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It started rather well...
on 28 November 2013
When I began reading his book I started to like it. This is because there were a number of features that made it somewhat original and different from previous instalments in the lengthening HH series.
One is that this book is very much about Vulkan, Primarch of the Salamanders, and one of the only ones that had not yet taken centre stage in one of the series' volumes. The other one is the Khân, but from what I understand, he and his Legion will be covered in another volume to be published in 2014.
Another original feature is the use of the first person for many of the scenes with Vulkan, and all of the scenes when he is a prisoner. At least part of the interest in having Vulkan tell the story in the first person is that it allows Nick Kyme to present us with the Primarch's inner thoughts, and his personality more generally. It also helps in presenting the essential ambivalence that lies at the heart of even "good Primarchs". While they may be human, and even at times almost compassionate as is the case here for Vulkan (and was the case for Sanguinius in a previous volume in the HH series), they are also generals and can become, at least at times, ruthless killers.
Then there is the opposition that runs across the whole book between the "good" Primarch - Vulkan - and the "bad" one - Konrad Curze, who is full of self-loathing and hate, and has become sadistic and rather insane. The contrasts, but also the similarities, between the two characters are quite fascinating and well done. The opposition between the two, however, dragged on for much too long. By the time it ended, I had become almost bored. A couple of interesting features were the introduction of both Mannus Ferrus and Corax into the dialogues and oppositions between Vulkan and Curze. A less credible one was Vulkan's escape from his prison.
As mentioned by another review on the UK site, this book does very little, if anything at all, to advance the HH story. You also get treated, once again, to the traitorous massacre on Isstvan V (which I have now read about five or six times!), with the story being this time told in length from the perspective of the Salamanders and their Primarch. Although still interesting, I could not help a sense of "déjà vu" which tended to get mildly annoying at times. This piece was clearly anything but original. The same themes that have already been "flogged to death" by other authors in previous volumes are served half-warmed up and yet again: the fight of "brother against brother", the shock of betrayal, the utter rage that follows it, the massacre on a huge scale, etc...
One of the most interesting pieces in my view is the story of the bunch of loyalist legionary survivors, from the three legions mostly destroyed at Isstvan V. Despite have been so much battered, they decide to keep up the fight against the rebels with a mixture of revenge and despair since they are entirely on their own and, in the case of the Salamanders, wonder whether - and very much hope that - their Primarch is alive, without really believing that this could be the case. The "Iron Hands", of course, have no such doubts. They know that their Primarch has died on Isstvan and may even have seen him fall.
As in "Know no Fear", we again get to meet John Grammaticus, as mysterious as ever, and an agent of an even more mysterious employer to conduct a still more mysterious mission which, of course, can only be crucial for the fate of the whole galaxy. Needless to say, I did not "buy in" to this piece which felt contrived, only told part of the story, and largely assumed that you had already read all of the 25 previous instalments and remembered every fleeting allusion to this character and his manipulative employers.
Then there is the end of the story and I did not very much appreciate this bit either. In fact, I had the feeling that the author cut the story short and in a rather abrupt way because he was getting close to his page quota. While I will avoid spoilers, as I have tried to up to now, I was left more than a little confused with what happens to the little band of surviving loyal legionaries but, most of all, with what happens to Vulkan. Does Vulkan live once the story ends, or not? I could not quite make up my mind. Maybe you will be more successful than I was once you reach the end of the book.
To conclude, this is a story that started rather well, and then it fizzled out and got bogged down for a long time before ending in a rather abrupt and confusing way. While not a "bad" read, it was, for me at least, not a fully satisfying one. Three stars.