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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Review (In Brief): Battle of the Fang

Hey there Chaos fans! It's been two weeks since I've posted (I've been a bit busy, but that's how it goes), but now I've got another one for you. I just finished Battle of the Fang by Chris Wright, so I thought I'd give you a brief review:



I had just finished reading Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett, and I really liked it. No, it wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I prefer it when Abnett does the unexpected (Legion, Eisenhorn) as opposed to when he's predictable (Titanicus, Ravenor). After reading that saga of the Space Wolves war against the Thousand Sons, I decided to "finish" the trilogy by reading Battle of the Fang, which takes place only 1,000 years after the events of the Heresy (as opposed to being in the 41st millennium).

The book is really, really good. An action packed book that shows how things are going to go from here on out in the "Long War". The Thousand Sons are splintered, with some of the sorcerers still backing Magnus, while the other half has been banished for following Ahriman. Magnus has been plotting for a long time to attack The Fang, the Space Wolves' fortress on Fenris. The Thousand Sons want to destroy it, just as the Wolves ravaged Prospero during the Heresy. Of course, Magnus would not be the chosen of Tzeentch if he didn't have another, more secret motive than just simple revenge...

The Great Wolf now leading the Chapter, Ironhelm, has become obsessed with chasing down the remnants of the Thousand Sons. Following clues to Magnus' whereabouts, Ironhelm takes the vast majority of the Space Wolves with him to chase down a lead, and leaves only the 12th company, led by Greyloc, to protect the Fang. Of course, this was Magnus' plan all along; once Ironhelm is off on the proverbial wild goose chase, the Thousand Sons lay siege to the Fang, with Greyloc desperately defending the fortress with his handful of marines and normal Fenrisians.

The balance of the book is the siege itself. I mean it as a compliment that it reminded me of the sieges of The Lord of the Rings. Greyloc is surrounded and outnumbered, and must rely on cunning to hold the enemy back as long as possible. There are upsets for both sides, and the battle ebbs and flows as an epic showdown should. There are some great bits: the escape of a single Wolf ship, that leaves Fenris to find and warn Ironhelm; the waking of the Dreadnoughts (Bjorn is awesome), the collapsing of the entryways into the Fang, and more. But the height, of course, comes when Magnus himself is "summoned" to Fenris (he is a Daemon now, after all), and all hell breaks loose.

As I said, its action packed, and the author does a great job of contrasting the Wolves with their corrupt and soulless opponents. I also enjoyed the paths of two human soldiers, father and daughter no less, and the parallel paths they take in the course of the battle. Several marines are developed (Helfist and Redpelt stand out), as does the Wolf Priest Wyrmblade. I do wish that the author had developed Greyloc a bit more- he is a heroic figure, but he gets lost in the action at points, and gets overshadowed by Bjorn and Wyrmblade, which is too bad. I also wish that the author had developed Magnus and his two lieutnants (Temekh and Aphael) just a bit more, but that's just me wanting to give the bad guys their due.

The best part of the book? Well, I don't want to give it away, but I do want to discuss it, so here's what I'll do. I'll rate the book now 3 1/2 out of 4 marks of Chaos. If you've read the other two (A Thousand Sons and Prospero Burns) you really owe it to yourself to read this- they really do tie together quite nicely. If you've already read it and want to stick around, I'll briefly look at the ending, which may be one of  the strongest (and yet ambiguous) endings in the Black Library...



So, If you want no spoilers, stop reading now...

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Well, OK, if you're still here, you want to know about that ending then. Here's the crux of the plot and the climax: while Magnus wants to conquer the Fang for the sake of revenge, he is also seeking to destroy something else. Wyrmblade has been working on something called "The Tempering", which could shift the balance of power in the universe once and for all. The gene-seed of Russ is strong, but unstable. It does lead some of the Space Wolves to fall into animal fury permanently (one flaw), and it cannot really be replicated on those outside of Fenris (the second flaw). Wyrmblade's plan is to "temper" the gene-seed- keeping its strengths while limiting the flaws. Wyrmblade's vision is of many, many Space Wolf successor chapters, each with this new and improved gene-seed. Wyrmblade says that they could make so many Wolves, that they could surround the Eye of Terror and traitor marines could never again leave it. The Space Wolves would truly be the protectors of a new, stronger Imperium.

This is what Magnus is really attacking the Fang for. Obviously Tzeentch and the other gods of Chaos would not want the Space Wolves to become so great in number that they can actually carry out Wyrmblade's plan, so Magnus goes to destroy "The Tempering" and all who know about it. Magnus tells Temekh that this is not about revenge, but about preventing a "possible future" (how Tzeentchian). That is what the siege is really about... stopping the Wolves from reaching their "true potential". Ultimately, Magnus is successful- he kills Wyrmblade and destroys all the materials and experiments regarding "The Tempering", and it is made clear that this was the last chance the Wolves would have to try this. Thus, even though the Thousand Sons lose the battle (with the return of Ironhelm's companies), they won the war by denying the Wolves a better future.

However, in true Tzeentchian fashion, that may not be a victory at all... Why, you say? Think about it this way... Only the Emperor knew how to do the gene-seed thing (and even his results were far from perfect); who is to say that "The Tempering" would have been successful? Several characters called Wyrmblade's experiments "an abomination". What if... what if it appeared to work and was carried out on the scale Wyrmblade intended? Would the Wolves have run riot across the galaxy? Or what if it appeared to work only to develop mutations later on, say nine thousand years hence? The Space Wolves could have been ruined... So, did the destruction of "The Tempering" really hurt the Wolves, or did it force them to remain true to themselves?

Thinking about it that way- I can't be sure if this is a win for Chaos or a win for the Imperium... And that's great about the book- being that it is only the 32nd millennium, the events of the Heresy are still "fresh". The book sets the stage for an ambiguous, dark future, full of war and stalemate, without hope or change, of squandered potential.

Did the good guys win or the bad guys? Neither. It is simply war, with no winners...




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