So I recently finished The Hunt for Vulkan, the seventh novel in The Beast Arises series, and also one of the shortest entries in that series so far. The book forms something of a turning point in the war between the Imperium and the Orks, as Chapter Master Koorland literally leads a hunt for the primarch Vulkan to aid in the fight.
Vulkan is the primarch of the Salamanders space marine legion, and in case you weren’t aware, he is a “perpetual”, which is the Warhammer version of saying “immortal”. He might seem to die many times, but he will always, always survive anything that he goes through – such as, famously, his torture at the hands of his brother primarch, Konrad Curze. So it’s no real surprise that he’s still kicking around a thousand years after the Horus Heresy and the age of the primarchs.
Inquisitor Veritus brings the news of Vulkan’s survival to Koorland, telling him he is on the planet of Caldera. Koorland also manages to reach something of a detente with the Mechanicum after the Fists Exemplar lead an incursion to Mars in order to recover Magos Urqidex who, at the end of the last book, had been trying to get the message that the Orks were based on Ullanor out to Terra. Now armed with this information, Koorland calls together yet more Space Marine chapters – the Ultramarines, the Dark Angels, the Blood Angels and the Space Wolves – to assist in a final push against the greenskins while he leads his Last Wall to Caldera to find Vulkan.
In orbit above the planet is a partially-constructed Ork battlemoon, and we get to see how they create these things, by using gravity-whips to pull chunks of the planet into orbit, where somehow they are grafted into the moon. Weird. During all the fighting on the planet, Koorland is almost convinced that they won’t in fact find him, but after some fairly brutal combat, the space marines do indeed discover Vulkan leading the resistance, almost single-handedly staving off the Orks. There’s a wonderful little scene where Koorland is totally awe-struck at the sight of the legendary primarch, and reflects that this must be how ordinary humans see the space marines. Having been reading a lot of the Horus Heresy novels this year, I suppose I’d grown accustomed to the idea of primarchs, so it was cool to see that they are actually super-human folks!
Vulkan agrees to lead the fight against Ullanor, once the Orks have been repelled from Caldera, so an offensive is launched on the installation where the Orks are sending chunks of the planet into space. After successfully destroying the Orks and leaving enough of the technology for the Mechanicum to study, Vulkan returns to Terra where he takes control of the war, leaving the High Lords in awe of his presence.
While it was a little slow at times, and the battles were pretty tough to get through, I did actually like this book. It’s been a bit of a gripe of mine for a while now that we don’t know enough about what the Orks are doing to really make them interesting, as they’re very much left as a threat that needs to be stopped. There has been some attempt to provide a mystery around why they’re doing what they’re doing, as well as just how are they so damn coordinated and effective all of a sudden, but that mystery has been stretched so thin, it’s beyond the breaking point for me now. The fact that we seem to be about to learn more stuff, as we’re poised on the attack on Ullanor, bodes well for me in this respect, so I’m hopeful we’ll begin to see some resolution soon.
In this book, we also get to see some of the mad scientist Orks, which does help to make the story a little more interesting, as well. We keep getting told throughout the series that the Orks have developed or whatever, and they’re apparently some kind of technical geniuses now. However, it is somewhat comforting to know that there are still eccentric Meks about who are more discovering these things by chance than anything else…
I’m not particularly a Salamanders fan, but I thought the inclusion of a primarch to lead the crusade against the Orks was a pretty great idea, and it’s treated with the appropriate reverence that you’d expect from this kind of thing. I was also really interested to finally see more Chapters than just Imperial Fists and their successors. Not being a huge fan of the chaps in yellow, I was excited to see the inclusion of the other guys, even if they are all first-founding chapters, and even if they do include the Space Wolves…
We also get a tiny bit of the Iron Warriors storyline that was the main focus of the previous book, as Zerberyn and Kalkator have a moment of reflection above the dying world of Prax. I thought that storyline was super interesting in the last few books, as we see the Fists Exemplar and the Iron Warriors working together to overcome the Ork menace, and the shifting perceptions of the Iron Warriors as traitors and heretics. There is still some of that in this very short scene here, but the fact that it was relegated to such a short moment had me concerned that there won’t be much more of a pay-off for this. Hopefully I’m wrong on that, though!
The Beast Arises has surprised me for being a story that is basically one continuous narrative, but written by different authors. I was expecting something more along the lines of the Horus Heresy, or some of the Star Wars multi-book series, where individual authors concentrate on their pet units and tell fragments of the story – so, for instance, if we had a book by Gav Thorpe, we’d know it would feature Dark Angels, and so on. It’s been a bit strange that we’ve had just one narrative, albeit a sprawling one, and while having a tight focus has been good on the one hand, it’s becoming a little tedious after seven books, so I’m happy to see some different stuff thrown into the mix now that we have four very different Chapters thrown into the mix.
Speaking of sprawling narratives, this blog is becoming something of the same now, so I think I’ll wrap it up for now! I’m currently planning to have a bit more Star Wars on the reading list for the festive season, so might not be back with the Beast for a while. But I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes!