After a string of mediocre installments i was expecting Wrath of Iron to herald an upturn in the quality of the Space Marine Battles series.
Chris Wraights last book Battle of the Fang was one of the highlights of the series and i was hoping for more of the same from Wrath of Iron, Focusing upon the Iron Hands, who thanks to the Horus Heresy series have enjoyed a rather more prominent profile in recent years. Wraight does a good job of fleshing the Iron Hands out further, although 'fleshing them out' ironically is the wrong term given their predilection towards bionic enhancement/replacement. It is this concept that forms the core of the book as the Iron Hands eschew their (super)humanity and embrace the machine in an endless quest for perfection, purging the weakness of the flesh and supposedly emulating their Primarch. Set against a backdrop of an assault on a corrupted hive city, mortals are callously sacrificed as the Astartes relentlessly pursue their objective.
The uncaring nature of the Marine Commander Rauth is perhaps focused upon a little too much although it certainly continues the template of disregard to mortals set in Nick Kymes short story 'Feat of Iron' in the Horus Heresy book 'The Primarchs'( a book i found to be rather underwhelming in all honesty). Still the concept of Astartes role in the imperium as to regards of being Humanity's protectors or uncaring instruments of the Emperors wrath has been handled with much more grace previously in Steve Parker's 'Rynns World', the first book in the Space Marine Battle series.
The cast of Wrath of Iron comprises of Three Space marines, (a full Clan - roughly a company - is in action but only three marines are focused on and i believe only a handful are even named) a death cult assassin, and a number of human miltary figures. These include your usual general, Commissar and Titan Princeps with a couple of resistance fighters inside the hive thrown in for good measure. The general Nethat is probably the only one of these of real note. A foil for Rauths callousness, he resents the way his men are being wasted and Rauths brutally efficient methods.
This sets up an interesting dynamic which unfortunately never feels like it is explored to its fullest potential Wraight does do a decent job of wrestling with this fairly expansive cast and the different subplots that they all present. The action, unsurprisingly, is well written without becoming gratuitous bolter porn and the emphasis is certainly upon the nature of the Iron Hands and their method of war. As you read Wrath of Iron however you will probably notice that opportunities are missed in the narrative to bestow a more epic feel to proceedings, something this book lacks.
Nothing about the story really stands out, it seems to be a fairly standard action by the scions of Manus (although the climax reveals a rather more grandiose aspect to affairs) Despite the rather pedestrian nature of events in the book the focus of the story is, as i have said, the Iron Hands themselves.
Are they losing their humanity as they become more and more reliant on their bionic parts? Aspiring to the perfection they feel their Primarch symbolised (although it is revealed early on that Manus in fact wished to cure his condition) certainly the Iron Hands in this book are painted more in the vein of terrible angels of death rather than mankinds protectors.
So overall a slight step down from Battle of the Fang, Wrath of Iron is a solid if unremarkable read.
Some interesting ideas about morality and the human condition are presented but never really explored and it feels like something is missing from the book.
Perhaps the ultimate irony is that Wrath of Iron could have done with more mettle.
3 embittered Imperial Guard Generals out of 5 : Al