Please note – if you haven’t read Vulkan Lives and The Unremembered Empire, this review will contain spoilers.
Twelve months after the release of the last full Horus Heresy novel (Damnation of Pythos), book 32 in the series is finally here, in the form of Deathfire by Nick Kyme. Following on directly from The Unremembered Empire, and bringing back characters from Vulkan Lives and Know No Fear, it sees the few Salamanders involved in Imperium Secundus choose brave the Ruinstorm, risking everything in order to return the body of their primarch to their home world of Nocturne.
Events begin in Ultramar, with fan-favourite Aeonid Thiel leading his Red-Marked in a raid on a Word Bearers ship and rescuing Artellus Numeon, before returning briefly to Macragge where cracks are already appearing in Guilliman’s Imperium Secundus. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Numeon clings tight to his belief that Vulkan will yet live, and leads the Salamanders away from Macragge, taking Vulkan’s body with them on a peril-fraught journey where they face down daemons and traitor legions as well as their own doubts and fears. It’s very much a story of the impact that Vulkan’s death has had on his sons and how each of them reacts, whether that be through acceptance or defiance.
As with much of Nick Kyme’s writing there’s a strong focus on the psychology of his characters, as Numeon and the other Salamanders wrestle with questions of identity, loyalty and belief. For the most part the Salamanders are well drawn and relatable, the dynamics between the different characters strong enough to balance the rather clunky inclusion of vague prophecies and ancient beliefs, and the slightly one-dimensional antagonists. Large parts of the book cover a relatively small set of events and actions, but despite the book’s length Kyme manages to keep the reader’s interest throughout, maintaining sufficient variety and pace as to keep the story moving forward. It’s let down sometimes by some unnecessarily ornate language, and could perhaps have been trimmed down a little in length, but for the most part it’s a satisfying, enjoyable read.
In a sense this is a strange book, as despite being part of a huge series it is essentially the middle book in a trilogy that began with Vulkan Lives and is yet to conclude (albeit with a detour via The Unremembered Empire). Very little is resolved, in fact it poses at least as many new questions as it answers – not least regarding the sudden and unexpected involvement of a certain other primarch – but it manages to avoid too much of a feeling of incompletion. There’s a strong sense of the Salamanders’ story progressing and moving closer to a resolution, and while Kyme deliberately leaves a number of plot points hanging he’s done a pretty good job of setting things up for what will presumably be the final act of this particular strand in the Heresy.