Have you ever read something so good that you can taste it? I’ve been struggling with Battle for the Abyss for a while as I just can’t get into it, and in the end I just gave up. Instead I decided to give in and read Wrath of Iron, which was one of the prerelease books that were for sale at Salute in April. It was like going from eating fast food (or the barely edible stuff from the work canteen) to enjoying a good restaurant meal, or from drinking cheap lager to savouring a Trappist beer. I could honestly taste it.
On paper Wrath of Iron sounds like a hard thing to sell, the Iron Hands are cold hearted bastards without much personality. However it’s the very thing that makes the book work. There are no heroes in this book, not long living ones anyway. The Iron Hands are monsters. Not in the bounding, psychopathic way of the Space Wolves, or in the terrifying, shadowy way of the Night Lords, they are monsters because as they strip away their biological parts and replace them with metal, they also strip away their humanity. Even the Mechanicum Magos in the book has more humanity left in her than the Astartes of the Iron Hands Chapter.
The inhumanity of the Iron Hands is at the core of the book. The battle in Wrath of Iron, although ever present, is far far less important than the monstrosity of the Angels of Death who have been sent to save Shardenus from the heretics in control. It is probably why this book, more than any of the other Space Marine Battles books that I have read, is largely from the perspective of regular humans.
Wrath of Iron nevertheless does provide a lot of information on the psyche of the Iron Hands, both from the point of view of the Iron Hands, in particular Sergeant Morovox and the Librarian, Telach, both of whom are a little more human than their compatriots, particularly the Clan Commander Rauth and Iron Father Khatir; and from Magos Ys, who has obviously known the Iron Hands for a long time.
It is Ys who suggests something that really shed new light on the Iron Hands, at least for me, when she described them as fearing their flesh (page 148), something that suggests possible body dysmorphia. If you look at this along with the very start of the book, an essay by Ferrus Manus, describing his hands, the tragedy of the Iron Hands becomes evident.
In the end though, from the perspective of the mortals around them, the Iron Hands are monsters and when you finish the book you almost wonder if, for the people of Shardenus, the heretics may have almost been kinder.
Wrath of Iron is not a happy book, it’s not an easy read. It is however an excellent book and one that makes me wish for more from Chris Wraight. I picked up this book solely on the merit of Battle for the Fang but it is even better than its predecessor. From start to finish Wrath of Iron is outstanding.