Released to tie in with Games Workshop’s latest 40k campaign supplement of the same name, David Annandale’s short novel Curse of the Wulfen sees him tackling that rare beast – an event which moves the 40k storyline forwards. In this case it’s the return to the Imperium of Man of the Space Wolves 13th Company, long-lost heroes from ten thousand years ago who emerge from the Warp much-changed, as the Wulfen. When Harald Deathwolf leads his Great Company to the rescue of a world plagued by daemons and finds aid from feral, beastly creatures still clad in scraps of slate-gray ceramite, the Space Wolves welcome their ancient brethren back (with some reservations) and proceed to seek out as many of the Wulfen as they can. Meanwhile other elements of the Imperium don’t see things in quite the same light.
First things first there can be no doubt that this is an exceptionally exciting concept, taking up something that’s been part of 40k folklore for almost as long as the Space Wolves have existed, and using it to move the wider storyline on. It’s an incredible opportunity to delve into the Space Wolves’ background and take a look at what really drives them, as well as to examine their relationship with the rest of the Imperium…so it’s odd that it’s been covered in a single short novel. For all his skill at drawing conflicted, dangerous characters, not to mention getting across the sheer horror of a vast daemonic invasion, Annandale is hobbled here by the need to cover a huge amount of ground in much too short a space.
He makes a valiant effort throughout, opening with a creepy, ominous prologue and a powerful opening scene, but it soon becomes clear that there just isn’t the time to breathe depth into the ensuing events. The story moves on at a whip-crack pace as daemons are fought and defeated, and even the grimmest of situations are rapidly resolved in order to keep the frantic pace up. There’s some nice depictions of the daemons from a uniquely Fenrisian perspective, and an occasional sign of what things could have been if Annandale had been given more room to breathe, but for the most part it’s just straight-up action sequences without much else for balance. When even the biggest heroes of the Space Wolves are given little more than bit part roles, it’s clear that however good a book’s intentions are, things just aren’t quite right.
From a pure plot perspective this is still remarkably entertaining, with a series of eyebrow-raising scenes and revelations equal only to the earth-shattering events of the Warhammer End Times novels in scale. For anyone looking for a straightforward, action-packed adventure that focuses more on plot than characters, this is probably going to satisfy. If you were hoping for a nuanced, developed look at the Space Wolves and what it means to them that the Wulfen have finally returned (not least the question of ‘does this mean Leman Russ is on his way back?’) then sadly it only delivers in small doses, and leaves a lot still unanswered.