book-reviews

Iron Warriors: The Omnibus

by Graham McNeill

Rating: ★★★

There's a bit of a risk involved in reviewing this omnibus as a whole rather than the individual stories. I might not give each item the space it needs. However, I think it's worthwhile, because I get to address something which only makes sense when you know I've read the omnibus. That is the 'missing stories', the bits of this tale which aren't there.

Iron Warriors is McNeill's collection of tales about Honsou, an up-and-coming Warsmith in the eponymous Legion. It contains a novel, Storm of Iron, a number of short stories and a sort of 'novella' length tale, Iron Warrior. The stories are roughly chronological, but there are noticeable gaps in the narrative. This is my biggest complaint with the series - events critical to Honsou's story aren't in the omnibus (They are part of the Ultramarines series, where he features as a villain). This gives the omnibus the feel of being less a story centred around a character, and more a collection of snippets the author had lying around, really detracting from the value.

Storm of Iron is the most substantial part of the omnibus, and by far my favourite item. It's one of the first 40k stories I ever read, and really captures a splinter of the universe well. The Iron Warriors are a disciplined, dangerous adversary, ultimately the victors despite unreasonable time constraints. The dangers of following the Chaos Gods are highlighted, fragments of ages past hang over the conflict (Dies Irae, for example). The writing isn't always amazing, but it doesn't get in your way. The story wraps up quite well, and I somewhat feel that McNeill made a mistake in reopening Honsou's tale.

The short stories and the novella are much less recommendable. The first short tale is almost incidental to the Iron Warriors, though it does show the Imperial forces from before labouring in servitude. The next one is a well-written revenge story, though you're made very conscious of the missing content regarding Ventris, which diluted my enjoyment. The Skull Harvest begins to paint Honsou as far more 'typical Chaos warlord' than I'd felt he was from Storm of Iron, and the obvious inevitability of his victory takes the immediacy out of what is meant to be a competition. The following novella, for all its attempt to return to a grand siege stage, is far too straightforward (no doubt due to its length). Honsou's emerging reckless disregard for losses grates on me a bit. When they were slaves, you could understand this attitude, but with allies this reads far more like 'Chaos are evil and therefore don't need to be sensible'.

The second-to-last short story is something of a fragmentary account of the Iron Warriors' assault on Calth. It made me sympathetic to the Iron Warriors and hostile to Honsou, who was basically destroying them. This, and the last story, start to portray Honsou as more humorous, basically a comedic comic-book foe, a cunning enemy who slips away after his schemes to ruin the hero fail. While the dialogue is nice, I dislike that theme quite a lot, as it undermines him as a serious threat (or serious character). Again, you're made aware that a large part of the story is missing from the omnibus.

All-in-all, I'd say most here should read Storm of Iron, but the rest of the omnibus is a somewhat unpalatable addition. McNeill doesn't dazzle with his writing, but doesn't flounder either - my main objection is the direction he takes the Iron Warriors, and the gaps in the omnibus' coverage of Honsou.