Saturday, 24 June 2017

Conclave of Har Book Review: Leman Russ: The Great Wolf By Chris Wraight

It seems an age since I have written a book review but then, it has been a long time since I have been able to read a book (See my article 'Confessions of a Depressed Hobbyist for more on this). Sadly I could no longer trust myself to pen an impartial review as I was no longer enjoying reading. I first noticed it with Cybernetica, a book I shall have to now revisit. Upon finishing the novella I realised I could not tell if I had enjoyed it or not. I honestly just didn't really have any impression left on me by it. It was at this stage I stopped reviewing books.

But it was Leman Russ: The Great Wolf that stopped me READING. Already nonplussed by the Gulliman novel I had hoped that a book by one of my favourite authors might  lift me a little. Alas it was not to be. I barely made it half way through before I became unable to read more than half a page before losing focus, unable to remember the words I had just read.

And that, was the last time I read anything except White Dwarf or a comic, for a long time. In the intervening months three separate Heresy novels have been released. Thankfully this Dark Age was only temporary (if somewhat recurrent) and I now find myself able to enjoy reading books again.

It was straight back to Leman Russ that I turned, though I found that I did need to re-read the whole thing more or less as my recollection was very fuzzy. Thankfully a re-read is far from a chore as for the most part this is a VERY enjoyable effort from Mr Wraight. A little hard to track at times maybe and it casts a bit of confusion over the Lion Sword but it's a fun and compelling read.

The book features a framing device which shows a young Aspirant's trial against the Canis Helix and then jumps to him being  a full fledged Blood Claw in the Space Wolves Chapter. Yes that's right, Chapter, set after the Heresy and after the disbanding of the Legions. `Its a little hard to place the EXACT time period but one can deduce that it's not long after before the scouring as Russ features and although he is a reclusive and rarely seen figure the Primarchs are clearly still around.

So Leman of the Russ recounts a tale of the only time he was beaten other than by the Allfather (Emperor) and many will know straight away that he is referring to the infamous spat with his Brother Lion'el Jonson. The next hundred pages or so tell of the events that lead up to that falling out and duel including the main event itself.

As one would expect the book is well written, free flowing and descriptive with the two brothers being particularly well realised and a good depiction of the different way the two Legions operate and wage void war. The Dark Angels being very ordered and disciplined with boarding actions and the Wolves being wild and hunting in packs with wild abandon. This then leads to a misunderstanding between the Legions before the war is persecuted further on the ground. Both Legions are required to bring the planet to heel but the honour of the final kill is to be Russes. Of course things rarely go to plan in this universe and the two Brothers end up clashing in the infamous duel.

There is a subplot that revolves around the Canis Helix and therefore ties into the framing device from earlier, it does directly affect the main thrust of the story as it is made quite clear that these aberrations are a new development in the legion and that they do not quite know how to handle it as one Legionnaire goes feral and disappears. Thus is the changing nature of the Legion made manifest and the secrecy that they must maintain.

But it is the Primarch's that take center stage here, the relationship between the two brothers is the heart of the book and given that this is likely the only time that this infamous duel is going to appear in print. That reason alone is enough to pick up this book. Also of note is the contrast of portrayal of Leman  before, and after the Heresy. Before, during the crusade he is the Alpha Wolf, cunning, bold, vicious and vital. In the framing sections he is hoary, bitter, a grizzled old Wolf. Still dangerous and still the Alpha but changed and ground down by years and years of fighting.It's quite the change and it's the first real indication of the toll that the Heresy takes upon the Primarchs as Russ bemoans what has happened to his Wolves.

So overall, yes I ENJOYED this book a great deal. Chris does a brilliant job on it, delivering a nuanced and believable portrayal of the Primarchs that stands out as a highlight even amongst the excellent and plentiful action scenes.  More to the point I am reading again and have moved onto Magnus the Red : Master of Prospero by Graham McNeil, now that promises to be a superb book..

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