Review: Vulkan Lives / Author: Nick Kyme / Publisher: Black Library / Release Date: Direct Only from Games Workshop until December 3rd
Vulkan Lives is the 26th book in the Horus Heresy series, a sequence of novels set during a galactic civil war being fought between god-like leaders and their demigod-like troops. This particular novel focuses on the Salamanders, a legion of warriors forged in molten lava and who have a thoroughly fiery and dragon-like aspect to them. We’ve been drip-fed stories about this particular faction thus far, but the last time we saw their leader, the Primarch Vulkan, he was facing almost certain doom surrounded by enemies. Fans of the series know he survives, but the tale as to how that played out has been one for which we’ve been made to wait for over twenty books now.
Unfortunately Vulkan Lives does not quite live up to its promise. On the one hand it’s highly accessible (and a good dipping-in point for casual readers), it's filled to the brim with action, and it carries the ongoing narrative of the series very well. However it lacks the wow factor that has been present in the likes of previous books such as Legion, Betrayer or Angel Exterminatus, and at this stage in the series, it’s this level of quality we’ve come to expect. Kyme puts in a strong effort to reach this standard, but it doesn’t quite make it. Alas, what’s really needed is strong characterisation for the titular character, Vulkan, and it simply isn’t there. He’s bland and weak, with no narrative hook. Betrayer made us feel sorry for an utter monster and Angel Exterminatus made us admire the galaxy’s most arrogant man; this novel simply doesn’t give its central character the pathos that’s required.
The villains of this piece are the Night Lords, and these monsters have appeared in the series before, always written by popular novelist Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Kyme doesn’t have the same sort of flair for these brutish and pragmatic soldiers as the other fellow, and this does slow down the narrative substantially. However, his handling of Konrad Curze is spot on; this could have almost been Curze’s story, rather than that of Vulkan.
Kyme comes into his own with the action sequences, and this is a very rapid read; those who delight in plenty of shooty-death-kill in space are well served here. Yet you can't escape the feeling that this is more of speed bump in the ongoing journey that is the Horus Heresy than the major highlight it should have been. Still, those looking for a fun read which isn’t too intense (and is filled with Space Marines) should find this just the thing they’re looking for.