Wreck and Ruin (Black Library Novella Series 2: Book 2)
Wreck and Ruin is the second book in Black Library’s Novella Series 2, a set of ten Novellas with matching covers, ranging through the various Warhammer settings (40,000; Age of Sigmar; Necromunda), written by a mixture of veteran and new authors and cheap enough for anyone to collect without particularly straining their budget. Both Series 1 and Series 2 helped to bring me back into Warhammer as a hobby and begin reading Black Library fiction again, and one of the novellas I was most excited by was Danie Ware’s Wreck and Ruin, both the second book in Series 2 and also a sequel to the most excellent The Bloodied Rose which was released as part of the Novella Series 1 back in 2018. I’ve been a big fan of Ware’s science-fiction novels for some time, and her name being attached to the novella series when they were very first announced was one of the key reasons for me getting so excited about their release. I thoroughly enjoyed The Bloodied Rose when I read it (with a review eventually to come here on the blog) and Ware’s unique and thoughtful take on the Sisters of Battle, and was heartened to see that she would be penning a sequel novella in Series 2 – the intriguingly-titled Wreck and Ruin.
With the novellas accompanied by an on-going set of short stories in various anthologies and digital releases, Ware has been building up a cohesive and engaging universe around the Sisters of the Bloody Rose and their leader, Sister Superior Augusta, and I was intrigued to see where Ware would take them with another novella-length title. One of the best parts of The Bloody Rose had been the setting: the feral jungle world of Lautis, and the ancient, dilapidated cathedral in an isolated portion of the Deathworld really coming to life under Ware’s pen. As such, the back-cover blurb for Wreck and Ruin enticed me with the concept of another unique and engaging environment – this time the abandoned industrial Forgeworld of Lycheate, where the Imperium of Man retreated from long ago and allowed an influx of renegades, secessionists and heretics. It sounded like a nice contrast to the jungle planet of the previous title, and I was eager to jump in and see what the Sisters would be confronted with this time.
Ware has this way of writing action sequences that are really intense, especially as an opening chapter; The Bloodied Rose had a great one, and if anything the first few pages of Wreck and Ruin are even better. Here we have a running firefight between an arch-heretic and an Inquisitor and a squad of Imperial Guard seconded to her for her mission, threading their way through a decaying, hellish post-industrial landscape of rusted metal gantries, ladders and flashes of superheated ejecta from forges. It’s a fierce, potent sequence that not only had me at the edge of my seat, but also deftly sets the overarching atmosphere and tone of the novella: a decaying industrial jungle, abandoned by anything even vaguely good long ago. It also sets up the intriguing and deeply mysterious relationship between the arch-heretic Zale and his pursuer, Inquisitor Istrix; that relationship rests at the heart of the novella and provides the main thrust of the plot, and Ware deftly uses a blend of atmosphere and mystery to immediately hook us as readers and bring us into that mystery. There’s something wrong about how Istrix is hunting Zale, her former protégé, though what’s wrong and why aren’t revealed until the climax of the novella.
Sister Superior Augusta and her surviving squad-members are summoned by the Inquisitor to Lycheate to assist in her hunt for Zale, but getting there is far from easy; the Forgeworld has been abandoned by the Imperium for centuries and is ringed by wreckage and Mechanicus gun platforms, all of which make it very clear (for both the Sisters and the readers) that this is not a situation where reinforcements can be expected. Surrounded by heretics, xenos and the dregs of the universe, Augusta and her Sisters are forced into an unfamiliar and tense situation where their combat skills are not their primary weapon; instead they are forced to accompany the strange, potentially unhinged Inquisitor into the heart of the Forgeworld in a hunt for a heretic, aware that even a single gunshot could see them swarmed and killed in an instant. It’s a fantastic decision by Ware, and very much the complete opposite of the situation in The Bloodied Rose; whereas in their first novella, bolter and chainsword could be added to their faith to triumph over Chaos, here action would lead to disaster, meaning that trust and faith has to be their sole weapon for most of the story.
Although the concepts of passion, faith and trust in the God-Emperor of Mankind are central to the Sisters of Battle, and have been explored in other titles, I’ve never come across an author before who seems to so innately and instinctively understand the Sisters of Battle and what it means to be one. Ware deftly and clearly gets across the nature of faith, and fighting on against evil and heresy even when doubting – this is the core of true faith. Indeed, it’s the core of the Sisters of Battle as a faction and in their ethos – in many ways they are even more fanatical and devoted than the Astartes. I cannot imagine deviations of the kind seen in some Astartes Chapters ever occurring in a squad of Sisters. But all of that faith and devotion is best expressed in violence against the Emperor’s foes, and when Augusta and her Sisters are unable to do that on the heretical Forgeworld, faith becomes as much a weight as a balm for the soul. The Sister Superior’s constant struggles to keep to her faith and invest precious trust in an Inquisitor who seems to be straying from the Emperor’s Light are the backbone of the novella, and the main reason why I finished the novella so quickly in a single sitting.
This being a novella, Ware has far more room than a short story to develop all of the characters, especially the Sisters, and they continue to be the central focus of the story, and the narrative is all the better for it; Wreck and Ruin being the second novella in the series, as well as several short stories, we get the benefit of the Sisters all having great depth of character and personality, especially Sister Superior Augusta. Ware skilfully develops a portrait of Sister Augusta as a stern, faithful woman dedicated in her service to the Emperor of Mankind and veteran of decades of service; a Sister of Battle who has faced, and prevailed over, the worst heretics, aliens and traitors the galaxy has been able to throw at her. Yet her last mission – as depicted in The Bloodied Rose – has left her pensive and concerned about her status in the light of the God-Emperor, and the events of Wreck and Ruin only deepen those concerns and weigh her down. Augusta is a fascinating character, with intensity unmatched by any other SoB characters I’ve seen in Warhammer fiction, and indeed many Astartes, and is one of the best creations by a Black Library author in a very long time.
I also really enjoyed Ware’s dedication in making each of Augusta’s accompanying Sisters distinctive in personality and appearance, ensuring they all stand out and the reader actually cares about them; these aren’t the cookie-cutter Sisters seen in earlier iterations of Warhammer 40k, both in fiction and the tabletop game. These are a varied group of fanatical warrior-nuns who kick arse and worship the Emperor; and the Emperor doesn’t care what you look like as long as you’re faithful to Him. They’re distinctive in a number of ways, and not just how they look and act; even their tactics and way of fighting is different, with Ware bringing across a unique blend of Imperial Guard and Astartes tactics, as well as a very specific type of fanatical courage of a type not seen in either of those factions. Fortunately not all of Ware’s skill as an author is invested solely in the Sisters of Battle – the other characters in the novella are just as well developed. Istrix in particular is an engaging and mysterious character, and while the rogue Inquisitor isn’t an uncommon trope in Warhammer fiction, Ware delivers a number of twists and turns that makes her anything but stale or boring. I enjoyed her mysterious nature and strange foibles, as well as the strange nature of her reduced retinue and their own surprising revelations late in the novella. Ware writes characters exceedingly well, to the point where even minor characters are fully fleshed-out and engaging, and I’d love to see what she can do with a full-length novel for the Sisters of Battle.
Wreck and Ruin is an absolutely brilliant novella and perhaps Ware’s finest work so far for the Black Library, and perhaps even her original sci-fi titles. Brilliantly and engagingly written with tight, atmospheric plotting full of surprising twists and turns, and populated by a diverse, varied and supremely entertaining cast of characters, the novella manages to be a stand-out title even amongst all of the other high-quality titles within Novella Series 2. Ware seems to have this understanding of the Sisters of Battle that no other author has managed to even come close to over the years, providing depth and colour to Sister Superior Augusta and the Sisters of the Bloodied Rose that really brings them to life, and I firmly believe that only a full-length novel (and eventually series) will allow Ware to truly do both her characters, and her skill as a writer, true justice.