For his second Horus Heresy novella, Wolf King, Chris Wraight picks up a story thread left hanging in his novel Scars, returning to the battered forces of the Space Wolves as they take shelter in the lethal twists and turns of the Alaxxes nebula. Hounded by the overwhelming firepower of the Alpha Legion and abandoned by the White Scars, the Wolves find themselves trapped, outmaneuvered at every turn, but while Bjorn and his brothers hunger to bring the battle to the Alpha Legion, their primarch Leman Russ hides himself away from the rest of the legion and broods on their future.
It’s a fascinating position to see the Wolves in – on the back foot, forced to resist their natural inclination to fight, faced with the very real possibility that they might not survive, and all the while wondering why Russ has left them to struggle on without him. Wraight’s Wolves are complex, nuanced characters, and as we watch through the eyes of Bjorn, Lord Gunn, the Rune Priest Kva and occasionally Russ himself we get to see the gradual realisation that the Wolves are changing, for better or worse. As is the way with the Heresy there’s the usual smattering of hints and suggestions for what’s to come, both for the Wolves as a whole but also for Bjorn individually, with the intriguing possibility that Russ foresaw what would become of the ‘One-Handed’.
Heresy novellas tend to extend the scope of the series without necessarily being essential to the wider storyline, but this time there’s a strong sense that Wolf King is bridging a gap for the Wolves, both in terms of their story arc and their overall character. It’s typically well structured and beautifully paced, and still feels like a complete story, but it’s definitely setting up what’s going to happen next for the Wolves and events towards the end of the book are going to have some massive ramifications for what comes next. Fortunately it’s the first of the Limited Edition novellas to get a simultaneous ebook release, and while there are perhaps even more questions around the ebook’s value than there normally are with these LE novellas, at least it means more readers will be able to enjoy this story without having to wait for the non-limited release.
Overall it’s pretty typical of Wraight’s work, with a smart, well-plotted and surprisingly unpredictable story blending together interesting, well-developed characters with just the right amount of pacy, visceral and exciting action. It’s every bit as enjoyable as the rest of his work, and is a strong addition to the Heresy series as a whole that poses some compelling questions about what might be coming up in future books.