Quick Review: WOLFSBANE by Guy Haley (Black Library)

HaleyG-HH-WolfsbaneLeman Russ tries to put down Horus before the traitors march for Terra…

The time has come for Leman Russ, primarch of the Space Wolves, to fulfil his vow and attempt to stop Warmaster Horus before he breaks through to the Segmentum Solar. In the face of opposition from three of his brother primarchs, Russ withdraws the Space Wolves legion from Terra and makes all haste for Horus’s position. Reports from Malcador the Sigillite’s agents suxggest that Horus is utterly changed, and infused with a diabolical power so great that no man can stand against him. A warrior of Fenris would never willingly abandon his oaths, but with Horus beyond the touch of mortal blades, the Lord of Winter and War may have doomed himself for the sake of honour…

The Horus Heresy, Black Library’s decade-plus-running series chronicling the “history” of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, is finally entering the final stretch. It’s been a long, circuitous journey, but one that has been very rewarding so far. (Save for a slight wobble after the first five novels or so…) In Wolfsbane, Haley tells the story of Leman Russ’s attempt to put down Horus before he is able to marshal the Traitor forces and make a final push to Terra. An interesting novel, it offered a fair amount of insight into the primarchs, the relationship between Russ and Horus, and much more. I really enjoyed this one.

Wolfsbane covers an event of which I wasn’t aware — not difficult, now that we’re getting deep into the Heresy (I haven’t read any of the tabletop game’s more-detailed background material). As it turns out, however, it’s a pivotal moment in the later Heresy. Leman Russ, the rough-around-the-edges primarch of the Space Wolves legion breaks with his more-cautious loyalist brothers, and sets out to kill Horus on his own. Gifted with the Emperor of Mankind’s spear, he spends a fair amount of the novel preparing for a fight he doesn’t believe he can win. It was a welcome new side to see of Russ — the normally brash, hyper-confident warrior unsure of his own abilities. Not fearful, necessarily, but perhaps experiencing the equivalent of Primarch Imposter Syndrome (he was, after all, designed to be the Emperor’s executioner). The more he learns and prepares, however, Russ comes to realize that he doesn’t actually have to win the confrontation… With the help of his rune priests, he travels back to Fenris to gain wisdom from the underverse.

Given Russ and the Space Wolves’ part in the sacking of Prospero, the planet of the sorcerers and home of the Thousand Sons legion, I liked that the novel includes some discussion of the Wolves’ hypocrisy: their use and belief in the powers of the rune priests goes against the Emperor’s ban on the use of psychic powers. Enough time has passed that Russ has come to question his role in that action, to realize that Horus manipulated him. Also, despite never really liking Magnus and his sorcerous ways, Russ deeply regrets being duped by the traitor.

The novel offers an excellent balance between combat, character-building, and introspection. Much has happened over the course of the series, and Haley does a great job of bringing certain events back to the surface, to examine the long-term impacts of this or that confrontation. We also get the first fiction to feature Belisarius Cawl — a pivotal figure in the recent 40k meta-story, which was recently moved forward in a big way. (See Haley’s Dark Imperium series of novels for more.) In Wolfsbane, he plays a key role in later events in the story, and is still a relatively lowly (although prodigiously gifted and arrogant), and un-augmented tech adept. Cawl is a great character, and I hope we get more of his story in forthcoming Heresy and 40k novels and/or short stories.

The opening chapter, in particular, was fantastic: it describes the first meeting between Horus and Russ (respectively, the first and second primarchs to be reunited with the Emperor). It offered some great insight into the two primarchs’ psyches, as well as their interpretations of the other (mainly Horus’s impression of his “savage” brother). It also offered some insight into Horus’s relationship with the Emperor, which is invaluable to putting later events and the Heresy as a whole into context (it also serves well when reading Slaves to Darkness).

The final confrontation between the two primarchs is epic in many respects: the catastrophic body count, the damage wrought on the legions’ fleets, the psychological and physical damage done to both legions and their primarchs… It’s very well done, and my attention was gripped from pretty much the beginning of the novel.

Overall, an excellent addition to the series: very well-paced, great character developing, and tight plotting and writing. If you’re a fan of the series, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this novel. Very highly recommended.

As soon as I finished reading Wolfsbane, I moved right on to John French’s Slaves to Darkness (which I also finished in just a couple of days — review hopefully either later today or tomorrow).

***

Wolfsbane is out now, published by Black Library.

Also on CR: Interview with Guy Haley (2015); Reviews of Pharos, Perturabo, Dante

The Horus Heresy on CR: Horus Rising (1), False Gods (2), Galaxy in Flames (3), Flight of the Eisenstein (4), Fulgrim (5), Descent of Angels (6), Legion (7), Battle for the Abyss (8), Mechanicum (9), Tales of Heresy (10), Fallen Angels (11), A Thousand Sons (12), Nemesis (13), The First Heretic (14), Prospero Burns (15), Age of Darkness (16), The Outcast Dead (17), Deliverance Lost (18), Know No Fear (19), The Primarchs (20), Fear to Tread (21), Shadows of Treachery (22), Angel Exterminatus (23), Betrayer (24), Mark of Calth (25), Promethean SunVulkan Lives (26), Scars (27), The Unremembered Empire (28), Vengeful Spirit (29), The Damnation of Pythos (30), Legacies of Betrayal (31), Death & Defiance, Tallarn: Executioner, Blades of the Traitor, Deathfire (32), The Purge, Wolf King, Cybernetica, War Without End (33), Pharos (34), The HonouredThe UnburdenedEye of Terra (35), The Path of Heaven (36), The Silent War (37), Angels of Caliban (38), Praetorian of Dorn (39), Corax (40), The Master of Mankind (41), Garro (42), Shattered Legions (43), The Crimson King (44), Tallarn (45), Ruinstorm (46), Old Earth (47), The Burden of Loyalty (48), Wolfsbane (49), Born of Flame (50), Slaves to Darkness (51), Heralds of the Siege (52)

 

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