Blood and Fire by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. An Armageddon novella featuring Grimaldus, the hero of Helsreach. Originally published by The Black Library, July 2013. Approx. 113 pages.
Within the vast body of the Imperium, so many different relationships can form. Bonds of brotherhood, grudging respect, and friendly and bitter rivalries. And, once in a while, actions as odious as betrayal. While Grimaldus and his Black Templars waged the bitter battle for the salvation of Helsreach, on the other side of Armageddon, at Hive Volcanus, the Celestial Lions fought as well against the bastard xenos greenskins. As if battling the endless hordes isn't difficult enough, something is just...wrong. So very, very wrong. Ships in orbit are suffering disproportionately grievous losses. Supply ships are being shot down. They are being fed misinformation at every turn, leading to wild goose chases and ambushes. And then came the Mannheim Gap, where the most brutal, decimating blow was tendered. Sent to destroy a gargant-manufacturing base, they found those vicious god-machines very operational, as well as meeting some very prepared orks and snipers. It was a massacre, and a message.
Reclusiarch Grimaldus recovers a report of the treachery from Chaplain (Deathspeaker) Julkhara of the Lions. He knows as well the cause of it. The Templars and Lions are cousin, descendants of Dorn all. He knew the error of the Lions. They crossed and questioned the authority of the Inquisition. They showed compassion in the face of an overzealous, violent, dogmatic regime (never a smart move). A message needed to be sent. A message to all Astartes chapters. Grimaldus knows all of this. He knows what pride will prompt the Lions to do. And he knows that it is his obligation to try and counsel them, or at least record their last actions. So, with aspiring Chaplain Cyneric in tow, he flies down to Hive Volcanus to meet with the remaining Lions.
Grimaldus meets with them, and bonds with them. And, as you can tell by the pretty awesome cover, he goes to battle with them. Again, the Mannheim Gap promises to run blackish-red with the blood of these mortal enemies.
Blood and Fire is told, like Helsreach, from the first person POV of Grimaldus. The whole tale is rendered via his internal monologues. This works, and for a very good reason: AD-B is one of the very few authors that is talented enough to properly depict what the mindset of one of these superhumans might be. Space Marines aren't only superhumans, or jacked up humans, or humans minus fear. They are, for all intents and purposes, a separate race with certain similar values, or, as Grimaldus puts it, "a weapon with a human soul". It is a herculean task for any author to sit in the mindset of any alien entity for the course of an entire novel; for one of two mistakes can occur. First, the author might not be up to snuff and write the character as a slightly modified human, thus risking forfeiture of that race's identity. Second, the depiction might be so accurate, so "alien", that audiences may not be able to sympathize with the characters. Sometimes it is best to view these superhumans in an observational capacity, like in shorts such as Witness. But, again, AD-B (and a few other Black Library scribes) can pull off this first person view.
Grimaldus' narration is a mixture of storytelling and philosophical discourse. This being the case, the action scenes are retold as stories as well. We get an account of the Mannheim Gap massacre, a great, juicy tale of how Grimaldus earned his skull face, and a telling of the relevant events of the second Mannheim campaign. In this last tale, Grimaldus waxes more on the logistical philosophy of combat than on the actual "pew pew pew", which is fine since AD-B has always stressed characterization over bolter porn. Again, he can strike that balance.
Are there any complaints about Blood and Fire? Very few. While AD-B excels at descriptive prose, and his knowledge of the 40K lore is excellent. However, when it comes to dialogue, he sometimes falls into the habit of having different characters speak with the same voice. This is especially obvious when it comes to the "brooding, sarcastic badass" type, making the humorous quips of those such as Talos and Grimaldus essentially interchangeable.
Blood and Fire also offered me a sad epiphany as to the grouchy old codger that I am becoming. It seems I am getting too old and jaded to appreciate pop culture references. In the second battle scene (where Grimaldus earns his stripes), there is an actual Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.
In case you were unfortunate enough to be under a rock for the past 40 years.
Or, as it is referred to in 40K lore, an Antioch Orb. I don't know if this piece of fluff existed before this novella or not, but I kind of just shook my head and wondered if the High Marshal was going to say "We'll not risk another frontal assault, that daemon's dynamite!" Then again, if I had found that Easter egg in my early 20's, I'd have been harassing my friends to read the story on the merits of that alone. So the lesson here, don't get old. It sucks.
But anyway, AD-B still delivers a solid novella featuring some fan favorites (yes, even Andrej makes an appearance). While it doesn't have the epic bombast of Helsreach, or the emotional weight of For the Fallen, it strikes a comfortable balance somewhere in between.
Here's what it is:
An enjoyable novella that sees the return of an iconic character. A good study on how cruel and petty those who wield power can truly be.
Another great cover in the Space Marine Battles series. It's a shame that Grimaldus is mostly cut from the main cover, but it was a good choice to keep the ork and the Celestial Lion in the frame. Here's the full cover so you can enjoy it in all its glory:
I think Tom Cruise sums it up best here....
Cover Final Score: