The Hunt For Vulkan by David Annandale (Book Review)

When politics gets in the middle of prosecuting a war effectively, then that usually spells doom for the good guys. As we’ve seen in The Beast Arises over the last six novels, this has been a central theme, something that has let the resurgent Ork threat run wildly rampant across the Imperium. And those who must fight this untenable war have grown ever more disillusioned of those who run the Imperial government, their incompetence a direct threat to the safety and security of the Imperium. But now that’s about to change.

In David Annandale’s The Hunt For Vulkan, we see one of the biggest turning-points in the conflict. The Last Wall is sent on a mission to locate the last known living Primarch, Vulkan of the Salamanders, and bring him back to the larger Imperial fold so that he can lead the resistance against the Orks. The how and the why of it is wrapped in multiple mysteries, and that’s part of what made this novel so damn good. As before with The Last Wall, David really captures the essence and motivations of his characters, telling one hell of a story here.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

I called the previous novel, Echoes of the Long War, a fulcrum point in the series. It physically occupied that space in the series entire and it certainly had some major moments that way. But, spiritually, that title goes to The Hunt For Vulkan. It is actually mind-boggling. In all the M41 stories I’ve read, it has been a common refrain that the Primarchs of old are gone, either dead or missing, and that if only they would come back then the Imperium would be much stronger against its myriad enemies. There is such a huge gulf between the Horus Heresy series and the M41 era, and that is the space that The Beast Arises occupies. As such, it actually makes sense that we would get to see a Primarch again. After all, it is only a mere 1,500 years after the Heresy and the wounds of that conflict are still fresh, though much has already been forgotten.

The description of the novel already gives away that Vulkan is alive and well and that is, for want of a better word, available. Inquisitor Veritus, a staunch opponent of Chaos who insists that the Ork threat is merely a sideshow and a distraction, tells Chapter Master Koorland that to fight a myth, he needs a comparable legend to lead the Imperium’s forces. The final sentence of Echoes of the Long War ran thus:

“Ullanor! The Beast arises on Ullanor”

This is pretty damn significant and only raises my expectation of the novels that follow in the second half of the series. From the in-universe lore, we know that the Ullanor campaign was the high-point of the Emperor’s Great Crusade which launched Mankind back into the galaxy to reclaim its proud dominance of the stars. It was the final campaign that the Emperor fought in personally before he confronted Horus at the end of the Heresy. It was a campaign in which hundreds of thousands of Astartes fought alongside billions of Imperial Army troops and thousands of ships and numerous other forces. It was the capstone of Mankind’s struggle to restablish itself, a resurgent golden era. The greatest Ork empire in history was destroyed at Ullanor, and both the Emperor and Horus fought the Warlord of Ullanor. The Triumph at Ullanor was the greatest achievement of the new Imperium.

So much history. A war of legends fought by legends greater still. Koorland has slowly been building his legend as the last Imperial Fist alive, but he’s not a myth. That’s where Vulkan comes in.

My memory of the Horus Heresy novels and short stories and audios I’ve read is a bit hazy, so when I say that this might be David Annandale’s first time writing about a Primarch, don’t quote me on that! I thoroughly enjoyed his take on the Primarch, especially since we know and have seen so little of Vulkan to date. He captures Vulkan’s heroism, his motivations, his sense of duty really well. Not to mention that all of Vulkan’s action scenes in the novel are spectacular. Against the Ork rabble, a Primarch should be an engine of destruction, and that’s how Vulkan is written.

But of course, the way we get there is also important and the first “part” of the novel is pretty significant since it resolves the crisis on Mars, with Fabricator-General Kubik enacting his own schemes and plans that place the safety and security of Mars above Terra. The Last Wall, especially Koorland, are devoid of patience now, and the new Lord Commander of the Imperium puts into motion a series of events that have no precedent since the Heresy itself, with Astartes fighting against the Mechanicus on Mars. This ticking bomb of a situation is handled really well by David and I loved how at every turn we got the feeling that what was transpiring was just not right and that both sides were engaging in a self-destructive game of brinksmanship that just might annihilate them all.

These are the kinds of moments that I love reading about in my Warhammer stories and David was a trooper all through. And this wasn’t even the highlight of the novel! That comes when Koorland takes a massive unified force to the planet of Caldera to find Vulkan and have him lead the renewed Imperial campaign against the Orks, taking the fight to their throneworld of Ullanor.

The rest is practically history, so to speak. There are nail-biting action scenes aplenty after that. The Imperials are fighting for their survival, to have a future and a home to return to. The Last Wall’s brazen assault on the attack moon terrorizing Terra was just the beginning and now the assault on Caldera brings it all full-circle. Enough of reacting to every incursion in a disparate manner. Now is when the Imperium begins to get back in the fight and show that it is not down and out.

The sense of hope and determination that permeates the novel is pretty refreshing to have in the series at this point. A Primarch, dammit! The first meeting between Koorland and Vulkan. My heart skipped a few beats there. Every bit as grand as I’d imagined it would be. David did not disappoint.

A combined Imperial response with the good guys attempting to reclaim a planet from the Ork menace. The idea is solid and so is David’s execution of it.

Of course, with all the focus on Vulkan and the Last Wall, the politics of Terra are set aside. It makes sense from the angle that now with Koorland as Lord Commander, the Imperium is actually taking concrete steps to fight the Orks. No favoritism. Just pragmatism. The distinction here is that it doesn’t feel as if that particular narrative just straight up ignored for something else. There is a clear progression of events all of which make narrative sense. That’s all that was needed.

Additionally, we finally see what some of the other prominent First Founding chapters have been up to throughout this conflict. The Ultramarines are themselves besieged in Ultramar. The Space Wolves are fighting incursions in their own fiefdom. This was something that rankled in the last few books since none of them got any mention and it made one wonder why only the Imperial Fists and their successors were so involved. Now we are beginning to get some damn answers and it is a huge relief. I really enjoyed David’s scenes where he touched on all the different Chapters. Each scene felt Chapter-appropriate and had some kind of emotional and visceral resonance to it. In particular, the Ultramarines scene was perhaps the best when Chapter Master Odaenathus tells one of his Captains this:

“Your absence will be hard. But the Ultramarines were late coming to the aid of Terra once. It will never happen again.”

To any fan of the Heresy, this encapsulates so much about the Ultramarines during that conflict and it is a near-perfect line. The introduction of all the new characters from across the Chapters was handled very well and i enjoyed them all. And, as an aside, I’m liking High Marshal Bohemond more and more. His religious fanaticism, while oddly-placed against the truths that the other Chapters know of the Emperor and his teachings, is fitting and even when he’s not around, his presence is felt. Great characters are like that.

Finally, to conclude, David gives us another scorcher when he shows us one of the ways in which the Orks are using their new technology to build their monstrous attack moons that have so terrified the Imperium. Remember what I said about so many questions that were frustratingly going unanswered in the previous books? This is something else that makes The Hunt For Vulkan a true fulcrum point in the series. And this leads into some great scenes with the Imperial Navy, who haven’t been prominently featured since Gav Thorpe’s The Emperor Expects. The mission to Caldera is a mission of redemption for the Imperial Navy given the gross incompetence displayed by Lord High Admiral Lansung since after the successful assault on Port Sanctus.

So, to conclude, The Hunt For Vulkan is a top-notch novel. The character development is what I’ve come to expect from David, and his action was heart-wrenching at every turn and packed a ton of punch as well. I would love for him to write some more Primarch-focused fiction for the Heresy series. In this novel he shows himself to be a cool customer and that’s pretty great for the future. The final scene on Terra with Vangorich, Koorland and the rest of the High Lords is the icing on the cake here. The novel does end a little abruptly once the mission to Caldera itself ends. I had expected there to be some more play to events overall, but David maintained the laser focus, which I’m actually fine with in retrospect.

Rating: 9.5/10

More David Annandale and The Beast Arises:

  • The Beast Arises#1: I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #2: Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #3: The Emperor Expects by Gav Thorpe (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #4: The Last Wall by David Annandale (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #5: Throneworld by Guy Haley (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #6: Echoes of the Long War by David Guymer (Review)
  • Overfiend #1: Shadow Captain (Review)
  • Overfiend #2: Forge Master (Review)
  • The Death of Antagonis (Review)
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Posted on May 24, 2017, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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