Horus Heresy: Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme (Book Review)

The Horus Heresy is the one part of the Warhammer 40,000 lore that has had the most impact on the 41st millennium, the specific time of this far-future space opera/science fantasy setting that we are all most familiar with. The events of that era have influenced everything has happened since, and when Black Library began exploring this age of wonders, it was like a dream come true for countless fans of Warhammer 40,000. The response was phenomenal of course and in no time the series became a New York Times Bestseller hit. The army of writers involved have plumbed all sorts of depths of this era and they have come up with some really wonderful stuff over the past few years.

Of course, they’ve also had to deal with some of the downsides of this effort, and from my understanding, one of these is how Primarchs like Vulkan and Corax escaped the massacre at Istvaan V after the death of their brother Ferrus. Gav Thorpe explored the latter in an audio drama and a novel (both of which are fantastic by the way) and the former is dealt with by Nick Kyme, a recent entrant to the Heresy writing team and the result is one of the most bleakest Horus Heresy novels to date, Vulkan Lives. Nick explores the Primarch himself and one of the shattered remnants of the Salamanders Legion in this novel, and the results are interesting.

Vulkan LivesThe explanation for how Vulkan escaped Istvaan V is that he was whisked away from the world by the Primarch of the Night Lords Legion, Konrad Curze aka Night Haunter. When last we see of him in previous books, Vulkan had been the target for an atomic missile or some such (in Fulgrim by Graham McNeill I believe) and his fate was unknown. But now we know. When Vulkan survived, Curze took him away from the desolate place and locked him in a prison aboard his flagship, a prison built by none other than Perturabo, the traitor Primarch of the Iron Warriors Legion. One half of the novel deals with how Vulkan navigates this particular prison and the tortures and horrors that Curze inflicts upon him, to break him to this will, and prove to the proud loyalist Primarch that he is no better than the twisted, ruthless, murderous Curze himself.

The other half of the novel deals with a band of Istvaan survivors, warriors of the Iron Hands, Raven Guard and the Salamanders as they enact a guerrilla war against the traitor Legions. In this specific case, their target is the Dark Apostle Valdrekk Elias of the Word Bearers, who is searching for a prize that will tilt the Heresy further in the favour of his Legion. Artellus Numeon is the leader of this mixed warband of Legionnaires, formerly the Captain of Vulkan’s bodyguards of the Pyre Guard. Along with his men, Numeon escaped Istvaan V and survived to tell the tale, although he swore an oath to exact vengeance for all his slain brothers and for his slain Primarch. However, he is the only one of this ragged company to believe that Vulkan survived the Massacre and yet lives, and this forms part of his arc in the novel, though his story here primarily deals with defeating Elias.

Both the story arcs in the novel are interconnected in that they deal with the Salamanders’ mentality and their attitude to everything around them. In Vulkan, we see reflected all the tenets of the Promethean Creed, the coda of the planet Nocturne that all Salamanders call home, even the few surviving legionnaires from Terra who were part of the Legion’s first founding. In Vulkan, we see all the breeds of heroism that can be found in a character like him, though he is sorely tested by Curze and comes close to failing numerous times. The things that Curze makes him see, they are horrors and cruelties that Vulkan could never have imagined. And in portraying events as thus, Nick Kyme also shows off the Night Haunter, giving us a very interesting glimpse into his character and his motivations. We learn quite a bit about both Primarchs, and it is all handled well.

Where Numeon and the others are concerned, we see the Promethean Creed reflected in a macrocosm, but we also see an exploration of the Salamanders’ culture, who they are and what they are. We see Numeon with Vulkan during the conquest of a world, during the desperate battles at Istvaan V. We see the character across three different times, and are able to note how he changes, how he evolves to become the character of the present. The same goes for his brother of the Pyre Guard, Leodrakk and between the two of them they provide two very different sides of a Salamanders’ identity. But that’s not all because we also get a teaser of the same for the Iron Hands the Raven Guard, and that’s one of the best things about this book. Codicier Hriak of the Raven Guard is quite an awesome character, and I wish that we’d gotten to see much more of him. Especially in light of the fact that the Emperor forbade all Librarians from ever practicing their powers after the Council of Nikaea and thus the loyalist Legions were particularly hobbled during the Heresy, though the traitors got around that by giving themselves over to the darker powers of the galaxy.

In Numeon’s warband, we see a clash of personalities in every page. These are characters reeling from the single greatest destruction they’ve ever seen, the utter humbling of three entire Legions and the deaths of three Primarchs (they are not aware that Corax and Vulkan survive). They are reeling from the betrayal of their fellow brothers in the other Legions, all the traitors who were present on Istvaan. It is quite a lot to take in and although Nick doesn’t go into too much detail, he gives enough teasers to get across the whole thing, the horror that these characters feel, their grim determination, their need for vengeance, etc, etc.

As good as all of this generally is, we also get to see things from the perspective of Elias and his cohorts, and we also see the return of a character last seen in Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear, and Legion before that. A character who is fast becoming a unifying element of several disparate storylines in the Heresy. What I liked best about the scenes with Elias and his men was that we get some commentary about how the Word Bearers have changed, how they’ve taken to sorcery and dark arts to further their cause, sliding ever deeper into the rabbit’s hole that is devotion to the Chaos Gods. The Word Bearer Narek is our primary point of view for these scenes and the one who comments about the Legion’s changing culture and attitude. He was an interesting character, far more than the somewhat cliched Elias himself, and his interactions with all the different characters were definitely special. On the flipside is the character I mentioned who was last seen on Calth, in the company of another such as him. His agenda goes unrevealed right until the end of the novel and comes as quite a shock, since it is hard to imagine a situation where his masters would set him to a task like this one. But, it plays into the larger unfolding story of who and what Vulkan is, and proves to be almost fascinating in that context.

Nick Kyme packs this novel with a ton of things. There are lots of characters here, and it took me a while until I could sort out who was who. Similarly, there are also a lot of storylines being woven together so it takes the reader some time to get comfortable with all of them, to make sense of what events are unfolding here, and which characters are involved in which storylines. The pacing of the novel suffers at times with all the flashbacks we see of the Salamanders and Night Lords enforcing a conquest of a world together, and later the Dropsite Massacre on Isstvan V. The quantity is a bit too much I think and could have been dialed down a bit

But really, even through all the bleakness of the story, watching as Numeon’s group is whittled down by the Word Bearers, and watching as Curze makes Vulkan one horror after another, one thing that emerges is that Nick has written a really intriguing story about the fall of a Primarch from grace. Actually, let me correct that, the fall of two Primarchs from grace. And I loved that. Vulkan Lives is not the best Horus Heresy novel I’ve read to date, but it is definitely in the upper tier of such books, and I would certainly recommend it. It all comes down to the novel’s fantastic ending, which is a bit open-ended, but consequently leaves ample room for Nick to return at a later date. I would like that.

Rating: 8.5/10

More Horus Heresy: Angel Exerminatus, Butcher’s Nails, Fear To Tread,Garro: Burden of Duty, Garro: Oath of Moment and Garro: Legion of One, Grey Angel, Know No Fear, Promethean Sun, Shadows of Treachery, The Outcast Dead, The Primarchs, The Raven;s Flight, Thief of Revelations.


Posted on May 11, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

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