanks very much for reading. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!