Wulfen by Chris Wraight. A Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolves Short Story. Originally published by The Black Library, March 2013, for Digital Monday. Approx. 23 pages.
HachiSnax Note: This August has not allowed for a good amount of reading time. Here's one more short story review to close out this last summer month, as I finish wrestling with Poppet. Happy September, everyone! Cheers, Hach.
In the few years that he has been writing for The Black Library, Chris Wraight has been churning out some consistently well-received work. Working comfortably within both the Warhammer Fantasy and 40K worlds, he solidified his star status with the acclaimed "Battle of the Fang". Fans all over loved his take on those classic lupine giants, the Space Wolves. Personally, I had not read the old Space Wolf omnibuses to familiarize myself with the 'old take' on them, so I was a tad hesitant to read the 'new take'. Luckily, there was a Digital Monday offering featuring the Sons of Russ, so what better way to get to know Wraight?
Wulfen tells us the tale of a Guardsman recounting the horrific events of an assault on a Chaos planet to an Inquisitor of the Ordo Malleus. This account climaxes with the arrival of those mythical super-warriors, the Space Marines. Wait, hold the phone. This story structure sounds vaguely familiar...... Well, if something works, run with it.
Wulfen is narrated via the first-person POV of Inquisitor Alisa Damietta. Damietta is a strong, likable protagonist (it shows that the Black Library is pushing for more strong female characters). She shows a genuine interest in the tales from the wrecked souls that were involved in the assault upon Voidsoul. This prompts her to continue her discussions with Morbach, the broken Cadian sergeant, who is, quite literally, carrying a clue to what transpired there inside of him. These continued discussions are in direct violation of the instructions of her superior, Inquisitor Lord Torquemada Coteaz (I love cool names, and that's a winner). He is a domineering, unwavering pillar, who sees in these pitiful survivors little possibility of new discovery. And, as is usually the case, pride comes before the fall. Usually it is the Inquisition that cleans up those who have seen what should not be seen; however, there are others that dutifully clean their yards as well.
As for Wraight's style, it is as good as advertised. He creates a character strong enough to carry the story, but also able to feel insignificant in the company of the Astartes. He masterfully weaves tension and horror into his prose; his depiction of of the Cadian troops landing on Voidsoul and attempting to rally to a standard is like Normandy Beach as written by H.P. Lovecraft. His description of the Chaos creatures known as the 'Neverborn' and the havoc they unleash is downright terrifying. Most importantly, he paints the Astartes as seen by mortals; this seems to work best in the recent short stories that I've read. For those woebegotten Guardsmen planetside on Voidsoul, the arrival of the Astartes is no less than having gods walk among them, for even the tough Damietta, their appearance is purely intimidating, and for the proud Coteaz, well, he learns that there are some forces that can make even a Lord Inquisitor feel insignificant.
There are no real flaws to pinpoint in Wulfen. Some readers, hoping to get more Space Wolves out of a "Space Wolves Short Story" might feel a little let down. The Sons of Russ only stride through two or three pages of the text. They make it count though. There is also the issue of the mysterious talon that Damietta discovers. Does it tie in to another Space Wolves tale? Or is it some form of tracking beacon? That is the one aspect left unresolved. Maybe its secrets are resolved in "Blood of Asaheim", which also shares the same cover as Wulfen. If anyone cares to enlighten me on the nature of the talon, please drop it in the comments. Otherwise, all in all a solid little piece.
Here's what it is:
An atmospheric little story that shows how nothing gets between the Wolves and their prey. Great treatment of all parties involved; Astartes, Inquisition, Imperial Guard, and even Chaos.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the cover for Blood of Asaheim:
Very nice, no? Now, as they are wont to do, the folks at Black Library cropped it a bit for the cover for the short. I believe they should have cropped it so that the focus was on the head area, featuring the bolter and the hilt of the sword. As you can see from up top, they decided to just use the midsection, so it appears that the Astartes on the cover is peeking down into the frame. I honestly don't know how to score a good cover jacked up by a bad crop job....
Cover Final Score: