REVIEW: The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley

What do you get when you mix Ocean’s 11, Indiana JonesTomb Raider, and Warhammer 40k together? The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley. In this fun, reasonably light, treasure hunting, Astra militarium (I can’t break the habit of calling them the Guard) action book, we follow Baggit and Clodde and a host of other characters as they chase the riches of the mysterious Wraithbone Phoenix.

The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec WorleyHerbo Prongfork, a ratling (essentially a hobbit in the 41st millennium), is a chef aboard a great warship, Sunstriker. In one moment he is both gloried and reviled by the humans he calls master, and in that moment a spark of rebellion is ignited that will echo throughout the ages.

Centuries later, Baggit, also a ratling, is a ne’er do well running black market sales in the underhive. In this city, nobody gets ahead except the very few, while the rest of humanity beat each other down for the best scraps, the worst of the humans beat down on the ratlings. Baggit knows he can’t beat them in a fight, but he can always get payback—the ratling specialty.

Clodde is an Ogryn, a monster of a subhuman wrapped in muscle—an ogre who fights for the Imperium. His friend Baggit seems to have led him astray once more in this story of adventure that dips its toes into racism, the damage of grudge holding, and the importance of your mates. There are a host of characters to tell you this story (like any good Guard story has) and while I won’t go into them individually here, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them all–from the ratling, to the ogre, to the downtrodden human wanting his place in glory, the beaten barbarian (a favourite fantasy trope of mine), to the Eldar killer, searching for what was lost.

There is plenty to like about The Wraithbone Phoneix. Lots of 40k grit amongst the humour, some amazing scenes (from the claustrophobic ducts of an Imperial starship to snipers picking off soldiers from a massive wreck, to hallway battles with augmented treasure hunters), a really solid focus on friendship and the testing of it through calamity and danger (a little Asterix and Obelisk if I may say so), and, importantly, a really easy feel of friendship and tested camaraderie amongst the main characters to underpin the story.

In addition to the main POVs, one of the things I really enjoyed about Worley’s storytelling were the little chapter breaks where the marketing arm of the Imperium is let loose. In line with the more humourous approach of the book, these provided really fun little insights into the blind brainwashed lives of the imperial citizenry.

The ending of The Wraitbone Phoenix is a bit of an anti-climax. But then, I suppose such is the nature of stories set in the 40k universe, and I am perfectly okay with that. The Wraithbone Phoenix is a fun, lighter read set in the dark and brooding world of the Warhammer 40K universe. I really enjoyed it, and for either longterm 40K fans or those looking for an easy in, I highly recommend this book.

Read The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley

If you’re looking for something a bit more heavy to dip your toe into this universe, check out Warhammer 40k: Where to Start Reading.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.