Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Iron Warriors Omnibus (Book Review)

Yes, we’re finally getting back to this at long last. It’s about damn time too.

There’s one thing to make clear before we start – this won’t be like the other omnibus covered. The Iron Warriors omnibus only has one actual novel in it and mainly consists of a number of short stories. Aside from The Heraclitus Effect, these are all of a consistently good quality and most don’t need to be commented upon. If anything the biggest criticism and strength of them is their length so instead they will generally be commented upon rather than individually. But as the omnibus begins with its only novel, we’ll start there:

Storm of Iron

If Nightbringer is the personification of the Imperium’s plights, this is almost certainly the personification of Chaos’ assaults upon their loyalist enemies. In this single story you effectively learn just why Chaos Space Marines are so much of a threat and why, despite losing thirteen – nil to the Imperial Guard, their massive crusades are regarded with great severity.

The story behind this one is that the sparsely populated Imperial world of Hydra Cordatus is attacked without warning by a massive force of Iron Warriors, who quickly isolate the planet and in a single massive strike takes the spaceport. The only stronghold on the world, the massive imperial fortress complex sharing the planet’s name is the only hope for holding back the tide of traitor marines. Heavily armed and well-defended the fortress is a symbol of Imperial strength, host to an army of disciplined soldiers, but the Iron Warriors are not without allies and know the prize awaiting them within its walls.

This book is often cited as being one of the best examples of writing in 40K and with good reason. While it is not as ground-breaking as Eisenhorn or well written as the Night Lords series, it gives very detailed and loyal depictions of both sides. The Imperial Guard commanders are presented as being competent, a thankful change from their reputation of all being clones of General Melchett, but with character flaws. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, they respond with bravery and intelligence to each attack. It’s only due to the Iron Warriors’ experience with siege warfare, or in one occasion the appearance of a much bigger threat, that they fail. They don’t throw away their troops, they are not utterly incompetent, and when the fortress begins to fall they are fighting against the space marines, not hiding from combat.

The Iron Warriors space marines are similarly well portrayed. Unlike the ones in Night Lords and Word Bearers, they do come across as being very typical chaos space marines. Complete monsters, who will gladly backstab one another and gladly sacrificing the human forces under their command. They are barely united under one banner and feel very little comradery towards one another. At the same time however they are highly disciplined, skilled at combat, and the characters have some surprising depth to them. This is best seen in a discussion between the first captain Ferrox and champion Honsou, and Ferrox’s apparent disillusion with the with Chaos’ continued crusades against the Imperium of Man. Furthermore, while Chaos is the obvious protagonist and clearly winning throughout the conflict the Imperials do achieve minor victories making the events more interesting than a prolonged curb stomp.

You really need to read this one for yourself to see just how good it is. Trying to describe its events and cite examples of its themes makes it sound unremarkable, like it’s covering old territory but upon reading it the book is very fast paced. It thoroughly details a short but destructive planetary campaign and brought the Iron Warriors to the foreground after they had been in the shadow of more prominent Chaos legions for years.

And atop of all this it introduced the character of Honsou, an oddity amongst the traitor marine characters of the Black Library. He had neither been present during the Horus Heresy nor was he thousands of years old with a very personal hatred of the Emperor, but he had ambition and a vicious, brutal intelligence which gave him an edge over his fellow officers. A character with potential to be something more than just a character in a one-shot tale and enough of a threat to be the villainous archenemy of one of McNeill’s heroes.

Short Stories
Now, as mentioned before these will be looked at generally rather than individually for a number of reasons. The first is that their inclusion is both the Omnibus’ biggest strength and biggest flaw. Due to their length they very rarely consist of epic battles as seen in Storm of Iron and the one attempt to display something on that scale, The Heraclitus Effect, felt very rushed and did not properly emphasise upon the gravity of what took place. It felt like the Iron Warriors’ attack had been far too easy, that the destruction had been made with little effort and despite its impact the attack felt oddly petty for Honsou to do.

Another problem as a result of their length was they do not allow for prolonged character interaction or a well-developed character arc, instead they are at best given brief bursts or characterisation at points in the short stories. So we never really get characters who feel like they’re as fleshed out and built up as the protagonists of the Ultramarines series. This is especially disappointing as it makes the character introduced at the end of Dead Sky Black Sun feel like he was underdeveloped, and the redemption of another character much later on feel contrived.

Despite this, at the same time they did allow for much more variety than you would usually see in a three book omnibus. Like the acclaimed Brothers of the Snake, the stories are linked together and are progressing towards a single conclusion but they take place in far more locations. At best with a novel you would see two, perhaps three different planets but in the omnibus each short story takes place in a very different location. These range from New Badab, a world completely corrupt and home to the Red Corsairs, to a star fort which imprisons something Honsou needs to enact his revenge. They also help to build up towards the events of the Ultramarines’ conclusion, The Chapter’s Due, making its major conflicts feel much more like a grand finale than it would have on its down.

All in all, this is probably the weakest of the Black Library’s three Chaos series. While it’s good a good author behind it, the series after Storm of Iron feels mostly like it’s a side story to the Ultramarines series. Used to boost the importance of some events and hype up the conclusion, so it doesn’t really stand on its down. In spite of this, there is some hope this might become a standalone series as the final short story, Beast of Calth, takes place after The Chapter’s Due and gives some hope for Honsou to return some time in the future.

On the whole this is a good collection, but it’s only recommended to people following the Ultramarines series.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop and Black Library.

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