Friday, 8 November 2013
‘The Iron Wolves’ – Andy Remic (Angry Robot)
Sometimes all I want in a book is the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster with gaping plot holes covered in spectacle and characters that will reach out from the page and grab you by the throat. I want a book that will wake me up in the morning when I haven’t had my coffee; a book that will drown out a horrible day with the sounds of swords clashing and evil dying a bloody death in the penultimate chapter. Whenever I want a book like that I will inevitably turn to whatever Andy Remic has written most recently; he is the guy who ticks all of those boxes, doing so with some style with his ‘Clockwork Vampire’ trilogy.
When ‘The Iron Wolves’ arrived on the doorstep I immediately saw it as the book to get me through a rough opening few days in my new job. I was right, oh how I was right. While there are flaws and shortcomings, I still tore through ‘The Iron Wolves’ and can see myself doing exactly the same thing with ‘The White Towers’ when that is published. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun with a book.
Have some blurb to be going on with,
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. This ended the War of Zakora, and made the Iron Wolves heroes.
Now, a new terror stalks the realm. In hushed whispers, it is claimed the Horse Lady, 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 then slime and heading north to Vagandrak where, it said, the noble King Yoon has gone insane...
After hearing a prophecy from a blind seer, aged General Dalgoran searches to reunite the heroes of old for what he believes will be the final battle. But as mud-orcs and twisted beasts tear through the land, Dalgoran discovers the Iron Wolves are no longer heroes of legend... Narnok is a violent whoremaster, Kiki a honey-leaf drug peddler, and Prince Zastarte a drinker, a gambler, amoral and decadent: now he likes to hear people scream as they burn...
United in hate, the Iron Wolves travel to the Pass of Splintered Bones; and as half a million mud-orcs gather, General Dalgoran realises his grave error. Together, the Iron Wolves hold a terrible secret which has tortured them for three decades. Now, they only wish to be human again...
‘The Iron Wolves’ is a book that sacrifices much to deliver on its promise of action and bucket loads of gore. You can tell that Remic writes a story like he’s watching it unfold on the big screen; everything is larger than life and full of vitality but take a little step back for a bit and you’ll find yourself thinking ‘hang on a minute…’
The narrative jumps forwards and backwards in time and that’s fair enough; that kind of thing happens all the time in books. It’s when you realise that this approach is purely to have people in the right place, without all the boring journeys in between, that it starts to feel a little contrived.
And imprisoning a major character only to have him break free, with no explanations as to how, so he can deliver the cliffhanger is, well… contrived again and doesn’t ring true at all.
You can tell that the story is really important to Remic (more on that in a bit) but he’s writing it like it’s a film and that doesn’t work when you’re dealing with words instead of moving pictures. You don’t see all the journeying in a film but a book has to at least mention it otherwise your reader is thinking, ‘how the hell did she suddenly turn up there?’ Films positively thrive on the bad guy suddenly appearing with no explanation, and throwing everything into chaos, but the book has to at least say who undid all the knots otherwise… Things just don’t fit together and there were a few too many of these moments in this book. And don’t get me started on the guy who suddenly pieces it all together so he can tell a lead character just in the nick of time. Just don’t…
You know what though? I totally forgive Andy Remic his little foibles, as I couldn’t put ‘The Iron Wolves’ down (except for those awkward moments where I had to do more than one thing at the same time). ‘The Iron Wolves’ is just wall to wall (or should I say cover to cover) action covered in liberal doses of blood, brains and other assorted viscera. I love that, there is always something happening and Remic ramps the stakes up to unbelievable heights. It may feel like a Saturday morning cartoon but it works; I had to keep reading to find out what happened (even though I had a rough idea that was proved right) and I came away feeling like I’d fought in some of those battles myself.
It’s not just the spectacle either, Remic fills each moment full of flawed anti-heroes that you can’t help but root for once you find out a little more about what is really going on for them. You’d be forgiven for wondering whether there is any room for good in Remic’s world but, in the best traditions of David Gemmell himself, Remic shows us that there is room for redemption in even the bitterest heart. He makes us wait on that though and I loved that little move of his. What a way to bait the hook, a bunch of cynical who really don’t want to be around for the final battle and won’t be given half a chance.
I’ve said before that Remic is the only writer I know who can coin the phrase ‘mud orc’ and get away with it. He is also the only writer I know who can introduce an element of Power Rangers to a ‘Gemmellesque’ final battle and get away with that too. Nothing is too outlandish for Andy Remic and that’s why I’ll continue to read his fantasy books at least.
‘The Iron Wolves’ may be flawed but it’s glorious all at the same time. Keep an eye out for this book in January and thank me later.