Deathfire by Nick Kyme – Book Review [Bellarius]


Bellarius looks into the long awaited latest novel in the Horus Heresy series, and finds it wanting.

“Mundane navel gazing with some of the most boring bolter porn ever put onto paper.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

If ever there was a Black Library release which can be judged by its title alone, it would be Deathfire. Really, the very word itself is all you need to know, cringe-worthy, almost juvenile and written with a mishandled intent to produce something meaningfully epic. What’s inside proves to be a drawn out tumorous mass of needless plot, padding, confused messages and an attempt to deliver shout-outs to The Odyssey which devolve into equal parts navel gazing and bolter porn.

Serving as a sequel to both Unremembered Empire and Vulkan Lives (sadly more the latter than the former), Deathfire follows the Salamanders in their efforts to return Vulkan’s body to Nocturne. With the rescue of Numeon (now having revealed to have survived his underwhelming end) from a Word Bearers ship, and forces still hunting for the primarch’s body, they are determined to return to their homelands. However, is Vulkan truly dead? In the face of all else, can faith alone sustain a legion long past its father’s end?

The very themes and ideas of Deathfire are ones which have merit when it comes to examining the legions of this time. The problem is that this is botched from the outset, and the actual themes of faith, belief and the like just boil down to “Yes he is!” “No he isn’t!” arguments, with some poorly defined logic, and badly delivered concepts. It doesn’t help that the story itself manages to be simultaneously rushed while at the same time lacking any substantial content. Numeon’s ideas, thoughts and logic are repeated over and over again, but it’s never remotely near enough to be personal or even remotely believable, and the very fact he is banking upon succeeding via an outright impossibility is barely addressed. The very fact it’s going against the Imperial Truth, the fact that they are quickly resorting to an utterly insane task is barely addressed, and many major developments, plot threads and ideas are swept to one side. Half of it just comes down to relentlessly yelling “Vulkan Lives!” to a point where that damn statement will haunt your nightmares for decades to come.

Most irksome of all is how, while serving as a sequel to two books, barely seems to address the major points of either one. We barely see anything of the Imperium Secundus, and the idea of it is barely commented upon. Sanguinius’ leadership, Guilliman’s gambit and rebuilding the Imperium from within aren’t given a second thought or even its merits considered. The story meanders about the whole issues of facing the Ruinstorm or being trapped from within, and the sad part is that this first third is easily the best part of the book. Kyme has a vastly better grip on writing the Ultramarines than he does the Salamanders, and while Numeon, Xathen, Zytos and Baduk are effectively interchangeable, Thiel, Prayto, and the others have far better rounded personalities. They actually read and act more like characters, whereas the Salamanders themselves are so extraordinarily flat, that their deaths, successes and actions barely impact the story at all. As with most Kyme written Salamanders stories, the body-count of Vulkan’s sons is insanely high with more than a few utterly ridiculous deaths born of downright stupidity, yet its hard to feel insulted or saddened as they have no impact at all upon the reader.

Things only get worse by page 146, where the story effectively turns into a weaker retelling of Battle for the Abyss. Yes, you read that correctly. At least with Battle for the Abyss there was a sense that Counter was trying to do something, showing conflict on both sides, and while many of the characters might have been stock archetypes, they were at least recognisable ones. Here, we have the Salamanders trying to brave the Ruinstorm, chased by a Death Guard warship, and it manages to not only be completely boring but so devoid of detail, impact and plot points that you’ll be forgiven for occasionally forgetting a daemon was loosed on the vessel. Even the whole plot surrounding a Knight Errant proves to be just a waste of time, and it’s never resolved and the themes it potentially brings up prove to be little more than filler in the end, to cause conflict without any actual resolution.

The battles themselves prove to be boring and downright tedious. You’re lucky if the writing actually bothers to stop and describe the environment in the slightest, to build up any sense of atmosphere or emotion, and the battles themselves are over in seconds. Worse still, the Death Guard manage to become such incredible fodder that it almost entirely eclipses the Salamanders’ own insane deaths. Company sized forces are killed off one at a time, with squads dying by the dozen, and these are supposed to belong to a single battleship. If you actually stop to count, the only way the Death Guard could lose these numbers and still have enough to fight in the final battle is if there were over a thousand aboard the vessel, and numbers seem to change every other chapter.

Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that the novel downright insults the reader’s intelligence. Many of the plot twists are so insanely ludicrous that you’ll be prompted to walk in and try to get a refund for your hard earned cash. One example – The Death Guard attack Nocturne. There is not a single orbital defence platform, station or vessel to stop an already crippled battleship from attaining orbital supremacy over a legion homeworld and bombarding it. Worse still, when they unleash a life eater virus upon the planet, the Salamanders burn it away with giant flamethrowers. This somehow stops it, and then the Death Guard all get themselves killed effectively rushing the surface in a massed aerial assault without any covering fire.

Having read this through, this is honestly a novel which has at best been phoned in. Even without going into the plot, the fact the novel has chapters which can be as short as two pages long says enough about the story, and the fact we get no story progression, little to no world building, boring battles and a rushed finale all damns this one entirely. This is a new low for the series, and I say that as someone who genuinely enjoyed Damnation of Pythos. Avoid this book entirely and save your cash for something else, because this most certainly does not deserve any kind of purchase.

Verdict: 1.5/10


Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
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  • Nihlathak

    While I agree in that it tells very little in many Words, I do not think its as bad as this damning review. We get a continuation of stories at least I want to follow, like barthusa narek, and the book certainly has its good parts. Just too bad than the inbetweens are quite dry and plentiful.

    Also, the title as you are probably aware of comes from the mountain ‘deathfire’ they try to reach.

    I’d say the book is worth it If you can handle some dryer parts but want to follow the story of how vulcan was sent home to nocturne.