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Rating: 2 out of 5.
  • Space Wolves/Jarnhamar Pack (#3)
  • Focuses on the Space Wolves
  • Published by Black Library in 2020
  • Space Opera
  • 421 pages

The Imperium stands on the brink of ruin, with Cadia under siege and the servants of Chaos spilling through the Eye of Terror. Into this inferno comes the Jarnhamar pack, who may just have accumulated too many enemies for even their fierce abilities to handle . . .

One debate that keeps cropping up when I poke my head into online book communities, is the question around what order you should read books in. The overwhelming majority are in favour of publication order, which makes a whole lot of sense. In this order, you discover things in the pattern that they were originally revealed. In theory, the author’s skill will increase with each book too, so if there’s a rough start, it will in theory only get better from there. Sometimes people will advocate stopping at a certain point (especially in the Dune saga), while others suggest skipping volumes that they consider inconsequential. If you approach it objectively, publication order is probably the best way to read a series. But when it comes to a world with multiple series, I prefer chronological order. I would not have made it to Dune Messiah had I not read Paul of Dune first. It also lets you see the world change with time, as evidenced in my chronological reread of Foundation.

One tangent this conversation often spins into is a debate that gets a bit more heated. Can you read a book in a series without having read the preceding books? I’ve many, many comments that you shouldn’t. And one that stated quite clearly that it was wrong to review a book read under such conditions. But here’s the thing: As readers, we’re not always in control of the order we find books. For older works, I’m often reliant on charity shops and second-hand bookstores. I originally read Space Viking not knowing it was in a series, and it remains one of my favourite books. Series that take a largely episodic format are absolutely great in this regard. When there’s an overarching plot, things get a little messier. But when I buy a book and can’t immediately get hold of the ones that come before, I’m not going to let the book gather dust for a few years. I’m going to read it, then come back and fill in the gaps later. And as for the review? Well, a review is not an objective account of a book. It’s about a reader’s experience with the book. And even if that experience comes with an unorthodox background, it’s still a valid opinion. So long as you don’t complain about being thrown into the middle of a story, review away.

Which brings us to The Helwinter Gate. It’s book three in a series. Book two, which I have not read, was published almost a decade ago. 2013,2014,2020 is a release schedule that exposes one of my frustrations with Black Library. And the 2020 release of The Helwinter Gate was the limited edition. It’s taken another two years for the paperback to make its way to print. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it worth the weight.

Space Wolves are one of those rare chapters that I have a soft spot for. The viking-esque, larger-than-life warriors are uniquely suited for big, sweeping epic space operas. There is an element of that here, especially in the latter stages, but there’s also a big problem. Space opera relies on bold, identifiable characters. I’m not talking about character-driven stories, but the protagonists (and to a greater extent the villains) have to make a mark. It’s one of the traits of the genre. Which makes it a real shame that the members of the Jarnhamar back are essentially indistinguishable from one another. Looking back, even their names start to blur together. Not a good sign.

The climax of the novel takes the Wolves to Cadia, during the fall of the planet. Here we get some great action, as well as a different set of eyes on an event we’ve seen before. Though it does raise a question. If we’re not supposed to read books out of order, does everyone have to grab a copy of Cadia Stands before tackling The Helwinter Gate? Of course not, even if it is a very good book. Read what you want to read, and not a page more.

The Helwinter Gate didn’t work for me, but if it sounds good to you, go and read it. I’m off to dip my toes into the middle of another series.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Saga of the Beast, by David Annandale (Audio Drama)
Bloodlines, by Chris Wraight
Sagas of the Space Wolves, by Various Authors


One response to “BOOK REVIEW: The Helwinter Gate, by Chris Wraight”

  1. MONTHLY ROUNDUP: July 2022 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

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