A short Horus Heresy novel that sits outside of the main numbered series, Nick Kyme’s Sons of the Forge carries on his work with the Salamanders Legion but sits separate from the Vulkan Lives/Deathfire arc. Set just prior to the Dropsite Massacre, it sees Forgemaster N’Kell tasked by Vulkan to choose seven of his most potent artefacts to preserve, and destroy the rest. With word having arrived of Vulkan’s death, N’Kell gathers those Salamanders who had stayed behind and not reached Isstvan, setting out to hide the remaining relics, only to find unexpected foes barring their path.
While this definitely isn’t a main line story, it does draw in quite a number of threads from elsewhere, most obviously from the short story Artefacts but also the Shattered Legions arc as well as a couple of characters from other stories. It’s a good concept, and is set up nicely by a retelling of Artefacts’ key moment from a different perspective and a rapid-fire series of short scenes introducing us to various new Salamanders characters. It does rather come unstuck after that though, becoming a little muddied through probably too many characters, and a plot that’s a bit more complicated than it really needed to be.
There really are quite a lot of characters for what is a relatively short novel, and while the Salamanders and the various Shattered Legions characters are all given the beginnings of distinct personalities, there isn’t really enough time for them all to fully develop. Strangely, the Sons of Horus antagonists are a little better defined and come across as the most interesting of the lot, both in terms of their motivations and their general character. Short, quick-fire chapters – much like you’d find in many a modern crime thriller – go some way to keeping the pace up and compensating for the shorter length, but they can’t conceal the problem.
Overall there’s enough here for it to still be enjoyable, not least in the Sons of Horus’ begrudging admiration for the Salamanders’ tenacity and an interesting look at how those Salamanders not on Isstvan coped with what happened in their own, unique way. It suffers in a few aspects, though – the rather muddled plotting leaves it feeling like a book that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be; it leans a little too heavily on overused tropes such as the swordmaster with his twin (named) blades, and the unbeatable Raven Guard; and it ultimately ends up feeling a little…non-essential. There’s PLENTY of room for stories told away from the main Heresy story arc, but while this is solid enough in terms of action and should tide Salamanders fans over until Old Earth arrives, it’s just a touch unsatisfying.