Bold, original, unexpected and totally gripping; Dan Abnett produces another awesome piece of work. This novel of course follows the story arc of the opposing force in the fall of the Thousand Sons, the legendary Space Wolves and as such is a literary travelling companion with Graham McNeill's A Thousand Sons.
What struck me first was the very different tone given by Dan to his 'Saga' in direct opposition to Graham's; the bright, civilised quest for knowledge and understanding versus the cold hard darkness of brute survival. This is used to excellent effect by both authors; which banner would you place above Loyalist and Traitor?
The decision to tell the Wolves story through the eyes of an outsider was a risk that I thought paid dividends; it enables a questioning and analysis of the Son's of Russ which would be totally out of place if told from the point of view of one of their own and it brought to mind the film The 13th Warrior (although that production could have used a little Abnett magic).
The development of the story teller from Historian Remembrancer to 'Skald' is in total keeping with Dan's take on the Wolves; these Astartes are not the Viking caricatures (just lacking their comic book horned helmets) of past 40k novels. These are warriors who would not be out of place in Old Norse literature, the motivations and themes addressed would be immediately recognisable to a writer of that period such as Snorri Sturluson.
I've heard many balk at Dan's reinvention of the Space Wolves, but fail to understand why; he enriches them beyond measure. The Rout as we come to know them, are aptly named for they are the bloody executioners of the Emperor and this book ramps up their feral savagery and barbaric bluntness, but in turn reveals within them an intellectual awareness and a deep meaningful culture. There is delight in discovering these hidden qualities and I really appreciated the time devoted to the exploration.
One minor quibble is that Mr Abnett appears to have developed Mr McNeill's nasty habit of overusing a descriptive word and although 'Wet Leopard Growl' is wonderfully evocative, it is used to the point of tedium. I'm not even sure Wolves make that kind of noise...ah but of course, there are no Wolves on Fenris ;o)
That aside, this book is epic; from the trademark cinematic opening to the fan boy twist at the end that had me punching the air with glee, I half wish I had a Space Wolf army now!