Wow, I don’t think I have ever been this conflicted when it comes to writing a review for a novel. Vulkan lives is an inconsistent and controversial book and for everything about it I liked I found another I didn’t. I certainly don’t hate it and I sure as hell don’t LOVE it but I can’t work out if I like it or not. I’ll do my best to lay out my issues with the book in this review, but I’m not exactly sure whether I’ll be able to accurately portray my feelings regarding the book without breaking my usual spoiler free format so expect the odd revelation here or there.
First a brief overview of the story. In the wake of the Isstvan dropsite massacre Vulkan has been captured by Konrad Curze of the Night Lords, and is subjected to both psychological and physical torture by his brother. Driven to incomprehensible levels of suffering, Vulkan endures and endures and endures and more importantly Vulkan Lives. Indeed I lost count of the amount of times that this titular mantra was repeated within the books pages becoming something of a rallying cry for the remaining members of the shattered Salamanders Legion. Whilst all this is going on a band of survivors from the massacre encounter John Grammaticus and a pursuing group of Word Bearers. Of course Erebus is pulling the strings but is very much in the background in this instance. Instead one of his many lackeys operates in his place, though he has an agenda of his own of course.
One of the great things about this book is the interplay between Curze and Vulkan, the two brothers psyches are laid bare as flashbacks provide grounding for their bitter enmity. Even as Curze does his best to destroy Vulkan the Salamanders primarch rallies against the Night Haunter. It makes for great reading in what is a very primarch heavy book (if not in numbers then at least in focus). Seriously, some of the great dialogues and character introspectives of the heresy happen in these pages. The hells that Vulkan goes through are extreme to, well the extreme. He is literally tested to destruction in a very real sense time and again.
And herein lies my main issue with Vulkan lives. SPOILER:
Vulkan is immortal. Yup, you read that right, immortal. Like a perpetual. He is killed time and time again by Curze and each time reanimates/heals or whatever to frustrate him once again. Vulkan is also perfect, seriously, he must have beaten more primarchs in combat than anyone else so far and there’s just nothing wrong with him. He has no discernable flaws, and this makes him inherently difficult to identify with. Not unlikeable, just unfathomable.
It’s Ironic really, my main issue with the rebooted Star Trek movie was that Vulcan was destroyed. My consternation with the book arises from exactly the opposite. It’s just such a big thing, it seems silly and unreasonable and I struggled to get through the book at times as I felt it cheapened much of what happens in the book. I’m also getting a bit sick of the perpetual/cabal arc, though I feel that may be coming to a conclusion of sorts. Certainly more about Grammaticus’ motives/mission is becoming clear.
However there are also other things to enjoy about Vulkan Lives. Aside from the afore-mentioned gold that we get from the interaction between Curze and Vulkan, we get multiple flashbacks to the Isstvan Dropsite massacres, very welcome even if it has been done a few times now already. Be warned though, this book is largely filler. In fact it is the very definition of filler. Little of any import to the greater scheme of the Heresy happens here. Shoehorned in seemingly just to give Nick Kyme an excuse to write about is favourite subjects, you could imagine that this book exists purely to give justification to the Tome of Fire series.
So overall I really can’t work out how to rate Vulkan Lives, there are elements about it I very much like but I cannot overlook a few of the massive problems that I have with the book. Every now and again there is a section of the book that just totally throws you out of the moment as you struggle to overlook the improbability and silliness of what you are reading. I think overall it deserves an average score, it’s not a complete write off and there are things to like about it, but I’d be surprised if you loved it.