I’ve been looking forward to reading about Vulkan and his Salamanders for awhile now. We know what happened to Ferrus Manus, we know what happened to Corax, but what about Vulkan? I already knew he was a perpetual and couldn’t be killed, per se, and I knew Konrad Kurze tried to see if he could kill Vulkan. Repeatedly. It’s about time to see how the Salamanders regroup without their primarch, and maybe when Vulkan escapes there’s a nice reunion? The title of the book is Vulkan Lives, so that’s means happy endings. It’s right there in the title.
I evidently haven’t learned a damn thing about Warhammer 40,000 yet.
A Tale of Too Many Plotlines
If you’re as old as Jen and I, then you remember the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. The first two, without a doubt, were amazing and we won’t hear otherwise. The third movie, however, had problems, and it’s not just the scene of Peter Parker hump-dancing down the street. Spider-Man 3 had a lot of half-cooked ideas that weren’t allowed to fully form. They were instead thrown together into a haphazard mess. Sandman plotline. Venom. Hobgoblin. Gwen Stacy. There was too much going on, and nothing really resolved satisfactorily.
Vulkan Lives unfortunately follows in Spider-Man 3’s footsteps. Vulkan and Kurze. The Battle of Kharaatan. Istvaan V. Word Bearers. Survivors from Istvaan V. John Grammaticus. Either Nick Kyme had too many half-ideas he wanted to talk about at once, Black Library told him to take his short story ideas and cram them into his Vulkan book, or he needlessly padded the book (either his idea or his editor’s). The end result is the same: a discombobulated story that could have been cut down by 75-100 pages.
Enough with Istvaan V
Look, Ayn Rand, we get it. The story of Istvaan V has been told in False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Flight of the Eisenstein, and Fulgrim. Then we got snippets of the various escapes in a few short stories. Can’t forget Deliverance Lost with Corax’s escape either. Did it have to be told again in Vulkan Lives?
I can think of a few Istvaan V paragraphs from Vulkan’s point of view that were fantastic. The one that especially comes to mind is when Vulkan makes eye contact with Perturabo and realizes that the Iron Warriors are not on their side. The sadness Vulkan feels knowing a brother he greatly admired for his craftsmanship tugs at the heartstrings.
Everything else is padding. As much as I liked Numeon in this novel, it was far from necessary to learn about his time and escape from Istvaan V. The point is that Numeon is here now, with a few Salamander survivors, a Raven Guard Librarian, and an Iron Hand. I’m not sure what the point of Numeon being in this story is, and that’s a good segue to my next point.
John Grammaticus and Erebus
I know this has been said for a long time, but John Grammaticus is the Forrest Gump of the Horus Heresy. And that’s not a compliment.
I get that the Cabal has its own stake in this civil war, and Grammaticus is its errand boy because reasons and Dan Abnett. But what is his point, exactly, other than to insert himself in every major skirmish? What was his point in this story at all?
The Cabal sent him to Traoris to get a fulgurite spear. Erebus was also after that spear and sent team of Word Bearers to fetch it. Just before the Word Bearers can kill Grammaticus to take it, the Salamanders “rescue” him and the Word Bearers get the spear anyway. John is able to convince the Salamanders to get it back and help him get off world, all for him to get all of the Salamanders killed with his selfishness?
I never liked Grammaticus. I cheered when the Alpha Legion screwed him over. But I had no idea he’d be peppered throughout every major battle doing things for seemingly no reason other than to be there. And then he gets the Salamanders killed? Gaslights them into believing it was their fault for getting in his way? And then Erebus lets him go? Gives him the fulgurite spear and says go forth?
No, no, no. I don’t buy that Erebus sensed Grammaticus’ importance in the war. From everything I’ve read about Erebus up to this point, he wouldn’t give a damn about that. If anything, having someone so unpredictable to him, no matter how important he is, would make Erebus want to kill him immediately.
As for this eldar who promises John freedom from the Cabal if he goes and kills Roboute and lets Vulkan die, I’m not convinced he’s not in league with Erebus somehow. Maybe he is actually Erebus in disguise. We already know John isn’t a very bright bulb. He’s also a bit of a liar. Hey, so is Erebus. Perhaps they’re made for one another.
This book was supposed to be about Vulkan, right? And yet we had all that nonsense that added up to really nothing except for a weird interaction between Erebus and Grammaticus. About only a third of the book was about Vulkan and Kurze.
At the time while reading, I felt that this story was too drawn out. I realize now that I felt that way because it was padded with flashbacks to Istvaan V, Kharaatan, and jumping to the other plot. When we actually got to the infamous labyrinth scene, it was over before I realized it. Shouldn’t this be the drawn out part? I re-read the chapters because I swore I missed whole sections. I didn’t. Of all the things to be skimped on, why this?
These chapters with Vulkan and Kurze were some of Kyme’s best writing. The insights into Kurze and Vulkan and Vulkan’s own insights into himself and his brothers were phenomenonal. I don’t fully understand why this wasn’t the meat of the book. I don’t know why all of the other pieces with the Word Bearers, Numeon, and Grammaticus had more emphasis when they didn’t amount to much in the end.
But I am told Grammaticus’ purpose unfolds a bit more in the next book, The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett. Because of course Grammaticus will be important in an Abnett book. Regardless of his presence, I’m looking forward to reading it because it has my three favorite loyal primarchs. I just hope the book is actually about these primarchs, unlike the treatment Vulkan received in Vulkan Lives.
Twenty-six books down, 28 to go.
Horus Hearsay is dedicated to Keri’s journey through the Horus Heresy saga. The chronicling of the Horus Heresy began over ten years ago, with currently 54 books in total, not counting The Primarchs series or the various short stories. Horus Hearsay will only cover the main novels.