One of the latest books in the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, I had been looking forward to this book from Nick Kyme (also see his blog) for some time. Ostensibly about the Salamanders chapter of Space Marines, I have always been a fan of the Salamanders since I read about them first in the late '90s. So much so that when I decided to start a Space Marine army under Warhammer 40K 3e, they were without a doubt Salamanders.
This is the first novel featuring this chapter exclusively. Nick does a good job of describing the customs and beliefs of this chapter, based on self-sacrifice and the belief that people need to be protected, not just the enemies of the Emperor prosecuted. This differentiates the the Salamanders from other chapters, in which other chapters often willingly sacrifice civilians in order to destroy the enemy.
While Nick tries to integrate the beliefs of the Salamanders, I think he could have gone further to develop the Promethean cult, and actually define the beliefs more clearly. A novel centered around this would have really brought to the forefront the character of this chapter.
The book starts out with a bit of politics within the chapter, and more specifically within the 3rd Company. The two main characters, Da'kir and Tsu'gan, are at loggerheads. Both revered their previous company captain Kadai, and both feel guilt about his death. More, Tsu'gan dislikes Da'kir because of his rustic origins. When the new captain N'keln is appointed by Chapter Master Tu'shan, Da'kir supports the new captain while Tsu'gan feels he is inadequate.
Events come to a head when the Salamanders 3rd Company, in search of their nemesis the Dragon Warriors Renegade Space marines. There they discover an abandoned Mechanicum ship filled with Space Marine armor and equipment. Also exploring the ship is a group of Marines Malevolent. There to plunder the ship of equipment, the Salamanders immediately oppose this action and prevent the Marines Malevolent from plundering.
Meanwhile a box is discovered that may hold clues to the Salamanders' primarch Vulkan's disappearance, and the 3rd Company (reinforced with elite elements from the Firedrakes 1st Company) is sent to the world Scoria to track it down.
They discover the world is in fact inhabited, by a lost ship of belonging to the Expeditionary Fleet supported by Salamanders from the pre-heresy era. In addition, there is an outpost of Iron Warriors, and soon an invasion of Orks.
At this point the book descends into typical 40K novel format: lots of blood, guts, fighting, and not much else.
One of the big problems with military oriented SF literature is that it can very easily descend into "war porn" with little purpose. Equally dangerous in an escapist fantasy novel series is a lack of action. I think the fact that the book is light in the combat until perhaps the last 3rd of the book is a testament to Kyme's attempts to avoid the dreaded "war porn" syndrome. Still, if you have read any number of Warhammer 40K books, the combat scenes tend to get old in my opinion: there are only so many ways you can describe the "whirring of chainblades" or the explosive force a bolter can do to various parts of the anatomy.
One thing missing from these books that would be welcome would be a more "tactical" description of the battles, rather than a personal one. With the current format (reminiscent of the "swordplay" action of fantasy novels) tend to make battles last too long; a more tactical description of battles, with short, sharp and extremely violent action I think would go a long way to making these sorts of novels more interesting.
The cover of this book threatens to be the first in a trilogy. While there is certainly room for improvement in Kyme's effort, he certainly gets the job done as well. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.
You can read more about the novel and see an extract here.