Sunday, July 8, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Warhammer 40k: Iron Hands

Iron Hands (Johnathan Green)

            Iron Hands is a standalone adventure featuring the Space Marines chapter of the same name, shedding some light on their inner workings, beliefs, and military tactics. It does work well in this respect, aptly detailing what the Iron Hands as a whole are all about and making a diligent effort to detail the lore, quirks, and combat tactics behind the legion. Unfortunately, as a piece of entertainment beyond the world building element of the Warhammer 40k universe in general, Iron Hands is woefully inadequate. With an awful protagonist, simplistic plot, and awkward writing style, Iron Hands is one to be avoided unless you are desperate for more information on the titular Space Marines chapter.
            Iron Hands is a straightforward tale concerning the voyages of one company throughout Imperial space, coming into contact with tech priests and fighting off the forces of Chaos, culminating in an enormous battle for an extremely powerful mechanized force. The plot is exceptionally easy to follow, consisting of linear battle scenes with little pretense of greater thematic meaning and very little to bridge the gaps between the all out fighting. It works well enough, and is probably the least of the book's flaws, but it is far from spectacular. The climax is suitably explosive and the stakes are high enough for there to be a good deal of tension, it is just a shame that the utterly boring and lifeless characters don't evoke any sympathy or investment on the part of the reader.
            Characters in Iron Hands are unforgivably one dimensional. The only man we really get to know is the protagonist, Gdolkin. Gdolkin is a very angry character, snapping whenever he is given an assignment he doesn't like, finds himself in a disagreement over any matter no matter how small, or ponders his own weakness (apparently weakness is a cardinal sin for the Iron Hands, so as a result Gdolkin spends an inordinate amount of time justifying any decision that might be construed as weak.) Emotionally, the character is as much of a one note protagonist as you will find, consisting of nothing more complex than randomly placed anger and a fierce reverence for his Emperor. There isn't much effort put into developing his back story either. We are treated to one flashback sequence in which he becomes a Space Marine, with a few token allusions to his previous life, but otherwise there isn't much of an attempt to create a compelling or nuanced character here. Similarly, his supporting cast doesn't resonate beyond their names, with nothing in the way of a foil or particularly compelling side kick to accompany Gdolkin in his adventures. It is the usual assortment of faceless, heroic Space Marines, though here the deficiencies are even more obvious because of the terrible main character. The antagonists are lead by a champion of the Word Bearers legion of Chaos Marines, but this character does little to endear himself and mostly exists to add a forced and unnecessary personal element into the final duel. The forces of Chaos fare much better here as a gruesome and frightening entity than they do embodied in one man such as the Chaos champion, mostly due to the author's skill in describing the bizarre appearances of the Chaos minions. Of course, by contrast to the lumbering idiot Gdolkin, even the relatively anonymous supporting cast looks appealing, and the Chaos antagonist is by no means a bad character in that same vein, just an undeveloped one.
            Iron Hands suffers from being over written, creating awkward and unpleasant sentences, and getting bogged down in trivial details far too easily. Author Jonathan Green goes to great lengths when describing character appearances in this book, giving detailed depictions of our protagonist, his comrades, and the forces of Chaos. This initially works fairly well for the Chaos minions, as this is pretty much the only way the horror of Chaos is brought to us in this book. Unfortunately it is played out and loses most of its effect by the book's climactic battle, and all the descriptions start to work against the pacing as opposed to enhancing the setting or characters. A particularly painful scene early on involves the two and a half page rendering of various members of the Iron Hands most respected warriors. These warriors, many of whom do not get a speaking line in the entire book and some of whom do not even get a name,  are surely imposing and cool looking, but there isn't much of a reason to devote this kind of time to detailing characters who will appear in none of the book. The dialogue is also not a strong point, though this comes as no surprise considering how weak the characters are. Action scenes, and much of the book in general, are directly impacted by a tendency to use run on sentences and go off into tangents that mean precious little to the events at hand. This creates some unpleasant sentences and dilutes the mostly well planned out action sequences, turning what should be the book's greatest asset into one of its most disappointing elements.
            Even when these flaws, the book has some positive elements where writing is concerned. The author does a fantastic job of incorporating servitors and other miscellaneous elements (such as the Iron Hands' use of bionics and replacement parts) into most scenes, and the action scenes often give a good feel for what is going on at various places in the conflict, even if they are a bit dry in the telling. We get a good sense of how the Iron Hands fight and what their basic tactics are from this novel, and the climactic fight is well thought out. Even with these relative bright points, Iron Hands is a clunky and punishing read, brought low by too many indulgent descriptions and tangents, and not enough exciting action.
            Iron Hands is a forgettable Warhammer novel that never really overcomes the unbelievably awful narrator and sub par prose present throughout the book. Even with a solid plot and some interesting lore elements, I can't recommend Iron Hands to anyone with less than a fanatical interest in the workings of the chapter.
Final Score

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