His second novella in Black Library’s Space Marine Battles series, Sons of Wrath sees Andy Smillie continue to delve into the psyches of the brutal Flesh Tearers chapter, this time setting his story almost immediately after the events of the Horus Heresy. Still struggling to come to terms with the emotional and psychological impact of Sanguinius’ death, Chapter Master Amit and his brothers rail against their new identities as Flesh Tearers – as they vent their rage first against each other and then in battle with a tricksy foe, it remains to be seen whether the blood-thirsty Flesh Tearers are truly able to control their thirst for violence.
From their anger at Guilliman’s splitting up of the legions, which spills over to deep levels of bitterness and some pretty bruising internal conflict, to Amit’s personal agonies around just how far he’s willing to go to serve the Imperium, Sons of Wrath looks at some really interesting ideas about this most blood-thirsty of chapters. There’s a nice mix of all-out, brutal combat scenes along with inter-chapter conflict and intrigue, but while Smillie delivers as usual on the visceral combat the book as a whole doesn’t quite follow through with the promise of its ideas.
The Space Marine Battles series does sometimes seem to focus less on character development and more on bolters and chainswords, so credit is due to Smillie for focusing his efforts on the internal conflicts faced by the Flesh Tearers. There’s a sense though that perhaps the limitations of the novella format don’t allow for the full exploration that this story requires, with no less than seven viewpoint characters and associated subplots meaning that everything feels stretched a little too thinly. There’s definitely the kernel of something great here, especially with the troubled and embittered Amit, but it just feels a little under-developed and simplified.
Despite all that, this is definitely still an enjoyable, entertaining read. Smillie’s writing is always on the dark and violent side (in the best possible way), which very much suits the Flesh Tearers, and there’s certainly plenty of gore-soaked action to be found here. More than that it does pose some intriguing questions about the Flesh Tearers at the very beginning of their existence, which fans of the Blood Angels and their descendants will relish. If it doesn’t manage to live up to its initial promise, it’s still a solid addition to the Flesh Tearers story.