Saturday, 12 November 2016

Conclave Horus Heresy Novella Review: Wolf King By Chris Wraight

I've got a bit behind in my reviews, so far in fact that I'm going to have to start working backwards. Deathfire was meant to be the next if I were proceeding in order but frankly although I have a few notes written down, my attempts to go back and finish it only lengthen the gap. It wasn't all that memorable anyway. I remember a lot of crying Space Marines....

So, whilst I have  a backlog that only seems to increase with the frequent release rate of late I have decided to take action to stop the rot. I'm reviewing the last thing I read and will work backwards as time allows. The last thing I read was Chris Wraight's Novella, Wolf King.

I actually picked up Wolf King along with The Silent War (which i have just started). I had just finished Path of Heaven and was rather hoping that Wolf King would fill in a few of the gaps that i perceived in that book. After all they are by the same author so I somewhat hoped they worked as an accompaniment to each other.

As it turns out Wolf King is somewhat more standalone than that, barely referencing Path of Heaven or the White Scars at all. It could however be considered to take place immediately before it. (I'm reviewing Path of Heaven next by the way the aim is to get it done before I finish reading The Silent War...)

So anyway the plot of Wolf King finds the Space Wolves harried and hunted by the Alpha Legion, ravaged at the Battle of Prospero (Where Jaghatai Khan refused to aid Leman Russ) they are wounded and on the run, fighting a losing void war of attrition. Leman Russ in particular is very out of character in this book, he's brooding and conflicted, more Sulking than Wolfking. Some people have taken extreme umbrage at Russ's portrayal in this book but I have to say that Wraight rationalises everything rather well.

Russ is somewhat damaged here but more than anything else he is contemplative. He realizes that his legion has been manipulated into killing the Thousand Sons and he knows that it is his inflexible and predictable attitude that has allowed it to happen. It's more of an existential crisis than anything else. Yes, perhaps it is a little heavy handed and it is tough to emphasise with him entirely as he broods while his Legion is attacked again and again but it is a side of the Space Wolves Primarch that we have not seen before and it is rather refreshing to see something other than an infallible superhuman.
With Russ sitting in his hall casting runes as he searches for a way forward for his legion. it is left to his Jarls to lead the fleet as they follow his overriding orders to flee. Of course this doesn't sit well with his sons who would much rather fight and enact a number of rearguard actions against the Alpha Legion, losing more ships in the progress but at least going down fighting. Dissension builds though and Lord Gunn is inclined to stand and fight and die in one last glorious battle. For a moment the fate of the very legion itself rests on a knife edge...

Thankfully, everyone's favourite Space Wolf, Bjorn, turns up to shake Russ from his fugue state and get everything back on track. I'm not going to lie, Bjorn comes across a little deus ex-machina here, the answer to all the Vlka Fenrys ills. Russ certainly thinks so, one of his runes constantly lands face down and it just happens to be the one depicting a bear. Consulting with Bjorn, the Primarch discovers his mojo in time for the climax of the book. I wont go any further into the plot here for fear of spoilers but let's just say with an infiltrator on the Space Wolves vessel there is a lot more to events than a brooding Primarch. Revelations and sacrifice feature in equal measure by the time you get to the final page, the end result is more than satisfying.

Chris Wraight deftly wields a vastly reduced cast here, with no more than half a dozen characters featuring in any significant way. This allows him to construct a tight and focused narrative lacking the myriad subplots that can sometimes weigh a story down. His writing is as elegant as ever and for a book that deals with nothing but boarding actions and void warfare the action is visceral and brutal. It's a well crafted novella with decent characters and is pretty compelling, which is good as the book lacks chapters and instead is split into three lengthy parts.

Overall i would say that Wolf King comes as recommended but not essential. The author obviously understands the Space Wolves and should Dan Abnett not return to reclaim the legion he did so much work on with Prospero Burns then i think that Chris Wraight would serve as a worthy custodian. I look forward to his next entry in the Heresy with great interest.


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