Review of IRON COMPANY by Chris Wraight (see his blog)
AN EMPIRE ARMY NOVEL/WARHAMER
Games Workshop, October 2009
Magnus Ironblood has been drinking himself to death for years when he's drafted into an army sent after a rebel in an apparently impregnable fortress. Ironblood is a master engineer and he doesn't believe in impregnable fortresses, but when he learns that the previous army sent to bring the rebel to heel vanished without a single survivor, he's not so certain things will be easy. Things get tougher when one of his deputies decides that this war is the perfect opportunity for him to make a name for himself...at Ironblood's expense.
Ironblood has command over the cannons and firearms in the Imperial forces, a low-prestige group of the armed forces although one critical to siegecraft. But he soon learns that his oppnents have their own engineers, and have developed weapons far more sophisticated than the worn-out assemblage under Ironblood's command. Fortunately, Ironblood has a dwarf in his group and dwarves have a way with stone and engineering. Unfortunately, that dwarf has an agenda of his one, one that Ironblood simply cannot trust.
Author Chris Wraight gives us an intriguing and damaged character in Magnus Ironblood. Ironblood feels guilty over his father's death, battles his need for alcohol, and seems to be held responsible for other peoples' failures. It's Ironblood's redemption, far more than the battle scenes, which drives the story forward and maintained my interest.
The story has a few flaws which kept me from giving it a perfect rating. First, it had been better than a decade since Ironblood lost his father and lost his high hopes. Clearly he hadn't been drinking this entire time, but we never learned of some second tragedy which brought him to drink. Sure it's hard to get over our adolescent mistakes but Ironblood's adulthood seems a mystery.
Second, I had a hard time understanding why the war machines could be so important. Ironblood's war machine, in particular, was equipped with two standard cannons. Mounting standard cannons on a war machine, as opposed to a stable weapon platform, could only make them less accurate, yet this machine was able to score hits when none of Ironblood's other cannons could. This seemed implausible to me. Third, the whole issue of gold didn't make sense. The rebels were attracting thousands of mercenaries yet it turns out there was no gold. Didn't any of them ever demand payment? I can't believe that entire armies of mercenaries would serve in multiple battles without demanding some pay. Then there's the question of where the money for all the cannons and other arms came from. Fourth, I'm ultimately unclear who was driving the rebellion at all. Initially we thought it was Anna-Louisa, but Anna-Louisa is ultimately revealed to have the mind of a child. If not Anna-Louisa, though, there doesn't seem to be anyone who's ultimately in charge of the rebellion. On a minor note, it's hard for me to believe that an entire army could be lost without a single survivor making it back.
None of these flaws would have been difficult to fix, and fixing them would not have required significant changes to the story. It seems strange to me that a writer with Wraight's obvious talent, or the editors at The Games Workshop, wouldn't have picked up on them and fixed them.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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