Lord of the Night reviews the epic Horus Heresy: Deathfire by Nick Kyme.
"The Salamanders are back in their most exciting adventure yet! Kyme takes the XVIIIth Legion on a story that can best be described as a tragic epic in the vein of the ancient Grecian myths, and the parallels are definitely there, but still filled with the visceral clashing of Legionaries and the horrors of the Warp in full form. Deathfire is perhaps Kyme's finest work yet." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
Nick Kyme has always been an author that gains divided attention. Many, like me, really enjoy his work and find his take on the Salamanders Legion/Chapter to be very well done. Others however find his characters bland and wooden and his plots uninspired. Deathfire I think is a novel from Kyme that everybody will be able to enjoy for it deals with themes a great deal more than his previous works, and is much more character driven than the previous book in the Vulkan trilogy, Vulkan Lives. Deathfire also sees a return to form for the Heresy as both previous releases were not received well, The Damnation of Pythos for being completely unconnected to the main story and Legacies of Betrayal for featuring no new content; meaning that Deathfire is the first new/main Heresy content we've had for more than a year and a half, and I feel it was well worth the wait as the novel explores the aftermath of Vulkan Lives and how the Salamanders deal with the uncertainty that has come with Vulkan's supposed final end.
The Salamanders are a Legion scattered and divided. Broken upon the anvil that was Istvaan V, they have been blown to winds across the Imperium and forced to fight for survival. But the greatest blow was the death of their beloved Primarch Vulkan at the hands of the Night Haunter, the once-immortal Lord of Drakes falling for the final time. But the Sons of Nocturne will not accept their father's death and as a motley band of survivors prepare to take their father home to be laid to rest in the depths of Mount Deathfire, a new belief begins to develop among the pragmatic and heartbroken XVIIIth Legion. Vulkan Lives. Does the Perpetual-Primarch still live? Or has his once proud Legion fallen victim to denial? As the Charybdis journies through the Ruinstorm facing internal strife, Daemonic incursions, rapacious traitors led by a mad priest and an aging wardog, and the dilemmna of what to do in a galaxy where they no longer have the numbers to make a difference, the Salamanders must hope for a miracle. But in this new era of blasphemies, blood magic and the death of hope, can a miracle still happen?
The story in Deathfire is a much needed and welcome move forward to the main Horus Heresy story and for the Salamanders as well. They have been relegated to sharing the spotlight with the Raven Guard and Iron Hands as the "Shattered Legions" for too long and with Vulkan Lives and Deathfire, they are finally getting the storyline they deserve. As Kyme notes in his afterword the two key themes in Deathfire are tragedy and resurrection, both physical and spiritual. The Salamanders are in their darkest hour since Istvaan, and they have no father to turn to for the first time in the series, this being one of the key sources of the tragedy, each Salamander deals with losing Vulkan very seriously and the Five Stages of Grief are very recognizable in many of them, but particularly Artellus Numeon. The theme of rebirth is shown through the concept of the Circle of Fire in a spiritual sense as the Salamanders initially view Vulkan's rebirth as a metaphorical event that leads to a new generation rising, and in a physical sense as the Salamanders begin to slowly remember and recover who they were before the Dropsite Massacre broke their spirits. Belief is also a very important part of the book through the mantra of "Vulkan Lives", a phrase that is repeated many times across the novel as a battlecry, a prayer, a statement of denial to reality, and as a metaphorical statement on the XVIIIth Legion, I quite enjoyed this as it was a great window into the mindset of the Salamanders throughout the journey, which characters belived and which ones didn't, and how over the course of the journey it came to mean so much more than it did initially. One aspect of the story I mentioned above is the parallels to the Grecian myths, this does have the feel of a story of heroes setting out on a quest with all the heroism, tragedy, monsters and moments of hope and bravery in the dark that made those ancient tales so exciting; this gives Deathfire a more adventurous feel than previous Horus Heresy novels that stayed in the same place, the Salamanders are setting out into uncharted territory and neither you or they can predict what will happen next, and the story does feature plenty of twists and a few mysteries to make it even better. The wider Heresy isn't neglected though as we see more of Imperium Secundus and learn a bit more of exactly how the new Imperium is doing from those with a bit less of rose-coloured glasses on the subject than the Ultramarines, and two important characters from the previous few books reappears and both have their own storylines advanced a bit more; but for the most part this novel focuses exclusively on the Salamanders. One of the things that makes Deathfire differ from Vulkan Lives is that in the latter it was the events of the story that drove the characters onwards, each even forcing them to make choices that led to the next event, or in some cases the characters simply reacted to things and did their level best to survive; while in the former the actions of the characters are what dictate the events in the story, each step of the journey is the result of choices made by the characters made through soul-searching and thought, rather than on-the-spot thinking. I particularly enjoyed this as it meant the decisions the characters made felt more important to them, these were the decisions they made rather than had forced upon them, which gave me a greater understanding of these characters and the way they think.
The characters in Deathfire are both a new and returning cast. Artellus Numeon of Vulkan Lives returns as the protagonist and through him the tragedy and epic quest aspects of the story are most visible; Numeon is a character who has clung to a belief in order to survive and is willing to do anything to make sure that his belief comes true, while at the same time wrestling with doubt over his course of action and whether or not he should step into Vulkan's place and lead the Salamanders into this new dark age of heresy. Numeon fulfills a prophetic role in the story, he is the man who leads the Salamanders into the storm and their quest and as his belief grows it begins to take root in those around him, while it changes and evolves in him until by the journey's end Numeon has undergone some great character growth and his beliefs have been tested and stayed strong. Other Salamanders characters show the decrepit state of the Legion; the Pyroclast Xathen whose almost-nihilistic attitude to the universe Post-Istvaan and burning desire for revenge made him the ideal foil to Numeon, a character who is centred around hope; the Chaplain Var'kir who also served as a foil for Numeon's unshakeable belief with his more grounded-in-reality beliefs and his skepticism in a time of trial; and Sergeant Zytos whose concern with the more real aspects of their situation, the number of battle-brothers, the state of their ship, the wider concerns of Terra and Imperium Secundus, also made him a foil to Numeon's primary drive of restoring Vulkan with no time for anything else. The tragedy aspect of the novel continues in the mortal characters; specifically the Navigator Circe who risks her life with every second spent in the void-hell of the Ruinstorm and Shipmaster Adyssian whose past burdens influece the Salamanders quest in a way that none of them could have forseen, these two characters connections to each other make their side-story rather endearing and one that brought a tear to my eye. The villains are also enjoyable, the Word Bearer priest Quor Gallek whose rather terrifying and insane beliefs make him a Bearer of the Word of a kind we have not yet seen, and with enough genre savviness that he is a legitimate threat across the entire book, and the Death Guard Commander Laestygon whose desire to be more than just a foot-slogger and to be remembered drives him to hunt the Salamanders across the Ruinstorm; I found Laestygon to be one of the more interesting traitor characters in the recent years as he was amusing, smart and a traitor with motivations beyond simply killing the Emperor, he wants posterity and immortality of a kind and is prepared to do anything to get them. There was a character whose appearance I really enjoyed, but it would be spoilers to say who it is, so i'll simply say that we get to see a character whom we haven't seen for some time and get a glimpse of how he is doing, and it's a very interesting scene.
The action in Deathfire is very enjoyable. The Salamanders and the Death Guard are both Legions which pride themselves on their endurance, and as such the book is filled with powerful and drawn-out fight scenes that show just how much both groups can take. One little thing that I noticed is that Kyme really played up what Bolters and Bolt Weapons can do across the book; there were lots of descriptions of Word Bearers and Death Guard having limbs blown off, their visors exploding outwards, or being knocked about by the explosions caused by the ammunition used in the Salamanders Bolters; which I felt made the battle scenes better because the weapons being used felt a lore more powerful than they normally do, and the imagery was both awesome and very satisfying to imagine as the Salamanders finally get to dish out some hurt for all the blows they've taken since the Dropsite Massacre. But the enemies are not relegated to faceless mooks who simply die to the overpowered protagonists; both the Death Guard and Word Bearers strengths are shown quite well and give the Salamanders a real challenge for reasons more than just outnumbering them for the majority of the novel. The Daemons of Chaos also appear and provide an entirely different challenge for the protagonists, not just because Daemons need to be fought in different ways, but by attacking them from the shadows and within their minds using their deepest fears and inadequacies to isolate the Sons of Vulkan and turn them against each other. One thing I felt Kyme did very well was convey the power behind Legionary combat, the blows felt bone-shattering and the exchange of blows felt lightning-fast, whereas in some novels the combat has been enjoyable but it lacked that power that made me feel as though demi-gods were battling it out on the page. There was also a very very awesome scene nearer to the end that really gave the Salamanders their moment of revenge for Istvaan, and prior to that a rather different battle scene that was an absolute delight to read and had me laughing for just how awesome it was; once you've read the book you'll know what scene I refer to.
The pacing in the book is very focused and direct, because the book focuses on the Salamanders and the same small set of characters rather than covering multiple Legions and affairs that affect the entire galaxy rather than just one Legion, the book feels as though you are moving alongside the Salamanders on their quest. Few breaks in their narrative to look at other groups made it feel as though the book was unfolding at the same pace as the quest; when it slowed down the book did and took the time to look at what the villains were doing and how the cast were dealing with what had just happened, and when it sped up the narrative focused almost entirely on the Salamanders and made sure the reader was aware of every important development, both plot and character-wise, and as such I found it very easy to read the book. The focused pace combined with Kyme's engaging story, deep characters and powerful action scenes made Deathfire quite an enjoyable read. To top it off the interior artwork was penned by Neil Roberts, and was as gorgeous as you'd expect; a brilliant rendition of three Primarchs, the Dark Apostle Quor Gallek, an important scene between Numeon and Zytos, and an absolutely incredible rendition of the final scene that will definitely stick in your head long after you've put the book down.
My favourite quote, from this book I actually have two. One is a line used across the novel, and the second was a great one-liner that had me laughing for quite a bit;
"I don't speak traitor."
The ending was a great scene that very nicely sets up the final novel in the Salamanders Heresy trilogy. Accompanied by a beautiful piece of art depicting it, the final scene showed something that I had been waiting the entire novel for and did it in a way that it was still surprising when it happened, and made it both an awesome and poignant moment for what it was and what it took to achieve. Kyme answered enough questions from the novel while leaving some unexplained, and left a few of the mysteries in the air so that we can either speculate about what they could be, so they could be answered in the next book, or because the answer is whatever we want it to be. To me as a reader the final scene in Deathfire felt like the resolution of the epic quest that Numeon began, the novel itself coming to a close with some plot strands that will pick up in other books and some that will have to wait for the final Salamanders Heresy book to be continued, but the main plot of Deathfire felt resolved which leaves the third book's plot as an open slate rather than having it set up by events in this particular book. My only quibble with the end of the story is that I would have liked to see one particular character get a final scene in the book so that we get a hint of what he might do next or where he might be bound, but I have no doubt that this character will appear again so I am not too disappointed by a little bit of lack of closure for his story in the book.
For an engaging and exciting story, deep characters that really drew me into their personal trials and triumphs, action scenes that felt powerful in a way Heresy books haven't for a while, and some of the best Heresy artwork created yet, I give Deathfire a score of 8.6/10. This is a Very Good book that I think any fan of the Horus Heresy will be able to enjoy, and definitely one for Salamander fans as it's all about them and shows them at both their lowest and their best. For those who aren't fans of Nick Kyme all I can really suggest is that you give Deathfire a try and see if you can enjoy the book, you might find that it's more agreeable to you than Vulkan Lives was, or you might hate it as much as you hated the intial book; either way you tried it and you can legitimately say you liked or disliked it with authority based on actually reading it.
That's it for this review. Thanks for reading, until next time;