The Measure of Iron
The Measure of Iron is the seventh 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 I enjoyed all of the titles in Series 2 so much, that I decided to try and review all of them here on this blog. I managed to review half of the entire tranche before getting distracted by other things, but I’m now making a valiant attempt to review the rest before the inevitable Series 3 is announced by Black Library and I become distracted yet again.
I must admit that before I started reading the novellas, I had mentally assigned the Age of Sigmar titles to the bottom of the reading pile. Although I’d had a few positive experiences with the setting, such as Josh Reynold’s peerless Warhammer Horror novel Dark Harvest and several short stories, I really hadn’t felt engaged with Age of Sigmar in general and certainly hadn’t actively sought out titles in the setting. I still can’t quite put a finger on why that was: I think it was just a general low-level feeling of annoyance that it had replaced the original Warhammer Fantasy setting, coupled with the fact that I’ve always preferred fiction set in Warhammer 40,000 and Necromunda rather than any other of the Games Workshop universes.
As such, it took quite some time for me to get to the three Age of Sigmar novellas in the series, really only starting to consider reading them once I’d finished off the other seven titles. Of those three – The Measure of Iron by Jamie Crisalli; Thieves Paradise by Nick Horth; and Graeme Lyon’s Code of the Skies – it was Crisalli’s novella that caught my eye the most. It wasn’t just the warhammer-wielding member of the Iron Golems, a Chaos Warband from the new Warcry game that got me interested, it was also the back-cover blurb. I was intrigued by the idea of a warband of Iron Golems being forced to enter Chaos-tainted territory, in order to conduct a perilous quest to find the various magical items needed to forge a mighty weapon for Archaon. I do like a good quest narrative, and I was curious to see what the author could do with the Iron Golems to make me engage with them specifically, and perhaps even Age of Sigmar in general.
Crisalli certainly makes the legionaries of Dominar Syzek Govus’ warband engaging; in fact, I’m hard-pressed to think about the last time that I so thoroughly enjoyed the interactions and rivalry depicted between a cast of characters in a piece of Black Library fiction. The only recent example I can think of would be the group of explorers heading into the Blackstone Fortress in Thomas Parrott’s Isha’s Lament, and before that, well, I would have to cite legendary Black Library author Aaron Dembski-Bowden, and the impeccable work he did in bringing the warriors of First Claw to life in his Night Lords trilogy. Govus and his comrades have a fascinating and strangely appealing camaraderie composed of complex relationships between each member; Crisalli makes clear as the novella progresses that this is far from their first adventure together, even if it is the first time that Govus himself has been in charge. The invisible threads of respect, fear, resentment and a dozen other emotions that stretch between them all is genuinely enthralling, and one of the main reasons I kept reading the novella.
Each character has a distinctive personality and way of acting, and I particularly enjoyed the complex and multi-faceted relationship between new leader Govus and his drillmaster Eziel, who acts in the strangely merged role of executive officer, disciplinarian and spy. There’s also the low-key black humour of the Breacher, a hulking warrior whose entire character can be summed up as ‘ an evil version of Marvel’s Juggernaut’, and the snide, back-stabbing presence of Signifier Ozud who constantly plots against Govus and has a surprisingly sympathetic backstory for a Chaos warrior. That brilliant characterisation even carries over to the antagonist of the novella, the snivelling, cowardly Ias Vo, who leads a back of rival warriors hunting the Iron Golems; he could have easily been a two-dimensional villain to be swatted aside by Govus, but Crisalli makes him an interesting and damaged character that I found myself empathising with at times.
A good, engaging cast of characters is an excellent framework for a story, but even the best characters can fail to engage if they don’t have an equally high-calibre plot. Fortunately, Crisalli is more than up to the task here, weaving a fast-paced and imaginative plot that follows Govus and his warband as they seek various Chaos artifacts that can be forged together to create a weapon worthy of the Archaon and entry to his capital, the looming Varanspire. Crisalli gives us some nicely varied locations and enemies that the Iron Golems are forced to smash aside in their quest, all the while dealing with the inherently hostile environment; the latter part of the novella is also a high point, as there have been few authors I’ve seen in the Black Library stable that have ever managed to so succinctly get across just how brutally unforgiving Chaos environments can be. Each of the quest items is unique and suitably grimdark in nature, with the utter strangeness of the daemonskin being a particular favourite of mine. Each of the locations, and the journey between them, also allows us to see the personality and character of Govus – who despite being an Iron Golem commanding a warband – has issues from his past that he struggles to overcome; it speaks to Crisalli’s skill as a writer, and her firm grip of the Warcry and Age of Sigmar settings, that I found myself identifying with Govus on a personal level and wanted him to succeed despite his inherently abhorrent nature.
Action-packed, imaginative and populated with a fantastic cast of characters, and with a deeply satisfying ending that just cries out for a continuation of some kind, The Measure of Iron is yet another success for Black Library’s Novella Series 2, and a triumph for new author Jamie Crisalli. Just how good a story it is can perhaps be demonstrated by the fact that it has completely won me around to Warcry and Age of Sigmar, to the extent that I’m currently browsing the Black Library site to see what I should be purchasing to dive into the fiction for both settings. Crisalli joins the ranks of the new and exciting authors that Black Library have taken on to freshen up their fiction, standing alongside Thomas Parrott, Edoardo Albert and Danie Ware, and I look forward to seeing what Crisalli publishes next with Black Library; I suspect it will be extremely interesting, and will be near the top of my reading pile regardless of setting.