QUICK REVIEW: The Wolf of Ash and Fire – Graham McNeill

Black Library’s Horus Heresy series is a big beast, there’s no doubt about it. From fairly humble beginnings it’s grown and grown, to the point that there have now been over 50 separate releases in the series. As a nice gesture to those die-hard fans who have invested big bucks for the beautiful limited edition of the new graphic novel, Macragge’s Honour, each person who has bought a copy has received a free short story in ebook format. That story is a pre-Heresy tale featuring Horus and his Luna Wolves legion taking on an enormous ork scrapfleet. With the help of The Emperor of Mankind. And yes, it’s brilliant.

We see events through the eyes of Horus himself as well as Hastur Sejanus, which is a welcome bonus and a great chance to get to know this character a little better, as he’s largely referred to posthumously in the main series. The story is split into two parts, with the first covering a huge space battle, the meeting between Horus and the Emperor, and some interesting dialogue between the four members of Horus’ inner circle, the Mournival. Pacing-wise this first section is very much there to set the stage before we’re thrown into the thick of the action.

After the gentle pace of the first section, the second half is undoubtedly all about the action. There’s plenty of entertaining Astartes vs. ork combat, including some nasty surprises in the ork armoury, but the main attraction is obviously The Emperor himself kicking serious greenskin behind. McNeill has resisted making the Big E completely unstoppable, largely by putting him in situations where it’s simply unfeasible for a single man, however powerful, to survive on his own. He’s still entertainingly killy, and at one point unleashes the kind of power that reminds us why he’s the Master of Mankind, but we see him with a degree of vulnerability that works really well. It’s not spoiling anything to refer to the very first paragraph – “I was there the day Horus saved The Emperor.” Fans of the series will especially enjoy the reversal in that statement, and it sets the tone of the story nicely and works well with what’s to come.

McNeill has never been one to shy away from seeding his stories with a few choice hints about what’s to come in future Heresy tales, and indeed with this story he’s fairly littered them throughout. Given its nature as a prequel of sorts, we get not only teasers about what’s to come in books as yet unpublished but also little nuggets which refer to events from the existing stories and give tantalising hints about a their wider context.

As a standalone story this works really well, mixing up the action with the storytelling to good effect. As a juicy little addition to the wider Horus Heresy series, it’s an absolute gem. Hopefully it won’t be too long before everyone else can get their hands on it, and not just those of us who splashed out on Macragge’s Honour.

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