Space Wolves: Grey Hunter (William King)
The third and final entry in the First Space Wolves’ Omnibus, Grey Hunter tells the tale of Ragnar Blackmane’s ascension to the upper hierarchy of the Space Wolves. A flashback tale, Ragnar tells his story to a group of young warriors looking for inspiration from their battle-hardened leader. While this robs the book of a slight bit of tension and leads to a very rushed ending, there’s no denying that Grey Hunter is yet another enjoyable entry in the Space Wolves series.
Most of the action is about what you would expect from a Space Marines novel. There’s lots of killing and bloodshed, with a thin premise to tie it all together and keep the story going. Intrigue and subtlety are rarities, as the book instead focuses on the very overt rivalry between the various divisions of Space Wolves, and the more overt conflict between the forces of Chaos. Like previous entries in the series, this proves to be enough to tell a compelling story due to the well-written action scenes, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that, three books in, this series remains largely unchanged in terms of formula and tone.
It’s a good flashback story up until the very end, when the seemingly pivotal moment of Ragnar’s rise to where he currently is within the Wolves’ hierarchy is cut short. Instead of seeing him earn his place among the Wolves with a defense of his actions, we are returned to present day with the conclusion of the story. This decision inevitably makes the ending feel rushed and robs us of the opportunity for a great character moment or two and a compelling drama that, for once in the Warhammer 40k universe, doesn’t directly involve a battle.
Ragnar once again develops as a character in this book. His progression throughout this series has been one of the more positive elements, and it’s great to see that the development of a young leader and hero has not gone untended here. He defies authority when sensible, takes charge of his unit, and questions his place in the Emperor’s grand war machine. There’s an emotional side to him that is more one-dimensional, as he can only seem to display anger and bloodlust, but that seems to be in keeping with the typically narrow personalities of all the Space Marines. His growth isn’t the focal point of the book, but it’s a great inclusion that gives it just a bit more meat besides being an all-out action novel featuring a unique branch of the Space Marines.
The supporting cast isn’t great. Sven is the most notable. His banter with Ragnar is entertaining at first, but it quickly gets repetitive and we never explore Sven as a character, and the dynamic between he and Ragnar is beyond stale at this point. Everyone else is even less entertaining. Strybjorn, a character with a fair amount of promise early in the series, is relegated to having about five lines in this book and is a total nonfactor. Hakon is still a fairly generic sergeant type, and the rest of the cast, from spooky mage Ranek to the leader of the Space Wolves, Logan Grimnar, is little more than a bland archetype designed to fulfill a role.
Like the previous books in this series, author William King does a great job with imagining the battles that the Space Wolves encounter. It’s fairly familiar from a pacing standpoint, but the three major set pieces of the novel could hardly be executed better. First up is an attack on board a derelict space hulk that has a great sense of urgency and desperation, as our heroes muster a last-ditch plan against a numerically superior foe. The middle of the book takes place in a bombed out capital city, which makes for a great exercise in capturing the spectacle and scale of this war on chaos. The climactic battle is as chaotic and high-stakes as one would expect and runs the gamut of emotions before finally reaching its inevitable end.
Other details aren’t quite as strong, however. The dialogue is the same banter repeated incessantly, with lots of exposition thrown in. The villains are captured in a very drab, disposable way that rarely lends credit to the threat against the Space Wolves, and the final fight scene between Ragnar and an old nemesis is sorely lacking due to the childish, out of place taunting that frequently moves the focus from the titanic struggle to the latest piece of atrocious dialogue.
Grey Hunter earns its keep as a solid addition to a strong series by further developing the legacy of Ragnar Blackmane and providing a suitably entertaining Space Wolf adventure. A weak conclusion and near non-existent supporting cast mars the work, but if the first two books suited you, then you’ll enjoy sinking your teeth into the third installment of this saga.