Hot off the Press

Hot (some might say Scorching*) off the Press!

* groan!

It feels like Nick Kyme month at the moment. Not only has Vulkan Lives just gone on sale, not only has Scorched Earth come up for pre-order, but today we’ve had the MP3 release of the audio drama, Censure! It must have been a fairly hectic time for Mr Kyme, something I hope to be able to share more with you all about in the not-too-distant future (hint hint!).

Censure by Nick Kyme

audio-censure-MP3

So there I was merrily listening to Censure, when a particularly intriguing email arrived. I’m fortunate enough to have been asked to write an advanced review of an extract of the forthcoming novella, Scorched Earth. To say I was excited about this would be something of an understatement! It would, of course, have been churlish to turn down this offer, and so two readings later here I am.

To provide context, the review copy is approximately 3,000 words in length, so it’s probably no more than 5% of the entire story. I also don’t know which section of the novella I have been given for a fact, although it reads like the opening section to a book so that is my assumption. It’s certainly set before the brief extract that was posted on the Black Library blog earlier this week (see here if you want to read it).

Scorched Earth ‘From the Ashes of Isstvan’ Review

Scorched Earth is the 6th and latest ‘limited edition / limited release’ Horus Heresy novella from Black Library. It is written by Nick Kyme, and follows on from his previous Horus Heresy works for Black Library, including Vulkan Lives, Feat of Iron and Promethean Sun. Scorched Earth is available to order until Friday 2nd August 2013 – see here for details.

 Scorched Earth by Nick Kyme

Scorched-Earth

 “Nearly a quarter of a million loyal Space Marines lost their lives on Isstvan V – the Dropsite Massacre
lasted only a few hours, and yet the Iron Hands, Raven Guard and Salamanders were slaughtered by those
they had once called kin. With the disappearance of their primarch weighing heavily upon their
hearts, Ra’stan and Usabius of the XVIIIth Legion leave behind their fellow survivors and strike out
into the Urgall Depression. Their mission: to find what, if anything, remains of mighty Vulkan…”

The first thing that strikes me about Scorched Earth is the mood of the piece. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Dropsite Massacre, two survivors have to cope with the reality of the sudden annihilation of their legion, and the psychological impact of their betrayal at the hands of former brother legions. Kyme captures the despair of the situation through the eyes of the main protagonist, Ra’stan, a Captain of the XVIII Legion Salamanders, reflecting on the contrast between the hope and belief during the trials of Ra’stan’s early pre-Astartes life compared to hopelessness of the present. The desperation and bleakness of the environment, and its effect upon Ra’stan is a theme that is regularly returned to, reinforcing the chilling reality for the reader.

Earlier Horus Heresy works dealing with the fighting upon Isstvan V rarely captured the full effect of the cataclysm… one which saw well over 250,000 Astartes lose their lives in less than a single day. This is absolutely not something of which you could accuse Scorched Earth. Kyme superbly demonstrates the sheer destruction and carnage through detailed description of the destroyed vehicles and piles of dead carcasses, most memorably portrayed in a scene during which the protagonists are forced to hide in order to evade capture.

Following on from the same treatment in Vulkan Lives, Kyme writes in the first person from Ra’stan’s perspective. Without checking back through my Horus Heresy collection, I cannot remember this being a common style (if used previously at all). In Scorched Earth, the use of first person is brilliantly executed, and really enhances the effect of the carnage, destruction and despair experienced by those ‘lucky’ enough to survive the initial massacre.

Particularly in the extract published on the Black Library blog, but also in this extract, we see the lengths that the survivors are driven to in order to extend (however briefly that might be) their lives. In close encounters with traitor forces, the protagonists make life-and-death decisions (their lives, others’ deaths) in the rational, almost clinical, manner of a true professional. The conflicting emotions faced by the two Salamanders as they make these choices are beautifully portrayed, adding yet another layer to the tragedy of Isstvan V.

I do have a few minor issues with the novella. A couple of phrases seem out of place. I could live with ‘super-man’ to describe an Astartes if it was uttered by one of the more arrogant legions (Emperor’s Children, I hear you cry), but it doesn’t fit with my impression of the more compassionate Salamanders legion. More disappointing though was the use of the word ‘heresy’ to describe the massacre. I may be imagining this, but I believe that Black Library have deliberately tried not to use the ‘h’ word at this stage in the storyline, preferring to describe it as a ‘rebellion’. Some of the narrative could have benefitted from a little more pruning at the editorial stage, especially the opening sentence of the extract.

However, setting aside these minor quibbles, this extract demonstrates that Scorched Earth is going to be a worthy addition to the Horus Heresy collection. The novella does a superb job of transforming the fantasy of clashing forces portrayed in such celebrated works as Fulgrim and The First Heretic into the tragic reality of the aftermath of a massacre. It would be unfair of me to rate the novella based upon one extract, but it was a genuine pleasure to go back to the events of Isstvan V, and to touch upon one out of a potentially hundreds of untold stories. I’m really looking forward to finishing this story, and eagerly await the next works from Mr Kyme. Hurry up Black Library, send my copy scorching* its way to me!

* sorry, last one I promise!

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All the best,
Marcus