The Blessing of Iron by Anthony Reynolds. An Iron Hands short story, originally published in the Black Library Games Day 2012 Anthology. Now available for direct download from The Black Library. Approx. 22 pages.
The Blessing of Iron is another one of those shorts that has been winking at me from the back burner for a while. Word of mouth had been kind to it when it was still a Games Day exclusive, and now the Digital Mondays program brought it to the masses. Also, it gave the perfect chance to get a taste of Anthony Reynold's work (he of the Word Bearers series and WH Fantasy Bretonnia knight fame). Not only that, I am very interested to see how authors handle the Iron Hands, a chapter further removed from humanity than most, Astartes that revere the Omnissiah as well as the Emperor, Space Marines that disdain the weak and eschew the fragility of the flesh. It just so happens the Reynolds has crafted a wonderfully grimdark scenario which wonderfully demonstrates these iron giants in motion, even though the narrative is little more than a collection of plot devices used to further sequences of action and thus simulate a background.
The penitentiary/manufacturing planet of Penatora IV is being torn asunder. Somehow the prisoners have been freed from their cages in the bowels of the earth, and they are exacting the kind of violent revenge that only those capable of such depravity can muster and comprehend. A small group of Iron Hands is working in conjunction with skitarii special forces and local defense to quell the uprising. Brother Dolmech has been tasked with recovering the Beneficiari of Manufacturing Cog 349, Armicus. Armicus is a man of near-mechanical efficiency himself; his Cog makes bionic eyes. One of his eyes whirrs in Dolmech's head. But unfortunately for Armicus, he also possesses something. Something terrible. He possesses the knowledge of who set the prisoners loose.
Reynolds' prose is spot-on, necessarily economical, and yet also poetic without overindulgence. This is a clever tool that helps him to inject emotion into a tale of war machines devoid of such burdensome hindrances. A perfect example is this line:
"He is always in motion as he drives them back; a furious god among men, unstoppable and terrible in his potency."
Reynolds focuses on descriptive passages that convey the "living machine" aspect of the Iron Hands, the mechanical fluidity with which Dolmech moves, how he is one with his augmetics, his armor, and his weaponry. The flesh is given the rough disregard that the Iron Hands normally temper towards it; as Dolmech decimates the rampaging prisoners, they are reduced to steaming, bloody chunks and gobbets. It is so gloriously brutal and gory, but it is rightfully so: always know, "The flesh is weak".
Aside from the stellar treatment given to the Iron Hands, Reynolds also squeezes in some members of another Chapter for a critical cameo. He scripts them with a proper air of mystery, and it lends to a scene full of palpable tension.
Dolmech and Armicus make for a good pair, and that is integral to the success of the storytelling. The Iron Hands are so dour that a human perspective is necessary to keep the audience invested. Fans of the Hands stand to feel slighted, though, is the story teeters too far towards the supporting cast. Reynolds walks this tightrope with proficiency. Dolmech and Armicus forge a relationship, with Armicus' being of fearful awe, and Dolmech's forged of a burgeoning respect for the bravery of the fleshling.
Where Blessing falls short is in the fact that there are still some open-ended questions at the end. It is never clarified as to why Armicus holds any significance for the Iron Hands, or why Dolmech was sent to save him. We are also not given any inkling as to what the mysterious "Fallen Asset" is. It may tie into something that those more versed in WH40K lore are savvy about (if so, please put it in the comments section). Otherwise, it remains a MacGuffin. It might as well be the suitcase from Ronin. I'll be happy to find out what more there is to it.
In conclusion, The Blessing of Iron is an excellent slice of life (slice of war?) tale in which the study overshadows the story, making it all the stronger. It is a harsh story with an ending that hits with the impact of an Astartes punch. Unlike many recent shorts, Blessing will still be engrossing after repeat readings. Do yourself a favor, get it, read it, and then go back and re-read the first paragraph.
Here's what it is:
An enigmatic Chapter gets proper treatment in a quick tale of how the Iron Hands can seriously kick ass. A stern parable that the beneficence of a 'blessing' is subject to the belief of the bearer. However, some points might leave you scratching your head.
Sometimes simple works. The cover is a stark, iron grey, with a portion of the Iron Hands Chapter symbol to the right. The arrangement has a Game of Thrones house logo feel to it. It's an admirable attempt to turn lemons into lemonade. Points are taken off, however, for the outer glow around the title lettering. Totally unnecessary; somewhat headache inducing.
Cover Final Score: