Given its status as the first new tale of the Young King in nearly a decade, Aaron Dembski Bowden’s new Ragnar Blackmane had me more than a little excited; in fact, there probably aren’t words to properly capture the exuberance I felt about this new release. From the moment I heard rumors of a new book— a Collector’s Edition, no less—I knew that I needed a copy to proudly display in my game room, alongside the rest of my beloved Space Wolves collection.

With regard to its quality as a collector's item, Ragnar Blackmane is beyond reproach; its craftsmanship, and the overall “feel” of the book, is a prime example of Games Workshop’s successful effort to move from “just” a game company, to a manufacturer of high end collectibles. However, readers must ask themselves, "Is this effort in vain; is the quality of the physical book just overkill, because of the execution of the story itself?"

This is where we have some problems. The story itself is extremely short; under two-hundred pages. It does leave the reader satisfied with the events themselves, yet unfulfilled in the grand scheme of the comprehensive experience. I will focus on this aspect of the novel in part two of my review, although it’s important to include this, here, as a preface.

With a GW codex, as a point of reference
At the 65 USD price tag, this was somewhat of a disappointment from the initial unboxing of the package.  At approximately 175 pages, story seemed like far too short of a read.  This was compounded when I realized how large the print was. Although, after further review, the quality of the book came screaming out. The high end collectors quality of this novel is undeniable.

The book itself is about two thirds the size of a codex, yet the volume of pages is less than half of that of your average Black Library novel.  The display case is magnetically clasped with a yellow ribbon to eject the novel itself.  The entirety of the case is beautifully  decorated with symbols and artwork.  The novel’s cover depicts a gray scale image of Ragnar’s Great Company Banner.  A Space Wolves totem is also depicted on the interior of the case, each individual numbered.  The case is also embossed with runes, titles, and a image of the Young King.  The artwork is amazing, and speaks to the character of Ragnar Blackmane.  The spine of the book is also embossed, although it is difficult to perceive without exposure to direct light.  Inside, the cover depicts beautiful runes, and other Space Wolves iconography.The border of the book is also embossed with runes and Ragnar’s herald.

The question one has to ask them self is, "Is this over the top?"  A lot of time and effort went into producing this book, all for a story that is little more than a short saga.  The price tag and limited quantities also seem to be a strange decision for Games Workshop and The Black Library.  One might ask themselves if this item is marketed towards "super-fans", with more money than sense, rather than everyday Space Wolf players. 

Although I admire the quality and craftsmanship of the book it has left me with many conflicting feelings.  First, due to how nice it is, I will not be lending to any of my fellow gamers for fear of damage the case or book itself.  Nor will I be reading it multiple times for the same reasons.  It is no longer available of The Black Library’s website in either digital or hard copy, so this seems like something that will not be shared beyond the 1500 people that purchased the limited edition.  The term “gold plated hammers” comes to mind.  Although I don’t see myself selling the book, or giving it away, I don’t know how to display it.  Furthermore, I’m stuck with the odd realization that, after all the above points, I’m still happy that I was able to purchase it, and that I have a copy!  This seems to be the true goal of GW; getting us hooked on the quality of the item, but still unsatisfied, chasing the next fix!





As many of you know, or will soon come to know, Ragnar Blackmane is one of my favorite characters in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and while I might not play him as much in 7th Edition as I did in previous editions, he will always hold a special place in my heart, and my imagination. So, as I stated above, once I received word that a new Ragnar novel was being released, I became ecstatic; once I heard that the novel was taking place in the “present day” of the 40k timeline, potentially giving us a look at *drumroll* WOLF LORD Ragnar Blackmane in action, I knew I HAD TO HAVE IT.

Although I enjoyed the six previous novels that centered on Ragnar, none were nearly as captivating, or well written, as Prospero Burns, which is a strong contender to be my favorite 40k novel of all time. I really desired a look into the world of Ragnar Blackmane, The Young King, Wolf Lord of his own Great Company!

Sadly, this was not the case, as the novel really fails to give us any substantial view of the “present” portion of the 40k timeline; instead offering a quick glance of a pivotal battle, and then jumping into a recollection of past events.

The novel is broken up into 5 parts, including the prelude, which opens with Ragnar and his Great Company holding a Cadian stronghold, against the Legions of Chaos, knowing they are doomed to fail at this impossible task. Without revealing too much, I believe this prelude does an excellent job at conveying the nobility and wisdom of Ragnar’s character, but fails to properly justify the importance of the main supporting character, whose role feels overly forced; a problem that occurs, repeatedly,  throughout the novel, with several of the supporting characters.

The main story occurs during the time when Ragnar was a Wolf Guard, prior to the death of Berek Thunderfist, whose Great Company Ragnar would eventually come to lead. Of course, Ragnar’s rapid ascension to the rank of Wolf Guard may have been forgotten by the author, whose repeated use of the term “Blood Claw”, to refer to our titular character, often left me wondering if I’d somehow skipped a page, and missed Ragnar being demoted!

The author does an excellent job at depicting Ragnar’s tragically flawed stubbornness, and his berserker rage, which are often at odds with his wiser, more politically astute side. However, I found that, more times than not, the author’s attempts at simultaneously emphasizing Ragnar’s youth and immaturity, alongside his wisdom and uncanny maturity, just left Ragnar feeling artificially inflated. While Ragnar is certainly a likeable character, and one that many readers are sure to relate to, nobody likes a character who always comes off as the smartest guy in the room, and that’s exactly what happens here. Ragnar is time and again depicted as exactly the right man for the situation, even if the decision is at odds with how he was behaving a few pages previously.

Similarly, there is a big plot twist, ala M. Night Shyamalan, which came a little too late to save one of the characters I had really grown to hate. Something along the lines of learning, at the “Purple Wedding”, that King Joffery was actually a nice, albeit extremely misunderstood guy, who was just doing his best. It’s a big case of too little too late, which just left me questioning the sanity of all the involved parties, and really required a suspension of disbelief.

In short, Ragnar seems like the only rational character in an irrational novel filled with irrational characters. Although plenty of other, secondary, characters share Ragnar’s sense of honor and duty, their development is so one-dimensional, that they seem to exist merely to advance the story. Likewise, many of the other well-known characters from the 40k universe, who make cameo appearances in the story, seem to suffer from a sever lack of character development and depth, primarily serving as generic filler characters with famous names.

That being said, the story does have some really strong, positive qualities. Most importantly, it has good pacing, and some superb action sequences. Likewise the author does an excellent job at transporting the reader to the various, far-flung, regions of the very rich Warhammer 40k universe. Additionally, the author DOES succeed with some moments of excellent, smart dialogue, in addition to doing a fine job at depicting several of the characters, whose personalities really do hit the mark! Many of these superb moments produced audible, and quite loud, exclamations of “Yeah!” –as well as some other, more colorful words—as I was reading.

Overall, the story was enjoyable, but it really did leave me hungry for more. I enjoyed the novel quite a bit, but I think my enjoyment was primarily due to my level of fandom for the Space Wolves, far more so than the quality of the story. I’d compare the experience to watching a mediocre episode of your favorite TV show; it might have a ton of fancy visual effects and ridiculous lens-flair, but at the end of the day, you only enjoyed it because you already loved the show, and you’re only excited for the next one because you know that another good episode is coming sometime.

Walking away at the end of the story, I’m left with no cool new facts about Ragnar; no deeper insight into his character. In fact, I feel that I find myself a bit conflicted about his story, and character as a whole; is The Young King REALLY a prodigy, a warrior without equal, a hero? Or is he just “some guy”; blessed by fate and plot armor; always the right guy, in the right place, at the right time?

In the end, while the events of the story were enjoyable and exciting, the short length left me feeling unfulfilled.  I’m left with a somewhat bittersweet taste in my mouth; questioning what I just read, yet, hungry for more...

For Russ and the Allfather, 
- Adam Russman

Ragnar Blackmane -- Limited Collector’s Edition
next to the Wolf Guard Limited Edition Space Wolves Codex