The second book in The Horus Heresy Primarchs series, Chris Wraight’s Leman Russ: The Great Wolf is, like David Annandale’s Guilliman novel, not an origin story. It does however deal with the origin of a key part of the Wolves’ background – their rivalry with the Dark Angels. During the Great Crusade, the VI Legion were tasked with the pacification of the Dulan empire, who refused compliance with the Imperium. In the final stages of the campaign Russ and his brother Lion El’Jonson famously came to blows, and now we get the story of why that happened…at least from Russ’ perspective.
Ostensibly a book about a single event – the fight between Russ and the Lion – there’s a lot more here than just that one plot point. Wraight bookends the Dulan campaign with post-Heresy scenes that are heavy with a sense of sadness and loss, while much of the action during the main body of the book is focused on Jorin Bloodhowl, oldest of Russ’ retainers and Jarl of the 13th Company. Plus, of course, the Lion’s involvement leading up to the big fight itself. Really it’s a book about secrets, and honour…and rivalry, for sure, but also brotherhood. As a result, it does more than just explain what happened, it explains why and also what the ramifications were, as a result.
Wraight has a proven track record with the Space Wolves in both 40k and the Heresy, and here he shows them to be as fierce and proud as expected, but also puts them up against a foe that’s almost their equal. The Dulanians are interesting not just because they push the Wolves hard, but also because they’re human, and technologically a match for the Imperium. Coming up against such an enemy, with the unwelcome pressures of the Dark Angels’ scrutiny and a troubling secret to conceal, Russ, Jorin and the other Wolves are being challenged and forced to deal with things they would probably prefer not to. It’s cleverly done, and makes for a compelling story.
As a Primarchs novel, some might prefer that this was exclusively focused on Russ, instead of spreading the viewpoint across multiple characters. By expanding his purview beyond the rivalry between the two brothers though, and looking closely into the nature of the Wolves – and their primarch – Wraight has given himself the chance to properly explain the context behind that rivalry. There’s a lot to take in for such a short book, but it’s all the better for that, continuing in the tradition of the Horus Heresy series overall by offering much, much more than the simple, expected story.