Lord of the Night reviews the engaging, and very surprising, first proper Iron Hands novel The Eye of Medusa
by David Guymer.
"A novel that from moment one makes it clear that the Iron Hands are not like any group of heroes you've read about before and, despite how awful and unsafe they'd be to actually be around, it only makes them more captivating to read about. This is definitely a trilogy to watch!" – Lord of the Night @ Heresy Online
The Iron Hands are a group that you either love or hate, they just don't inspire lesser feelings. In the Horus Heresy they haven't quite reached the point of becoming machines as they are in 40k, but they still tend to be pretty divisive characters that are either very likeable or just unlikeable (though never written poorly). Sadly they've never really been given much of a starring role in Black Library, the only novel in the last years that featured them prominently was Wrath of Iron
by Chris Wraight, but damn if that novel didn't paint a hell of a picture. Wraight depicted a Chapter of ruthless logicians who don't care about people even slightly, and who are famed and feared for their utter ruthlessness towards ally and foe. And Guymer took that and not only improved on it, turning the Iron Hands into a Chapter that you'll definitely be surprised by, but also begins a dynamite story that takes some incredibly unexpected twists (though if you read the Space Marine Codex lore you'll have a pretty good idea of where this trilogy is going) along powerful action scenes and some great additions to the Iron Hands cast that will further surprise you with just who you end up liking and disliking.
The Iron Hands are a Chapter synonymous with two things. A core belief in the weakness of flesh and the strength of the machine that sees them continuously upgrade themselves with bionics and cybernetics in pursuit of a state of mechanical perfection, and their utterly ruthless and cold calculus of logic that determines where and when they will battle the enemies of the Emperor and Imperium. When the Mechanicus manufactory world of Thennos falls to an insurrection by corrupted Skitarii it falls to the Iron Hands to answer with a campaign of brutal extermination, but the secrets of Thennos also hide a growing sickness within the Iron Tenth, and newly appointed Sergeant Kardan Stronos will be forced to see a different face to the Chapter he has been a part of for centuries, and that some within the Chapter desire a very different direction for his brothers that he may not himself...
The story in The Eye of Medusa
has two real focused plot points to it. The first is the campaign for Thennos which sees the Iron Hands pitted against renegade Mechanicus and furthers on the portrayal of the Chapter in Wrath of Iron, the Iron Hands are cold and cruel and their slaughter of civilians in the wrong place and wrong time makes that damn clear to the reader, but as the Thennos campaign grinds on the story starts to reveal what I think will be the overall plot of the trilogy, that is the fight for the soul of the Iron Hands. Guymer shows that the Chapter is heading down a dark path and what lies at the end is not something that will be good for anyone, but are the Iron Hands too lost to the emotionless nature of the mechanical that they can realise that in time?? Only time and the rest of the series will tell. But I very much enjoyed the Thennos aspect of the story as it led to some great scenes, and revealed a great deal about the Iron Hands. The other plot point is the protagonist, Kardan Stronos. Yep, that guy, the Nice Iron Hand. Stronos' origin story is an interesting one that shows one side to the Iron Hands from a character who has been with them for some time, versus the deuteragonist Arven Rauth's origin story that shows how a brand new Iron Hand sees it, and the vast difference between the two experiences is something that a canny reader will pick up quite a bit from. Overall I think that Guymer has done very well with all sides to the story, not only is it interesting to read about and engages the reader successfully, it also challenges the reader with subtext that you have to pay attention to and think about to fully appreciate, and although anyone who has knowledge of the Iron Hands lore will realise very quickly where this series is going, that doesn't mean it won't be a hell of a ride getting there.
Without a doubt the characters were the best part of the book for me. Whenever I've read about the Iron Hands I've always been able to divide the characters into those I simply liked, and those I simply did not and TEoM was no different. Right from the start I liked Kardan Stronos and found him to be an interesting character who was relatable in his distaste for extremism but it was good that he grew over the novel rather than just magically being the one Iron Hand who has a problem with the status quo, rather he learns through the course of the novel that there may be better ways for the Chapter that a powerful few are dismissing. Arven Rauth was a surprise to see and while I still firmly believe that he's an asshole, seeing exactly how he was trained and brought up in the Chapter explains a lot about how he became the mechanical monster we saw in Wrath of Iron, though I think his journey to that point has a way to go yet, and to me it made him somewhat tragic as I wondered what Rauth might have been like in another Chapter, one with less harshness to it than the Iron Hands. Without spoiling too much I will say that the character I found myself liking the most was surprising to me, my first impression of him was a bad one and yet he surprised me in the end and became my favourite for reasons you'll see if you read the book. On the other side we get quite a few Iron Hands who are immediately distasteful, chief among them is the almost robotic Iron Father Kristos who I felt was the most extreme example of the Iron Creed that the Chapter practices, and made for quite a scary character not just because of the coldness and inhumanity he exuded, but because to me he felt like what a being without any emotion really would be like, especially one with a forceful personality, though robotic didn't mean completely emotionless with Apothecary Dumaar who felt like a true sadist despite his augmentation. The human side wasn't neglected either with the Enginseer Yolanis who allowed a mortal human perspective to the Iron Hands, which showed their more monstrous and uncaring side without the rose-tinted glasses they place on themselves, though I felt her story came to its conclusion a little ambiguously, I had to actually ask David Guymer if an event actually happened or another character just thought it did.
The action scenes in the book were quite good and I felt that Guymer conveyed the logical and ordered approach to warfare favoured by the Iron Hands quite well while at the same time delivering lots of explosions, Space Marines utterly wrecking their opponents and all the general awesomeness that happens in battle in 40k. Though admittedly none of the scenes really shine as special until the final act when the Iron Hands go up against an unexpected enemy that truly tests what the Clans are capable of. Really I would call the scenes well written and enjoyable, but bar the aforementioned final few, none really felt unique or stood out enough for me to remember them clearly as I wrote this review. I did however enjoy the early scenes depicting the initial attack on Thennos because they showed the Iron Hands character in battle very clearly, their attitude towards mortals summed up in a few pages that made it clear the Iron Hands are not warriors to be trifled with and they could not possibly care less about innocence or morality. The casual way the characters refer to civilians as enemies, in one particular moment promising demi-clave command to the first five Scouts that kill two hundred civilians, display the brutality of the Chapter starkly although we don't see a great deal of this, which is understandable really since as readers I doubt we want to see extended sequences of the Space Marines gunning down women and children.
The pacing of the book is done well enough, although one aspect of the structure did confuse me for a bit before I understood what was going on. It didn't really affect the story, though part of me thinks it would have been more of a wham moment to have it revealed at the very end rather than being informed to the reader (if you pick up on it) throughout the book. Other then that Guymer does a good job in taking the reader along for the ride, TEoM never felt dragging or unacceptably slowed down for me, and I was able to finish the book in a good amount of time. The novel has its quick moments and its slower moments, but they all go together well and create a narrative that kept my attention the entire way through and coupled with the rest, contributed to a very good book.
With the Iron Hands lacking widespread literary representation in 40k, unlike their cousins in blue and gold or their other cousins in red and more red, Guymer had a pretty much blank slate to work with the Iron Hands. Yes the overall character is set in stone, but Guymer depicts the Iron Hands at what is arguably the worst period in their history. Their Chapter is in the middle of a schism of philosophy, their Chapter Council is divided by alliances and a skewed system of decision-making, their battle-brothers are outright taught not to trust one another and their devotion to the machine is rapidly approaching outright fanaticism and self-mutilation. It's been the case for a long time that of all the original Legions, the Iron Hands are the ones who learned all the wrong lessons from the Horus Heresy, and Guymer runs with that and shows a Chapter that has fallen far from the Legion they used to be, although the seeds for what they've become were always there. I meant it when I said the Iron Hands are unlike any other Chapter and Arven Rauth's chapters show that the clearest as he is inducted into the Clans and we see how a new Iron Hand is taught how to think, how to act, and how to perceive those around him in some truly shocking moments. Overall I would say Guymer has definitely made the Iron Hands memorable, and though at this point in their history they are at their lowest, I think one of the key themes of the trilogy will be the fight to save their humanity and their souls, which is quite an interesting conflict, especially given where the trilogy is going and that through this point it can be argued that Stronos represensts the human aspect of the Chapter and Kristos the mechanical. Memorable and well-written for sure, though whether you'll like them is up to you.
For my favourite quotes, I actually have two this time around. One for summing up the Iron Hands quite poignantly in a memorable scene, and the other for being the moment on p.g 345 when one character totally changed my perception of him with one line.
"Honourable men are beloved of those who make medals, and those who dig holes in the ground for the dead. Iron is unbeholden to honour."
"I am Clave Stronos."
The ending was very surprising for quite a few reasons. The first was just the sheer what the hell moment that happened at the end of the penultimate chapter, it was just so unforeseen and it truly showed how far one character was willing to go, and how far he had already gone. The second was that it set up the real conflict of this trilogy, that of a personal one between two characters that I think will dominate the rest of the series no matter what other battles are fought, and will culminate in the third book which I can already guess what it will be about and where this series is going, but how we'll get there is as important and I look forward to the journey. And the third was another twist from a character whose fate isn't written, and as such it's going to be very exciting to see where this choice leads that character and what the ramifications of it will be if/when others find out about it. The novel ends on a definite hook, but whether some parts of it will actually be covered in the next book or will occur in-between the two I can't say yet, but much of it is definitely going to carry on and I am eagerly anticipating seeing how Stronos is going to start shaking things up as we know he will.
On the whole I would give The Eye of Medusa
a score of 8.3/10
. If you're an Iron Hands player this book should be a must-read for you, but I would recommend it to any fan of the Space Marines since it's a damn good read and features Space Marines unlike any other, the Iron Hands will definitely stick in your memory after you've read the book and you'll be compelled at the very least as you read the book. Very engaging and well-written characters, an interesting story that takes a lot of good twists and turns and some damn fine world-building that really gives the Chapter a great deal more character and exploring that they really did need makes this a book that was worth every second spent reading it. So in summation I give The Eye of Medusa
a rank of Very Good
Well that’s it for this review. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far, until next time.
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