Deathfire is the 32nd novel in the Horus Heresy series, and follows on directly from both Vulkan Lives and The Unremembered Empire as we begin on Macragge, where Vulkan is lying in state with the fulgurite jutting from his chest. Numeon is being held captive by the Word Bearers but refuses to give in to their torture, instead being sustained by his overwhelming faith that his primarch does indeed live. When a team of Ultramarines rescues him and brings him back to Macragge, however, he is forced to confront the fact that maybe Vulkan isn’t alive, after all – until the corpse goes walkabout, and ends up in a monumental garden. Numeon decides that he needs to take Vulkan back to Nocturne, where the primarch will be reborn in the lava and fires of the legion homeworld.
Thus begins some kind of weird Odyssey rehash, as the Salamanders make an attempt to navigate the Ruinstorm, though first diverting to crush a Death Guard assault on a space station near to the Ultramarines’ homeworld. There, they are joined by the Knight Errant Kaspian Hecht, who refuses to divulge his mission other than telling Numeon that he has been tasked by Malcador himself. The Salamanders, Hecht and some survivors from the station brave the Warp, and are attacked during their flight by a group of Word Bearers, who have come in an attempt to retrieve the fulgurite, which they now know is capable of killing a primarch. Along the way, Hecht is revealed to be none other than Barthusa Narek of the Word Bearers, although he tries to remain loyal to the throne and keep hold of his sanity.
The Word Bearers are ultimately expelled from their vessel when the Salamanders unexpectedly arrive in the Solar System, and despite the general joy to realise that Terra has not yet fallen to Horus, Numeon now realises more than ever that his mission is to return Vulkan to Nocturne, so they once more brave the Warp, and this time are pursued by both Word Bearers and Death Guard. They arrive above their homeworld only to be attacked immediately by the Death Guard, the captain of whom is intent on taking Vulkan’s head. Numeon and what remains of his brothers land on the planet and find there are still many Salamanders on-world, so they are able to defend against the Death Guard incursion with the help of the native drakes as well as their brother legionaries. The Death Guard are repelled, and Vulkan is returned to the fires of Deathfire, an active volcano. However, Vulkan is not reborn, leading to a crisis of faith for Numeon. He wanders out alone into the ash desert, however when a team of Salamanders is sent to find him, instead they find none other than Vulkan himself.
Well, what a wild ride this book was. It earned just two stars from me, in the end, as I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it all that much. Don’t get me wrong, the story is fairly okay, if you can see past the bland way in which it is told. The Salamanders have almost always appeared to me to be one of the most boring legions, and this book does nothing to change that for me. It’s a huge book, clocking in at over 500 pages, but there is so much fat in here that should be trimmed, it’s untrue. The central portion of the book, where the ship is in the Ruinstorm and the Warp is making itself felt is actually pretty exciting, and there is a real horror-story vibe coming from it. That’s really what made me give the extra star though, because otherwise I just couldn’t enjoy this one.
There were two major inconsistencies for me that I really struggled to wrap my head around. One of them was how, in the middle of the narrative, Word Bearers just suddenly appear on the Salamanders’ vessel with no break, and it’s almost like an editing error where I had to go back a couple of times to try to see whether I’d missed something. The second one is much earlier though, and concerns Barthusa Narek. Now, I know it’s been a while since I’ve read a Horus Heresy novel, but this guy’s story is just confusing to me. He’s a Word Bearer who disagrees with the daemonic road his legion is on, but somehow manages to survive a few culls of disloyal legionaries. He begins the story imprisoned on Macragge, and the Word Bearers actually have a plan to infiltrate the Ultramarines’ dungeon in order to get him killed. But somehow he just manages to escape, and then he shows up in a shipping crate with different armour and a new personality. The bulk of the story is then how Kaspian Hecht is on a mission for Malcador, but we don’t know what that is, and I struggled to decide whether he was lying or not. Turns out he wasn’t, because Malcador genuinely has had him in his grasp, because he put up a bunch of psychic wards within Narek’s mind. There’s a story there that, I feel, needs to be told – but from what I can tell, it hasn’t. A big bugbear for me is when a novel like this knowingly misses out a chunk of story to specifically have that told as a separate thing. The New Jedi Order did this a couple of times, and it feels like we’re being cheated. However, to just leave that story untold is really glaring! I know I said that some fat could have been trimmed here, but to my mind, that part of things should have been included!
As I said, I liked the crazy parts during the Warp voyage, the sense of foreboding came across quite well, but otherwise, there wasn’t a lot for me to enjoy about this book. It has Word Bearers being creepy and weird, which is a good point, but otherwise, I don’t care about Vulkan, I don’t care about the Salamanders, so I wasn’t really coming at this one from a good place!
We’ve got another anthology next, then I believe the story finally begins to pick up again in Guy Haley’s Pharos, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m going to try my best to make my way through a few more Heresy books before the year is out, anyway, so stay tuned for more ramblings!!