Oh man. Just as I thought I was done with this silly primarch series, Chris Wraight has to go ahead and write a damn fine book about one of my favorite primarchs, Leman Russ. Dammit, Chris. Why ya gotta make me care and stuff? Not only does Chris Wraight provide color to one of the defining moments of Leman Russ, he manages to address the whole Wulfen thing, too.
Tradition Grows Strong
This is one of the few books in the primarch series that begins after the Heresy. A new recruit, one of the first to be born of the chapter and not Legion, is gifted an axe. This axe is very special to the Legion as an aged and tired Leman Russ explains to him. Russ insists on telling the young recruit not only about the axe, but the person for whom he is mourning.
This is the Leman Russ we rarely see. Contemplative, reflecting, certainly more introspective than he is often given credit for. We have seen, throughout the Heresy, that Russ is capable of more thought than he lets on, but this is the most “adult” we’ve ever seen him. He tells Haldor of a campaign, long ago, in which he and the Lion were tasked to bring a stubborn world to heel. His story is essentially divided into two pieces: the story of Russ racing the Lion to overthrow a tyrant, and members of his Legion discovering just how unstable the Canis Helix is. The latter is where most of the emotion and heartbreak resides through the book
There Are No Wolves on Fenris
Leman’s old guard, those he elevated to Adeptus Astartes well past the prime age, are beginning to turn into Wulfen. Every Space Wolf has to accept the beast of the Helix and come through the other side. Not everyone does, but it appears in the pre-Heresy era, it was largely believed once you beat the beast, it would not return. Turns out, that’s not correct. Naturally, given that the older Astartes are the first to succumb, they begin to assume it is a flaw in them, and not the Helix itself.
Jorin, who knew Russ pre-Emperor, decides that Leman doesn’t need to know about this yet. Surely they can find a cure, right? One of the recurring themes within the entire WH40k universe is the danger of secrets, and this book is no different. Attempting to hide the Wulfen problem from Russ has disastrous consequences, as the dirty secret is revealed to not just the Wolves, but the Dark Angels as well.
It is here that we learn that Russ has known about this issue all along. As he chastises one of his oldest companions, he reveals that this is merely the price they pay for the Allfather’s vision. I’ve long posited that instability of the Canis Helix is within the Emperor’s plans for the Wolves, and Russ seems to believe this as well.
The Main Event
Even without the Big Brawl, Leman and Lion are an explosive mix of personalities. Leman’s straight-forward, barbaric-seeming nature, combined with Lion’s secretive arrogance was never going to end well. But at long last we discover why and how their feud came to be. One headstrong move on the Wolves’ part leads to a brash move from the Angels, which then escalates into Lion completing a mission he believes Leman incapable of completing. Which leads to the Big Brawl we all came for.
The description of the two fighters is just fantastic. Leman’s rage-filled, no-holds-barred brawler style up against Lion’s refined, knightly riposte is exactly what we expect. Neither will back down, and neither will call for an end to it ether. It’s not until their raging and fighting has destroyed architecture, armor, and any dignity either primarch had, that Leman Russ is able to look at the situation and react in the way we all know he will: to laugh.
Chris Wraight does an excellent job with this entire scene because he manages to balance the epic, awesome power of the fight, with the sheer ridiculousness of it. As Leman Russ laughs at what a spectacle they’ve made of themselves, we the readers are able to laugh with him. Yes, you two are behaving like children. But we’re also able to understand why the Lion is so utterly perplexed by this reaction. Wraight manages to characterize him just enough that his reaction is equally understood. And to be fair, we get why Leman is laughing, but we also understand why the Lion sucker punches him, too.
That Leman would mourn Lion so keenly is a wonderful character beat. He says they were able to be in the same room as one another, eventually, which for those two is the equivalent of true bromance. Their shared shame of being absent on Terra, of failure, and of their respective legion/chapter curses makes them natural bedfellows. The fact that the Dark Angels and Space Wolves continue to honor brawl upon meeting one another makes this my new favorite flavor text of the entire WH40k catalog.
This, my friends, is what this Primarchs series should be about. Bolstering those little footnotes that we all know are a thing, but the details are shrouded in mystery. If you weren’t a Space Wolf fan before (looks at Keri), you will be at the end of this book.