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Dec 22, 2013

Review of The Iron Wolves, by Andy Remic

Book 1 of the Rage of Kings

The Iron Wolves
Andy Remic
IBSN 978-0857663566
Angry Robot
Release Date: December 31, 2013

From the book’s description:

Thirty years ago, the Iron Wolves held back mud-orc hordes at the Pass of Splintered Bones, and led a brutal charge that saw the sorcerer Morkagoth slain.

Now, a new terror stalks the realm. Orlana the Changer has escaped from the Chaos Halls and is building an army, twisting horses, lions and bears into terrible, bloody hunters, summoning mud-orcs from the slime and heading north to battle the mighty region of Vagandrak where, it said, the King has gone insane.

General Dalgoran searches to reunite the heroes of old for what he believes will be their final battle. But Dalgoran discovers the Iron Wolves are no longer the heroes of legend, and they might just be more dangerous than the invading hordes.

My insanely short synopsis: The Iron Wolves, a band of seven unlikely and (somewhat) unsavory heroes punch, kick, bite and slash their way across the kingdom to reach Vagrandak, the land of legend and the Iron Wolves’ past glory. Their goal: to do battle against the great Sorceress Orlana to stop her from enslaving and slaughtering the entire population of the realm.

On his seventieth birthday, General Dalgoran witnesses a scene so gruesome, it forces him to end his retirement and reassemble the Iron Wolves, his band of seven warriors, now past the prime of their hero years. But General Dalgoran believes they are the only ones capable of combatting the horror he has witnessed. But first he must find them all and convince them of his cause.

The Iron Wolves seethes with action; indeed, it stomps across every page.

Remic has a very precise way with descriptions of battles and fights and with weapons of every type (including head butts). The scenes leap and snort off the page, making the heart race with anticipation about their outcomes. The journey of the Iron Wolves entails many such battles including those against insanely powerful creatures called the splice – amalgams of human and beasts that are very tough to kill – and mud orcs as well as more human enemies. Including the Iron Wolves themselves.

If you enjoy sword and sorcery, The Iron Wolves will not disappoint. The heroes themselves, although not necessary likeable, present a convincing case for their role as the only ones capable of confronting the powerful and merciless Orlana. I felt there was adequate backstory from each of the seven warriors to comprehend something of their motivations; these stories do not necessarily make the characters more likeable. But it did help me to understand them.

Orlana, not born of this world, has an agenda. I didn’t understand what that agenda was in any great detail, this is Book 1 after all, but I learned enough to know that her plans entail much more than crafting nasty and menacing creatures. Her very evilness contrasts starkly with the dubious nature of the Iron Wolves’ heroism. I never had any doubts about who I was rooting for.

On the other hand, although the story has its straightforward components, there are plenty of subplots and interesting complications to occupy the mind while reading. Even though the it is the nature of epic fantasy with good versus evil made me want to think that good will triumph, I never felt sure about the outcome at any point in the story.

And that is what kept me reading. Sometimes, the fights went on too long for my liking so that I had to put the book down for a while, but I think for those who read graphic and gritty sword and sorcery with gusto, and who enjoyed The Clockwork Vampire Chronicle series by Remic, this will be a positive feature. For me, it’s guilty candy. Something I don’t read often because, while I enjoy it in small doses, most of the time slash and gore are not done well. But here it is done well and is dictated by the nature of the story.

On a less positive note, there’s a reader cheat in here. It marred the story for me somewhat, and I can’t talk about because it would be a spoiler. In all fairness, we do get hints about it, but not enough that I felt I could have figured it out on my own. That said though, I could live with that and hope the rest of the series will live up to the promise of the first book, an uncompromising but ultimately entertaining romp through a fantasy landscape pockmarked with treachery around every corner.