Stormcaller by Chris Wraight – Book Review [Bellarius]
After finishing the first installment of Chris Wraight’s ongoing Space Wolf series, Bellarius weighs the pros and cons of his follow-up with Stormcaller.
“While a definite step in the right direction for this series, Stormcaller fails to truly capture the fun of William King’s famed tomes or the monumental developments of Battle of the Fang.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
After the mountain of problems which buried the sheer potential within Blood of Asaheim’s story ideas, Stormcaller was a chance to turn things around. It was set to truly finish off the prior novel’s events, which was little more than a “to be continued”, and perhaps accomplish more than disgracing both the Sororitas and Space Wolves alike. Combined with mention that Njal Stormcaller himself was appearing, who had remained something of enigma even among fans, this one looked to be an improvement. In all fairness it was, correcting a few prior issues, but as before this is one thoroughly undermined by a few distinct failings.
Having managed to hold back the Death Guard onslaught, word reaches Jarnhammer and their allies that reinforcements are inbound from both their chapter and the Ecclesiarchy. As heartening as this news is, each among them knows that they will face judgement for their failings and questions surrounding the near corruption of one of their brothers. Even beyond this, the Imperial Church has its own interests in this world, and will stop at nothing to ensure that the Space Wolves never learn of their sins.
If there is one word to truly describe Stormcaller it would be this: Rudderless. It’s the same sort of situation you may well have seen in media many times over, where a story is trying to move forwards but not everything is quite fitting together. The narrative doesn’t quite know what to do with certain characters, some sub-plots are dragged out without ever truly weaving into the main plotline, many characters are obvious sulfurous to the story, and even the protagonist lacks a distinctive arc. The entire book reads like this, and while to his credit Wraight seems to have acknowledged and accounted for criticisms of the prior book, this oddly manages to only hurt the story further.
Blood of Asaheim’s main failing was that it repeatedly beat the reader over the head with the idea that the Space Wolves were little more than a backwards failure. While this was apparently a reaction to their Houdini-esque nature in repeatedly butting heads with Imperial organisations and pulling off insane stunts, its failing was it went to the other extreme, turning the chapter effectively into an embarrassment on par with Betrayer’s World Eaters. Here, this is thankfully far more tempered and we see a more even presentation of their strengths and failings. While the story moves onto their flaws in terms of comprehending the Warp, elements of the story depict the Space Wolves as competent combatants capable of doing more than fighting among themselves. Even the idea of the Warp itself is thrown somewhat into question with a few minor points suggesting that, while they are most likely failing to grasp the bigger picture, The problem is that it seems that, in trying to temper his criticisms of the chapter, much of Wraight’s original concept or story seems to have been lost.
While this might have been part of the issue, further failings stemmed from the fact that the novel had no obvious idea what to do with its Ecclesiarchy characters or who to make the protagonist. In the prior installment, the focus was strictly leveled at Ingvar. While the other characters of his unit played out their roles, it was his separation which caused the drama within the group. Here though? There’s really none of that truly present, and the story lacks a distinct figurehead to anchor onto and drive the tale forwards, instead unevenly distributing focus between over a dozen Space Wolf characters, none of who manage to stand out from one another with any true distinction. This is only further damned as the entire Ecclesiarchy plot is effectively swept under the rug. The major Sororitas characters are sidelined and while a priest proves to be a major foe, the actual revelations about their activities are never addressed. Like so much here, it’s present but never seems to be truly amounting to anything.
As before the story ends on a “to be continued” note and very little feels as if it has been resolved or even accomplished. If there is something to truly compliment, it’s that Wraight delivers some expectedly fun battle sequences between the Wolves and forces of Chaos, and an odd turn by the followers of Nurgle. While the character is unfortunately fleeting, regulated to only a few chapters, the main villain is a spin on the Death Guard we have rarely seen and it would be interesting to have Wraight expand upon his story, or even handle the history of a Death Guard warband. Overall though, Stormseer at best manages to be unremarkable. It had potential to be good but it still sadly falls short of the mark.
Unless you’re a true completion when it comes to Black Library products, this is one to skip. What little it does offer here which is good is nothing we’ve not seen done just as well in more cohesive and more focused tales. Save your cash instead for something else, and just hope that if this story does continue we see a dramatic jump in overall quality.