BLACK LIBRARY REVIEW - Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill
Lord of the Night reviews the classic 40k novel Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill.
ďA venerable champion of a novel that was spectacular in its day and even after fifteen years have passed since publication itís still just as great as the day it was released! A must-read for any fan of the Chaos Space Marines, or for anyone whoís just tired of reading about the good guys all the time.Ē Ė Lord of the Night
Storm of Iron is one of the most well-known novels of Black Library even fifteen years after it was originally published. Why is that? Well because it was the very first proper Chaos Space Marine novel and proved that a story about the big bads of 40k, the Traitor Legions, could be and was/is just as entertaining, if not more so, as reading about the loyalists. Nowadays we have many series devoted to the bad guys (the Black Legion series, the Ahriman trilogy, the various Kharn novels) and more incoming, but back in the day the idea was completely unheard of. A novel about the bad guys?! Even for 40k that was unexpected and McNeill did a stellar job ensuring that the Chaos Space Marines would have a bright (heh) future ahead of them in Black Library. Because even after fifteen years and multiple new series about the Chaos Marines, Storm of Iron is still a classic and a must-read 40k novel.
Few things are more feared in the dark universe of the 41st millennium than the Traitor Legions. Each a living nightmare clad in hell-forged armour and carrying weapons of blood and daemonic-iron, these monsters nurse an undying hatred of the Imperium and will never stop until they tear it down and slay the False Emperor. Now the Iron Warriors, siege-masters unmatched in all the Eye of Terror, have come to the fortress-world of Hydra Cordatus and laid siege to the great citadel in search of a prize that the leaders of this army will sacrifice everything in pursuit of. But with rivalries between captains and a powerful Imperial Guard garrison standing between them and victory, will the Iron Warriors crack the bastion open and take their spoils, or fall unlamented and unremembered before the walls?
Like I said above Storm of Iron was pretty damn unique at the time. The idea of Chaos Space Marines getting their own novel was a huge plot-twist for Black Library, but it definitely paid off as Storm is a novel that still stands tall after so long. McNeill tells a great story in the warzone of Hydra Cordatus, the overarching story of the battle and the mystery behind why the Iron Warriors want this fortress cracked and why the Imperium is so desperate to defend it, but plenty of character stories ranging from Forrix trying to find purpose again, Colonel Leonid trying to navigate the murky battlefield politics of his Mechanicus allies, and a certain half-breed working to gain the rank he richly deserves. As you can well imagine this is a pretty dark story that doesnít pull any punches, with villains as protagonists you canít really expect anything else, but even the Imperial stories go to some dark places and itís fitting for a novel thatís about post-human monsters in the middle of a grinding siege against a bastion controlled by untrustworthy masters. However while I did enjoy the story I do have a quibble with a key part of it, I canít go into detail because of spoilers but essentially a part of the novel that occurs around pages 374-384, well I donít understand how it wasnít seen a lot sooner. There were opportunities and the fact that not only are they missed, but they donít even seem to be possible in-universe at that moment just doesnít feel right.
As the first Chaos Marine novel Storm of Iron contained a very nicely mixed cast, with some truly despicable and evil Chaos characters that got their own POVs. The jaded Forrix whoís burned out on the whole ďDeath to the False EmperorĒ thing, the barbaric Kroeger who can barely feign interest in anything but carnage, and the ambitious Honsou who serves as a protagonist for the novel. Even though these three are evil bastards, no questions about it, McNeill makes them relatable if not likeable, I found myself understanding how Forrix could feel tired after ten thousand years of trying to win the Long War and wondering at the point, or Honsouís desire to rise in the ranks despite being looked down on for where he comes from, for circumstances beyond his control or choosing. Personally I think this is one of the most critical parts of writing Chaos Space Marines, because really we shouldnít like these characters, but itís the authorís challenge and goal to try and get us to if not like them then sympathize with them, or at the very least understand their motivations and the reasoning behind them, which McNeill succeeds at here with his Iron Warriors. On the other side the Imperials get some good characters as well, in particular the roguish Guardsman Julius Hawke who I think lightens up the novel a bit but also some of the most awesome moments in the book, Colonel Leonid who I felt is the Imperial protagonist of the book, a counterpoint to Honsou, and is key to the Imperial side of the story. Others do come in later, but itíd be spoilery to talk about them so iíll leave that alone. But one of the best parts of Storm is that neither side feels favoured in the book, McNeill treats them equally and to me one of the signs of a great 40k novel is that no side feels overpowered or that the author favours them over the other (Codex Syndrome I believe itís called), and thereís no sign of it here, both sides have well-rounded and written characters that feel relatable and in some cases genuinely likeable.
The battle scenes in Storm of Iron nicely reflect the overall tone of the war for Hydra Cordatus, it isnít a lightning raid or a pitched-fight, itís a siege. McNeill captures the aspects of the siege very well across all the book, the monotony and preparation between strikes, probes into the enemy, taking sections at a time and slowly cutting the enemy down fortification by fortification. Since the siege takes place over the entire novel, finally reaching a bloody crescendo near the end leading into the final victory, which to me feels accurate since once the walls go down in a siege, what inevitably follows is quick and brutal, especially in comparison to what the battle was like prior to that. The hardiness of the Space Marines was another great part of the book, itís tricky sometimes to get the right balance of Space Marine survivability and vulnerability, and McNeill does it here. The Iron Warriors feel like powerful juggernauts and arenít brought down easily, but they can be killed and many do fall throughout the siege. As above with the characters both sides are given equal favour and the Imperials give as good as they get, and given that the Guard are the primary Imperial presence it could have easily gone the other way, but the Guard hold their own and youíll be kept wondering which side will finally win the day right until the very end, which is a good thing because the plot does the same thing and neither give the end result away until the time is right.
The pacing of Storm is a slower one than most, but given that this is a novel about a siege it feels fitting that the books moves at a more sedate pace than most, taking itís time until assaults and breaches speed up the pace before settling against as the dust calms and victories and losses are tallied up. At 405 pages or so Storm of Iron was a pretty typical length for a Black Library novel of its day, nowadays it would be one of the longer ones, and given the engaging plot and interesting characters the length works in the novelís benefit since it allows time more plot and more character development than a shorter novel could offer which I feel makes it a better novel overall. Length doesnít ensure a good novel, but it does allow more opportunities to make a novel good.
My favourite quote, thereís a few but most are spoilery so I will go with this early one;
ďLet blood be your watchword, death your companion and hate your strength.Ē
The ending to Storm of Iron is... well I can promise that youíll never forget it. McNeill closes the novelís story off nicely while leaving a few threads that fans know are carried on in the third Ultramarines novel, Dead Sky Black Sun (which I would heartily suggest reading after Storm of Iron). Even after all the years and all the novels that I have read since, and that number definitely has three digits in it, this novelís ending is still one of the best I have ever read. Writing this sort of ending couldnít have been easy, since it subverts one of the most expected tropes in fiction, but to find out what that is youíll have to read the book. Really itís just another reason that Storm was such a game-changer, not content with the subject matter being unique at the time, McNeill had to take it further. And the result is a novel that still ranks among the best Black Library has ever produced.
On the whole I would give Storm of Iron a score of 8.0/10. Really this is the quintessential and original Chaos Space Marine novel and is one of the Black Library books that every fan of 40k should read. But really I would say that Storm is a novel that anyone could enjoy, especially people like me who love reading about the bad guys and want to see more of that. Well-written characters and an engaging plot along with brutal action sequences, and an unforgettable ending make Storm a novel to remember. It has aged well, some parts of it could be improved and some things would be better had they been written years later with more lore and background details that could have been added in, but Storm of Iron is a novel that has stood the test of time well in my opinion and remains worth reading. So in summation I give Storm of Iron a rank of Very Good.
Well thatís it for this review. Thanks for reading if youíve made it this far, until next time.
AVE DOMINUS NOX!
Love that book! I'm gathering and reading all the Iron warriors novels at the moment. Me and the Mrs are travelling by train through France so I should be able to get a few under my belt on the TGV!
I agree that the balance between the forces is great, and the writing gives a really good insight into each chapters methodology to waging war. Some parts are downright horrific, and you lurch between rooting for the iron warriors and hating their very existence - which i guess sums up their very essence!
BL did a new omnibus which gathers all the Ultra/IW books into one and in order so its possibly worth reading just to flesh out the whole story!
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