[Review] Vulkan Lives – Nick Kyme

9781849705134One of the long standing mysteries associated with the Horus Heresy has been the aftermath of Dropsite Massacre, or more specifically the fates of Corax and Vulkan, the two primarchs betrayed on the black sands of Isstvan.  The fate of Corax was answered in Deliverance Lost and its preceding audio dramas and with Nick Kyme’s first full length entry in the Horus Heresy, Vulkan Lives answers some of the questions regarding the beleaguered sire of the Salamanders.

While the title of the novel makes it pretty clear what Vulkan’s fate is, Vulkan Lives is more complicated than that, leaving the reader with just as many questions as answers.  The story maintains two narratives, one focusing on Vulkan and the situation in which he finds himself following Isstvan, while the other follows a group of loyalist survivors of the massacre, led by Artellus Numeon, equerry to Vulkan, in their effort to disrupt a Word Bearers plot to corrupt yet another world.

Vulkan’s narrative is rich in character development for the Salamander’s primarch, something that was previously sorely lacking within the whole of the Heresy narrative.  Captured by his nihilistic brother Konrad Curze, the time Kyme spends creating a clear juxtaposition between the two serves to better develop both characters:  Vulkan, compassionate and pragmatic; Kurze, sadistic and impetuous.  I’ve read a lot of criticism regarding Kyme’s portrayal of Kurze, that he went from the Horus Heresy’s “Batman Gone Bad” (which is apparently a good thing) to a cookie cutter Rogue’s Gallery villain, but I simply don’t see it.  Kurze’s ongoing torture of Vulkan is brutal and sadistic, but it’s the probing of a sociopath that’s trying to see just how many ways he can skin a cat.  It may be petulant, but only because Kurze is seeking to satiate his notion that all people, no matter how good, can be goaded into villainy.  The Vulkan – Kurze narrative is strong because of these interactions, and we learn a great deal about Vulkan in the process.  Were I to pick any nits, it would be the constant hallucinations of Ferrus Manus, his late brother, that Vulkan experiences.  They’re there to reinforce Vulkan’s sense of guilt, but at times they feel a bit forced.

While Vulkan’s narrative is really the ‘feature bout’ of the novel, I think the real stars lie in the concurrent narrative featuring Numeon and his not-so-merry band of survivors.  Like we saw previously in Angel Exterminatus,  Numeon leads a mixed group of Salamanders, Iron Hands, and Raven Guard legionaries that escaped execution at the dropsite.  And much like in Angel Exterminatus, this splinter cell, realizing it won’t ever be able to make war at full strength again, seeks to disrupt as many traitor activities as possible, that goal being to prevent the Word Bearers from further corrupting the ‘blessed world’ Traoris.  And just like in McNeill’s book, it works incredibly well here.  The greatest thing about these side stories is that it really helps forge the narrative regarding how different the chapter’s combat doctrines and philosophies are.  The Salamanders compassion is blended nicely with the Iron Hands’ mechanical indifference and the aloofness of the Raven Guard.  The interactions just work.  The narrative works, and is particularly well done when Kyme create’s an “Enemy at the Gates”-style sniper showdown between Iron Hands legionary Verud Pergellen and Word Bearer Barthusa Narek, a character that Kyme is able to make entirely likeable, despite the fact that he serves as the narrative’s primary antagonist. 

While there’s a great deal more to both the Vulkan narrative and the Numeon narrative, all of those reveals are rich in revelation, something Vulkan Lives is certainly not lacking.  Apart from Legion, Vulkan Lives might be the most revelatory of all the Horus Heresy novels yet.  I still can’t decide if that’s a bad thing, or a good thing, as some of the reveals in the novel will certainly be (and certainly have been) controversial.  I think they’re positives for the overall Horus Heresy narrative, as they’re certainly going to be fodder for driving the story forward; however, they’re paradigm shifting, especially when it comes to the 40k narrative as it presently stands.  If there are any really ‘weak’ points to Vulkan Lives and Kyme’s handling of the story, it’s within the content of those revelations and not within his narrative or characterization.

Vulkan Lives is, if anything, an important addition to the Horus Heresy space drama that the Black Library continues to slowly unfold.  It answers a lot of questions about Vulkan and his fate while also building upon the precedent set by Graham McNeill regarding the Isstvan survivors and their role in the Heresy.  Kyme’s narrative is competent and clear, and his characterizations are well done and yield mostly round characters that help to keep Vulkan Lives from becoming boring.  The revelations of the narrative, while sure to be unpopular in some circles, serve to drive the Heresy forward and following in the Black Library tradition of creating two new questions for every one that’s answered.  

7/10 – Well done.  A must read for any Salamanders fan or anyone well invested in the overall Horus Heresy storyline, and a solid read for the casual fan.