Originally published in 2013, Chris Wraight’s Blood of Asaheim sees him return to the Space Wolves after the excellent Battle of the Fang, this time set in the current 40k era. When the returning Ingvar, back after over fifty years serving with the Deathwatch, rejoins his old pack – Járnhamar – their sense of unity and identity is challenged. Under strength and weary, Járnhamar is sent to Ras Shakeh to prepare the way for a major assault, only to find the world under attack by the Death Guard, so instead stands to defend it alongside the stoic, but wary, SIsters of Battle.
The focus here is very much on the dynamic of Járnhamar, and the way their sense of brotherhood is affected by Ingvar’s return, and also the involvement of fiery young Halfoí, fresh out of the Blood Claws. Wraight pays close attention to the way each member of the pack interacts with the others, and while the core conflict is between Ingvar – subtly changed by his time in the Deathwatch – and pack leader Gunnlaugr, there’s depth to each character that helps demonstrate the way that a Space Wolf pack differs from a squad in any other chapter. Of course the Ingvar/Gunnlaugr dynamic is crucial to the story, with the traditionalist Gunnlaugr, burdened by the weight of command, struggling to relate to the more progressive, introverted Ingvar. It’s a theme that might not work with other chapters, but does a great job of characterising the complex, sometimes misunderstood Space Wolves.
There’s also a nice contrast between the robust, bellicose Wolves and the upright, disciplined Sisters of Battle, especially when they start bonding despite their differences, and also the Death Guard who make well-chosen antagonists. The narrative is fairly straightforward – the Wolves are forced to stand and fight, defending ground against the implacable advance of the Chaos forces, constantly chafing at having to wait and let their enemy come to them. Against that backdrop, the drama taking place within the Wolves’ ranks plays out in a well paced and plotted story which features all the visceral, close-up action you’d expect from a Space Wolf story, but whose focus is on character development, not just explosions.
Tonally this is pretty dark stuff – Járnhamar are not your usual Wolves, their natural boisterousness worn down to weariness, and battling against the forces of Nurgle is always going to be a grind. Where a book in the Space Marine Battles series, for example, might feel bogged down by that, this is written with enough variety to remain pacey and enjoyable throughout. Clearly intended to be the first in a series (the sequel – Stormcaller – is available, but the third volume is yet to be written), there’s a thread of mystery running through it that feels unresolved even by the powerful, explosive conclusion, but while some might be frustrated by that, it somehow adds to the overall sense of scale. This isn’t just the story of some small, irrelevant skirmish – it feels like an important event, and one that will have wider consequences. Overall it’s perhaps not quite as developed as Wraight’s later work, but it’s nonetheless an enjoyable and surprisingly thoughtful read.