- A Standalone Novel
- Focuses on Blood Angels
- Published by Black Library in 2023
- Grimdark SF
- 361 pages
The Blood Angels labour under a cursed history, and none feel the weight of that curse more than the Flesh Tearers. Returning to their ancestral home, the Flesh Tearers must battle not only chaos, but the raging curse within their own veins . . .
Okay, you know the drill by now. This is the bit where I say how much I generally dislike the Space Marines as a concept, but that I’ve picked up this particular book for some reason or other. In the case of Wrath of the Lost, I bought it because Chris Forrester had impressed me with his short story in The Successors, and I wanted to see if he could replicate that success with a full length novel. Admittedly, I do have a better track record with the Blood Angels than some other Space Marine chapters, but I was hoping to be surprised. As with a few other recent forays into the world of the Adeptus Astartes, I was incredibly impressed. Following on from Mike Brooks’ Harrowmaster and Edoardo Albert’s Silent Hunters, this trend has got me thinking: Maybe I do like Space Marines after all.
My main issue with Space Marines, historically speaking, is that there’s not a whole lot to them. Their big guys with big guns who are very angry and shoot things. For a lot of older Warhammer books, that’s all you need to know to see where the plot is going. What I liked about some recent books is how they avoid those clichés, be it with silent brooding figures of conniving schemers in power armour. What impresses me about Wrath of the Lost is that Forrester takes everything I dislike about Space Marines, and makes it interesting.
The Flesh Tearers are an angry and shouty bunch. half their conversations devolve into screaming matches. They come to blows over the smallest of altercations. They cut a bloody swathe through their opponents, and aren’t exactly shy about collateral damage either. It’s that last point that hints at what I appreciate about Forrester’s take. The Flesh Tearers are loyal followers of the Imperium. Make no mistake about that. But in no way are they the good guys. they are monsters, barely restrained and craving blood. They harvest their own crew for resources like spacefaring vampires. The book depicts an absolutely nightmarish situation. Exactly as the Imperium of Man would be for anyone unfortunate enough to inhabit it.
And yet, the Flesh Tearers still make for sympathetic characters. They are not wholly in control of their own actions. hanging over each one is a Sword of Damocles in the form of their curse. In battle, they lose themselves to bloodthirst. And each time, there is a chance they will succumb to madness and never regain their senses. These people are killing machines, born and bred for death and war. Yet they too are vulnerable to a genetic failing. We see the fate of those who fall victim to the curse, and it’s a wretched fate for anyone, let alone the loyal defenders of the Imperium.
With all of this thematic richness, alongside a healthy dose of blood and guts, it’s no wonder that my opinions on the Adeptus Astartes is starting to shift into something more positive. Next time, I’m probably not going to be so suspicious about picking up a Space Marine novel. It turns out that the newer releases are rather good indeed.
Deeper Dive: Xenos Factions
Most Warhammer 40,000 books focus on human protagonists, or at least superhuman ones. Just look at the ranks of Space Marine and Astra Militarum novels on bookshelves across the nation. That’s natural enough, as the readership is almost exclusively human (we can never rule anything out entirely), but the xenos factions don’t get as much attention. That’s starting to change, in particular due to a recent very strong run of Necron novels, but by and large, we xenos enthusiasts have to be grateful for small fragments here and there.
I adore tyranids. They’re properly alien aliens. As a result, we don’t really get their perspective all that much. There is a brief moment in Wrath of the Lost when we get that viewpoint, and it is a wonderful moment. One that convinced me of Forrester’s strength as a writer. This moment comes not in a xenos novel, but a Space Marine novel. The Blood Angels have, after all, been fighting the Tyranids for a very long time.
If there is a lesson to be had here, it’s this: Don’t just look at who the protagonists of a novel are. look at who they’re up against. Because there’s a good chance you’ll be interested in at least one of them.
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