Battle of the Fang (Review)

There were Wolves left alive and they were hunting.

- Battle of The Fang, a Space Marines Battles novel by Chris Wraight

The first thought that comes to mind, for a lot of people it seems, when they hear the words “Space Marines Battles novel” is that it is going to be little more than endless scenes of gratuitous action scenes. It is a view that hasn’t been discounted by some of the already published novels as it were.

Both The Hunt for Voldorius and The Fall of Damnos are mostly just that, with the former being the more pronounced in this respect.

Fortunately, we have the example of The Gildar Rift, reviewed here by yours truly, and another SMB novel I have just finished reading, Battle of the Fang.

To start off, I have read very little of Chris Wraight’s previous work, limited only to his 40k short stories, Runes in Victories of the Space Marines and Rebirth in Age of Darkness. My reaction to those two pieces is rather mixed. Runes is a fairly straightforward adventure story about Space Wolves and the Eldar while Rebirth is about the aftermath of the Burning of Prospero with regards to the Thousand Sons. I am not sure I like either of them, for different reasons, none of them having to do with his style but with his execution and background-wise.

Therefore, while I was really excited about Battle of The Fang, that enthusiasm was tempered with the knowledge that it may follow along the lines of his previously published 40k work.

I am glad to say that I was wrong.

I rank this novel as high as I do The Gildar Rift. For a very simple reason. They both are not about just the battles but give equal attention to the forces involved. We gain tangible, coherent and strong insights into the Space Wolves and the Thousand Sons (Silver Skulls in the case of Sarah’s novel).

And it is something I loved. The novel is not just about the invasion of Fenris by the greatest gathering of the Thousand Sons in one place since the Heresy ended, but it also shows us how the Space Wolves are struggling to adapt to a changing Imperium where the particular skills they are good at being rarely put to good use. We also learn about the well-known fate of the Wolf Brothers, the only successor chapter the Space Wolves ever formed, and why the proud sons of Fenris can no longer form more.

Unlike the other three SMB novels I’ve read, Battle of the Fang is a very tragic story, and not just with regards to the Space Wolves getting invaded and slaughtered in their own backyard.

As I mentioned just before, this invasion of Fenris in M32 is the single largest gathering of the Thousand Sons legion since the Horus Heresy, or if you want to be really technical, since the burning of Prospero. And this is it. Ahriman’s Rubric devastated the legion, as we all know, and this gathering is a last-ditch effort.

The Thousand Sons will never be so potent a force again. And it is not just about the Space Marines. The legion brings along some two million Prosperine Spireguard. But these guys are not real either. They are cultists who have been given varying levels of military training, sleeper agents called together from several different worlds since the Horus Heresy ended. They don’t even know of the traditions of the true Spireguard.

Ahriman, once the brightest star of the XVth Legiones Astartes has left, cast out by Magnus, and taken along with him an overwhelming majority of the most powerful sorcerers along with him.

So what does all this come down to? We already know that this is a once-in-nine-thousand-years chance for the Thousand Sons and that they want revenge on the Space Wolves for Prospero. But what else?

It comes down to the fate of the Space Wolves as they struggle to adapt to a new galaxy bereft of the guidance of the Emperor and their Primarch. And their future in the form of successor chapters. It all comes down to the flaw within. It also comes down to the anger that a forgotten son feel for his father.

Bjorn the Fell-Handed was the only one among Russ’ own Wolf Guard who was left behind when the Primarch just up-and-left. He was also the first Great Wolf after that. Bjorn’s thoughts on the why of this are an interesting revelation, particularly since they are his own thoughts, and not something you’ll find in the codex really. You can actually feel his frustration.

So how does Chris Wraight handle this?

Brilliantly.

There is no slow start to this novel. There is a promise of imminent action right through the start as we are put in the company of Jarl Kjarlskar as he hunts down the Daemon-Primarch to Gangava and calls in reinforcements. We see Great Wolf Ironhelm prepare to take the entire chapter to bring Magnus to justice. We see a very intricate thread of deceptions and misdirections.

Space Wolves. The Fang. Fenris. The Wulfen. The Fenrisian Wolves. The revered Dreadnoughts and the greatest of them all, Bjorn the Fell-Handed.

Right from the moment that the invasion fleet arrives, there is no let up in the action and the philosophy of the Space Wolves and the Thousand Sons. The traitors through everything at the defenders. The loyalists contest the landings from the moment the first craft touches down.

Sturmjart, the High Rune Priest, makes a spectacular and awesome figure on the battlefield. Jarl Greyloc, the Wolf Lord of the Twelfth gives the defense his all, fighting against his reputation and his detractors alike. The Space Wolves attempt to deny the curse with varying success. The Thousand Sons themselves battling their own curses.

Sacrifice. Heroism. Death. Victory. Defeat.

The coming of Magnus. The epic duel between Greyloc, Bjorn and Magnus. The arrival of Harek Ironhelm. A Primarch screaming in pain.

So much. Yet so little.

Is there anything I didn’t like in the novel? Not really. There is enough action here to keep me wanting more and enough thoughtfulness in the dialogue and ruminations to keep me guessing more. Nothing in the novel really jumped out at me, screaming “I don’t make sense”.

Which is good, you know.

The characters are excellent. The plot is excellent. The pacing is excellent. The dialogue is excellent. The world-building is excellent. There are diagrams of Gangava Prime and the Fang in the novel. The revelations are excellent. The regrets are excellent. The choices offered to the characters are excellent.

Nothing in the novel is really lacking to any degree.

One final thing is that I am a big fan of William King’s Ragnar novels. Some people deride them for their apparent simplicity and the portrayal of the chapter as typical Vikings in Space. They are actually Vikings in Space, you know. But I loved that simplicity. It made the novels, and the entire setting, easier to get into since Grey Hunter is the first 40k novel I ever bought and read, both.

Contrasting that with Dan Abnett’s Prospero Burns, and I am not really a fan of that HH style and execution. He made them so much more sophisticated that sometimes I had to wonder if they really were the Space Wolves. Not to mention the major POV character of the novel. This novel was a struggle to read.

But Chris changed that. He has taken the best of both worlds and given us something better than the sum of its parts. There are frequent references to Fenrisian culture in the novel but none of them jar in any way. There are frequent references to King’s style and I applaud Chris for taking that into account.

It boils down to the nature of the chapter itself. Without Emperor and Primarch, the legion is coming to terms with being just a chapter.

So where does that put this review at? Right at the top.

For the Allfather! For Russ! For Fenris! “Fenrys Hjolda!”

Rating: 9.5/10

*There is probably concern for some people that I have been rating all these novels pretty highly, but hey, guess what. These are all excellent novels by excellent authors. So take your complains and your whining elsewhere, if you have any.*

Posted on October 11, 2011, in Book Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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