07 January 2011

[40k Review] Firedrake - Nick Kyme

The Salamanders have a special place for me. They represent the first fully painted force that I’ve had in miniature gaming. Vulkan He’stan was one of the first figures that I painted to what I would consider a “high standard.” Further, they represent the Space Marine chapter that most embodies the heroic ideals that I find so intriguing: chivalry and brotherhood.

Firedrake is the second installment in Nick Kyme’s Tome of Fire trilogy and picks up where Salamander left off. Change is on the horizon for the Salamanders, with Da’kir, protagonist from Salamander, again playing a key role in the narrative. Da’kir has been elevated to librarian status, and the part he plays in the story has much to do with his Lexicanum training. Running concurrently to the Dak’ir thread is a story involving the abduction of Chaplain Elysius at the hands of Dark Eldar raiders. The two stories provide a nice balance for one another, as Dak’ir’s story is a bit more cerebral, focusing more on Dak’ir’s internal struggles, whereas the story of Elysius is a much more straightforward affair, a simple, yet interesting survival and rescue operation.

Da’kir’s story is interesting, if not a bit slow. Getting the chance to see his Lexicanum training is interesting, but often the pacing of his story is off and, as a result, can become a bit tedious. What becomes very clear is Da’kir’s power; he possesses unmatched raw talent, but his ability to control that power is really the focus of his story.

The survival of Elysius is a great deal more enthralling than the story of Dak’ir, if only because more ‘happens’—that isn’t to say nothing happens to Dak’ir, it does, but again, it is all quite cerebral. Elysius is abducted by Dark Eldar raiders. That alone is exciting; however, when Elysius, now sergeant Ba’ken, and Iagon (all from Salamander) are taken through the webway, the story becomes quite entertaining. The depiction of the Dark Eldar is spot on; they are malicious, they are violent, and they possess a graceful lethality. The presence of Lilith Hesperax enhances this, as she is the embodiment of all the aforementioned qualities. Further, Firedrake really provides a nice primer to the Dark Eldar for the uninitiated; I didn’t know much about them, but found their description, and that of the webway, really interesting.

On the rescue mission, we also get a chance to see Vulkan He’Stan in literary action. He is a mythic figure to the other Salamanders, and his portrayal is pretty cool. He seems larger than life, fights like a fire-born demon, and inspires the others around him to be greater. In short, he’s very cool, and I found it really cool that the Black Library is making a concerted effort to put characters from the Space Marine Codex into the literature. It really helps to tie the 40k universe together and make everything seem more fluid.

While I appreciated the stories of Firedrake, it leaves me feeling a bit torn. He furthers the notion that the Salamanders are protectors and that quality is unique to the Astartes. Their compassion is shown in droves. He provides clear narration and quality battle scenes, particularly the ones depicted in the webway. Kyme has a clear picture of what he wants from the Tome of Fire trilogy, there is no doubt. However, it was also clear that Firedrake is the middle chapter of a trilogy. In actuality, it shares a number of parallels with The Empire Strikes Back; Dak’ir’s quest and training is Luke’s training on Dagobah; Elysius’ capture is the capture of Han and crew on Bespin. And like Empire, there are major revelations that will affect the third chapter of the Tome of Fire trilogy. However, Firedrake lacks a bit of the ‘oomph’ that Empire provides in droves, mostly due to the difficulty grasping a similar level of emotional investment. That’s not to say the characters aren’t strong, or that we don’t care about them; the truth is quite the contrary. Kyme’s characters are fleshed out well, there are simply too many of them to invest in. Also, at times it becomes very clear that Firedrake is a middle chapter; Kyme does a lot of setting up future events that we presently see no payoff in.

I liked Firedrake, and again I’m excited to see how Kyme ends the trilogy. Kyme has a plan for the story, and once all three installments are released, I think the story as a whole will be worthy of much praise and a higher score. As it stands, Firedrake falls just a bit short, if only because it is an obvious middle chapter.

The Bottom Line

Nick Kyme’s Firedrake is very clearly the middle chapter of a trilogy, providing a nice filler narrative while advancing the overall story and further developing his characters. The story is strong, but the lack of resolutions—which are sure to come in the third installment—and the definitive absence of finality keep it from being great. Read it only if you’re previously read Salamander, as the novel will be confusing without the introduction Salamander provides. It is a solid novel, but requires previous reading, and some patience for the final book.

7/10 Above Average

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