Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review: Space Wolves, Legends of the Dark Millennium

Space Wolves is a strange book as one's first impression might give it the appearance of an anthology due to the fact that it has four (4) authors. Yet is is not an anthology, but in fact it is a rolling romp that takes you and the Space Wolves through many different warzones while facing quite a variety of foes. The four (4) writers split this book up into eight chapters, each with a title that, again, would make the casual browser assume this is an anothology. They wrote two chapters each, and instead of mixing this up, they instead wrote two chapters back-to-back. Not sure why it was done like this... was there a plot that was structured that was handed off to these writers to fill-in and elaborate on? Or did one guy set the stage for the next guy to twist and roll with and set up for the next guy and so on?

The basic plot is that Logan Grimnar, the Great Wolf himself, along with his entourage, have not reported back from their last Great Hunt. So Ulrick the Slayer and Krom Dragoneye set out with an army of Space Wolves to find him by seeking out the clues to track him down.

OK, onto the juicy details and a ton of SPOILERS!

The first chapter in the book is called The Feast of Lies. (That would have been a great book title huh? Very Black Library...and grimdark.) It is written by Ben Counter. Basically we see what a typical post-Great Hunt feast looks like, as the Wolf Lords gather to boast,  get drunk and hype yarns about the achievements of their respective Companies. Logan Grimnar is late to his own party however,  and Ulrick is concerned. One of the guest speakers from the Fenrisian tribes tells a twisted tale of Logan Grimnar that causes the Space Wolves to have a freak-out rage fit and soon this guest speaker is outted as The Changling itself!

Having just (and finally) read the background material in Wrath of Magnus prior to reading this story, I immediately found this development to be utterly fascinating. And I could not help but wonder if this story was setting the stage for that event. It is a thought that would linger with me throughout this read.

The second chapter, The Caged Wolf, also by Ben Counter, sees Ulrick attempt to track down Logan Grimnar to the planet Dactyla where the book's pseudo-prologue had established he was at fighting Tau. War-porn ensues and we see lots of Tau and Space Wolf death. The chapter ends with Ulrick being stomped by a Tau Battlesuit. It was like Ben Counter was setting up a situation for the next writer to try to get Ulrick out of.

The day is saved when Krom Dragoneye arrives with this Drakeslayers. Krom is a big fan of war porn apparently, and just had to disobey orders to stay put on Fenris and join the ruckus. This is how the third chapter, Eye Of The Dragon by Steve Lyons, starts off. I found reading  Steve Lyons writing to be smoother and I quickly read his Chapters, but this probably is because of how much I enjoyed watching Krom and his gang fight for their lives when the Dark Eldar show up in the Dactyla warzone. By the end of Eye Of The Dragon Krom and a bunch of his Drakeslayers are figbting for their lives in the arenas of The Dark City of Commorragh. The fourth chapter, fittingly titled Dark City, details the hopelessness and cruelty of the Dark Eldar arenas. I found this to be far more entertaining than I thought the book was originally going to go. The Dark City ends on another cliff hanger, as worn out and battle weary Krom is about to be forced to fight a Talos pain engine.

Rob Sanders kicks off the next set of chapters with The Darkness of Angels, and happily,  he too seems to enjoy writing about Commorragh and it's grisly arena. I am thankful for this, as it proves to be some good story telling. Krom earns the trust of an unlikely ally, Balthus, a Dark Angel Interrogator-Chaplain. And together they take advantage of the situation when a rival Dark Eldar faction attacks the arena. They escape through a web-way portal back into real-space.

The next chapter, the Wolf Within, also by Sanders, reads like it should have been in two parts. The first part dealing with the Space Wolves and Dark Angels almost killing each other via ship-to-ship combat before realizing that a bit of mutual trust and cooperation might help both Chapters with achieving their goal.  Don't let this glossy summary disuade you, this was brilliantly written and actually a bit tense considering all that came before it.

Once they get over their desire to kill each other they decide to follow clues that lead them to the low-grav hive world of Stratovass Ultra where the two forces have tracked down a traitor marine named Sathar the Undone. This was a fun romp through the upper hive spires that ends with one of this book's unique characters mauled to death by a Wulfen. Yeah, that surprised me too.

C.L. Werner, writer of the dreadful novel Runefang (which is apparently so shitty that even the Black Library doesn't acknowledge it.) wrote the last two chapters Scent of a Traitor and Wrath of the Wolf. Werner does good work here, and describes a place in the Hive city that I have never seen described anywhere before: a crematorium. It was a very unique backdrop for a showdown with Sathar. Ulrick ends up making something of a deal with Sathar in exchange for info on how to find Logan Grimnar. The deal, which the Dark Angels absolutely can not know about, has the Space Wolves and Dark Angels assault a chaos cultist summoning ritual. It is Tzeentchian in nature and there are even Thousand Sons present. It was a well staged encounter and it was a fun read. Sathar, the noblest and probably most likable Chaos agent I have read in a long while, is true to his word and gives the Wolves the clue they need to find Logan Grimnar. There is some fascinating internal debate with Ulrick the Slayer coming to terms with the fact that he's relying on chaos agents for assistance. Again, this (in my mind) further sets up and strengthens the Dark Angel involvement in the Fenris Warzone supplements.

Wrath of the Wolf takes the Ulrick and Krom's forces to  the Eye of Terror where they do indeed locate Logan and have an epic show down with the Tzeentchian Daemons who have been maneuvering the Wolves all along apparently. I have spoiled enough of this book so far without being too detailed so I shall not reveal who the ultimate foe is (it isn't The Changling but he is present). The Wulfen do appear to assist with the rescue, and there is a bad-ass Wulfen Runepriest (that I would love to have a model of) who is their apparent leader. The Wulfen stay behind by the story's end and the beaten and battered Space Wolves limp off back to Fenris.

  • Did I like it? For the most part I did. It was a fun romp, however, I couldn't help but have a few complaints. The Space Wolves really seem like a bunch of narrow-minded battle waeary simpletons for too many parts of this book. 
  • Was it hard to put down? The scenes in Commorragh were very difficult to put down, and the last chapter was a real hoot to read through. The book did have some clunky bits though, mostly the second chapter. 
  • Could I care about the characters? Somewhat. Ulrick the Slayer goes from likable to dickhead at the turn of a page and also goes from serious bad-ass to enfeebled old man almost as fast. He got his ass handed to him by some foes that simply shouldn't be that tough. Krom faired far worse however, especially on Commorragh. There were a few unique characters that I enjoyed following along with throughout the story, but in typical Black Library fashion most of these characters proved to be expandable. Throughout this tale the Space Wolves come off as half-competent old men too bad-ass (mostly in their heads) to stray from what they feel is honorable vs. smart. They die in quite spectacular droves to the point that one wonders how they ever lasted this long into the 41st Millennium... Come to think of it, my Space Wolves death toll on the tabletop really isn't that far off from this book. 
  • Did the writer truly grasp how the 'world' of the 41st millennium works in the sense that it doesn't betray or retcon previously established (as I know it) lore? I would say that, yes, these guys handled the material well. The first chapter was a bit weird as it was the most over the top party with extreme bragging and drinking yet written in a way that reminded me of simple Norse tales. I imagine one doesn't just survive living on Fenris without learning how to epically over-exagerate the epic sized animal that you epically killed epically each time you tell the epic tale. 
  • Was I being talked down too? The first chapter felt this way, but as the story unfolded the tone of the story loosened a bit and,  truth be told, these four writters managed to come together to tell a fun tale.
  • How predictable is this story? Not very. Don't get me wrong, it's a man-hunt tale involving the most important Space Wolf shy of Russ himself, it was obvious that they were going to find him. But the story sets you up with thinking that the man protagonists were going to be Tau, the side-step into the arena on Commorragh was quite a pleasant and enjoyable tale. The plot may have been predictable in the sense that they would find Logan, but the twists, turns and trappings were all fresh and difficult to predict. 
  • Do I recommend this book? I do. But only if you like Space Wolves or Klingons (Space Wolf characters often get written like power armored Klingons to me). Especially if you want to read what is sort of a set-up for the Warzone: Fenris campaign books.

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