The Iron Hands are one of the most enigmatic of all the Space Marine Chapters. Jonathan Green gave us Iron Hands back in the depths of time when the Warhammer 40,000 setting was still pretty new but ever since we have seen very little of them outside of the Horus Heresy. That has now changed with David Guymer’s new series which takes a very comprehensive look at the modern Iron Hands and explores the rise to fame of one of their defining characters in M41. It suffers, ironically, from the cold and unfeelingly-brutal nature of the Chapter itself, but still provides some interesting insights into one of the First Founding Chapters.
The star of the novel is Sergeant Kardan Stronos who is newly-promoted from one Clan-Company of the Iron Hands to another. We start with this induction as an introduction to the modern Iron Hands, as Stronos leaves behind the trappings of Clan Vurgaan behind and accepts his new role as the Tenth Sergeant of Clan Garrsak. There’s a rather fetishistic element of these proceedings that I felt set the mood very well for the rest of the narrative. Illuminated though the sons of Medusa might be, but they still cling to some ancient rites of their clannish natures and that is certainly presented very well here.
However, once you move past these enlightened beginnings, you see just how the Iron Hands have changed over the years. The death of Ferrus Manus at the onset of the Horus Heresy ten thousand years ago irrevocably changed the Iron Hands down to their psychological selves and that is what is at display in this novel. They have given over their physical selves to the so-called purity of the machine, learning all the wrong lessons from the Heresy and ignoring the actions and teachings of their own Primarch. None of this is new per se, but in The Eye of Medusa, David Guymer takes the Iron Hands towards an uncomfortable extreme that I found unsustainable and unrealistic.
The creed of the Chapter, and the Legion before it, was always that the machine was superior to the flesh. With Ferrus Manus having metallic hands that could shape metal into any form and create the most wondrous of armour and weapons, this was exemplified by the Legion wherein they would be far more amenable to willingly give up parts of their biology to bionic replacements. This was exacerbated after the Primarch’s death and the creed transformed into the bitter “flesh is weak” refrain. That’s what the Modern Iron Hands exemplify to the detriment of all else. Bionic enhancement is a goal in itself, an identity and a necessity to the extent that neophytes are forcibly mutilated as part of their indoctrination and as part of their punishment and so on.
The Iron Hands of M41 are not an enlightened lot at all. That’s the crux of the argument that David Guymer presents here through Kardan Stronos. A revered Iron Father of the Chapter by the end of M41, in the early years of the millennium he is still a lowly Sergeant, albeit one with deep insights into how the Chapter is slowly killing itself through its barbaric practices. In effect, the novel just becomes a commentary on the Iron Hands’ way of life. It is fascinating certainly, but one wonders as well just how far off the deep-end the Iron Hands have gone. Perhaps even irrevocably. It makes for a rousing read and at every point this is stressed by the author and commented on by Kardan himself. As such, I think that The Eye of Medusa might well be a foundational text for the Iron Hands. Chris Wraight’s Wrath of Iron went along some similar lengths from what I remember, but it’s been a while admittedly so I’m not so sure about it. I do remember however that Chris’ work was all about the extreme aspects of the Iron Hands culture without the conflicting nature that David presents here.
And then there’s the fact that David paints a picture of an Iron Hands Chapter that is far too deeply in thrall to the Adeptus Mechanicus. One of the worlds in the Medusa system is practically governed by the Cult Mechanicus with armies of skitarii and servitors and battle-constructs of varied types. Even their senior Chapter Council, the so-called Clan Council, counts no less than three senior Tech-Priests among its number. And all of this is where some of the conflict in the novel arises for the aforementioned world is where an insurrection has broken out and the Iron Hands deploy in strength to expunge this dishonour and the weakness of the flesh and machine alike. Again, a very fascinating read, but one also wonders whether the Iron Hands have hitched themselves to the devil, and whether this is something that they will pay dearly for one day.
If anything, The Eye of Medusa is a bleak read. The mutilation prevalent in the Chapter, the manipulations of the Mechanicus, the philosophical disagreements among the Iron Fathers (the Chaplains of the Chapter), the mysterious nature of the insurrection on Thennos, and the intervention of the Deathwatch itself all make for some serious reading. David takes us on a grand ride with Kardan Stronos and his squad as our primary window into the narrative, but we also get some superb scenes with the Deathwatch Kill-Team that makes its presence known early on in the conflict. Captain Harsid of the Death Spectres, Epistolary Lydriik of the Iron Hands and Ymir of the Space Wolves were some of the best characters in the novel, and I would certainly not mind some spin-off stories with this lot. They added a very interesting dimension over the larger narrative and made me hungry for more. At the end of the day however, everything rests with Stronos and his brothers up and down the Iron Hands chain of command.
As an aside, one of the biggest downsides of the narratives was the sub-plot that focused on the neophyte Arven Rauth as he is initiated into the Iron Hands as a Scout and then attends the war on Thennos as his first combat mission. Arven was a very confusing character to me, one with way too much anger and resentment in him, both against his own person and his brothers of the Iron Hands, whether fellow Scouts or the more senior brothers. There was almost a certain revulsion in him against all that made these Iron Hands what they were and just couldn’t balance that against what I’ve read of other such characters of other Chapters. There were also some other troubling moments in the novel that involved him and his fellow Scouts and it all made me wonder whether the Iron Hands were training a new generation of staunch defenders of the Imperium or warriors who hated themselves and all they stood for. The entire subplot was rather discordant.
The war on Thennos was also interesting in more ways than can be counted. For one, as mentioned before, it is home to Mechanicus defense forces that are as varied as they are numerous and while the Iron Hands have certain advantages, the dual nature of governance on the planet means that the matter of retaking the planet is far more complex than apparent at a glance. We see various Mechanicus weapons and defense troops that the Iron Hands must go up against and I particularly liked the scenes where Stronos and his squad go deep into enemy lines ahead of the main force and end up battling around a Titan machine-carcass no less. Larger narrative aside, David writes some pretty good battle scenes and this is very much apparent in the second half of the novel once the conflict has sufficiently escalated. At the same time though, I must also add that some of his descriptions were just odd when he tried to capture the robotic nature of the Iron Hands’ war-tactics. It is all about managing the extremes and there were plenty of instances where he went too far into the robotic and archaic.
If one is interested in learning more about the Iron Hands then I’d definitely recommend this novel. Kardan is a great character with plenty of conflict to him, and David does tell a very intriguing story involving the extremes of the Iron Hands’ relationship with the Mechanicus. There is far more at stake in the novel than a simple insurrection and through the use of some intriguing flashbacks involving the cold and calculating nature of the Iron Hands, David does bring out a lot. Many questions are raised, and not all are answered, but there has to be something kept for the sequel too, so that’s something I look forward to. In the meantime, The Eye of Medusa definitely warrants a visit.
More David Guymer:
- The Beast Arises #6: Echoes of the Long War (Review)
- The Beast Arises #10: The Last Son of Dorn (Review)
- Gotrek & Felix: City of The Damned (Review)
- Gotrek & Felix: Kinslayer (Review)