Leman Russ: The Great Wolf by Chris Wraight
Cover illustration by Mikhail Savier
Published in 2016
Genre: Science fiction, military fiction
“The night was clear of cloud, lit only by a scatter of blue-white stars above the towering flanks of Krakgard.”
Leman Russ: The Great Wolf, by Chris Wraight, is the second book in the Primarch series by the Black Library. Named after the leader of the Space Wolves Legion, the novel tells the tale of a duel between Russ and one of his brothers, as well as the events that lead up to it. A story about siblings, legacy, and the intentions behind great undertakings, Leman Russ: The Great Wolf transcends a simple tale of battle to create a compelling narrative.
The novel begins by introducing Haldor Twinfang; a Space Marine of the newly formed Space Wolves Chapter, he is singled out because he is the first to know only the smaller Chapter instead of a full-fledged Legion. The Space Wolves Legion, known to those within as “The Rout”, has become a chapter in order to keep it in check and follow orders of the Ultramarine’s Primarch, Roboute Guilliman. Space Wolves initiates undertake a trial of being left alone in the wilds of Fenris to fight and find their way back to the fortress mountain, The Fang. We see the end of his trial, how he got the name Twinfang, and the celebration of his initiation. During the celebratory feast, Haldor goes wandering in the halls of The Fang only to find a solemn Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves. Continually venerated by his followers for only having lost to his father, The Emperor of Manking, in battle, Russ tell Haldor of the one other time he had been bested.
The Canis Helix is what transforms men into Space Wolves, but it can cause them to turn into feral hybrid wolf-men. This secret is kept from Leman Russ by one of his closest followers for fear of its spread. The leader of the 13th company, which has had these mutations, accidentally destroys a ship that Space Marines of the Dark Angels Legion were boarding, which prompts a near civil war in the space above an enemy planet. Russ bows to his brother, Primarch Lion El’Jonson of the Dark Angels, and makes reparations. However, during the final battle for the planet, the Lion teleports to kill the ruler, which prompts Russ to attack him in a vicious honor duel that ends with both battered and Russ knocked unconscious.
There are Norse and Viking influences in the heraldry and background of the Space Wolves. They use runes, Norse derived names, and Russ’s two wolves are named Freki and Geri after the wolves of Norse god, Odin. The Emperor is also referred to as the Allfather, which is another of Odin’s names. The Space Wolves fight with berserk ferocity, which we see during the siege on Duran. They are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the more knightly Dark Angels, who prefer to plan rather than dive right in with fury and vengeance on the mind. The story works on different levels in its confrontation between brothers, both bound by blood and combat. The Lion and the Wolf both have their ways and seek the approval of their father, The Emperor. It is this rivalry that comes to a head and brings two Legions against one another in a preamble of the Heresy to come.
As stated earlier, this is book two in the Primarch series, following Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultrimar. Each entry in the series is first printed in a beautiful limited edition of only 2,500 copies which come with a case, ribbon page marker, and gilt-edged pages. I initially purchased this when it was released in 2016 because the Space Wolves have ever been my favorite chapter in the Warhammer 40,000 universe and I wanted to learn more about the Primarch sired created them. It is difficult not to compare this to Roboute Guilliman, but there was much more room for character development and interaction during moments of friction between Lion El’Jonson and Leman Russ. Though there was some present in the first book of the series, I think that fighting an intelligent enemy and then having conflict within worked more successfully in the latter’s favor. Regardless, this is a wonderful, self-contained story that feeds into the larger mythology of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and it is no wonder that there are no more physical copies for sale.
Verdict: 4 honor duels out of 5
Recommended for: Recommended for: Fans of Warhammer 40,000, those who enjoy science fiction, those who know about the Horus Heresy, fans of fiction based on tabletop miniature games, and those who like references to Norse mythology.
Not recommended for: Those who don’t like fiction based on tabletop miniature games, those who are intimidated by the extensive mythology of the Warhammer 40K worlds, or those who dislike well-written tales of demigods squabbling.