The Hunt For Vulkan by David Annandale. Book Seven in The Black Library's "The Beast Arises" series, originally published June 2016. Approx. 149 pages.
I had gotten back, put off reading this installment; picked up one of my favorite sci-fi classics, almost finished the reread, and then decided to get myself in gear and keep the reviews of The Beast Arises going. But it was tough going. Honestly, the beginning of this one was a slog. Plus, I'm not crazy about either the Salamanders or their legendary primarch, Vulkan. There was nothing in this one for me to look forward to. So how did it all pan out in the end?
Before I go into detail here, I'm pretty sure that this is the shortest entry thus far in the series. Also, the entire plot synopsis is right there in the title. In brief, predicated upon the revelation that the Beast is based on Ullanor, Koorland begins preparations to lead a massive Imperial force to kill him. Veritus, the Inquisitorial leader on Terra, prompts him to seek out no less than a legend to aid in the strike. He tells Koorland that the last intelligence on Vulkan's whereabouts were on the planet Caldera; and so, the hunt is on.
The rest of the book deals with the hunt, and with the saving of Caldera itself, which is also beset by an ork moon.
The Hunt For Vulkan is almost entirely an action piece, with little room for character growth. A lot of the enjoyment of that aspect lies in how Annandale presents those characters. He gives us a solid Koorland; troubled, capable, and fantastically wrathful. This Slaughter is a win. Thane is another well-balanced presence; but he is still lacking a special spark to make him truly memorable. There are a number of secondary characters mentioned who fill their roles in a satisfactory manner. One standout is General Imren of the Lucifer Blacks, who Annandale infuses with a vital lust for redemption.
The rest of the familiar dramatis personae are relegated to cameo status, and in their limited capacity they make the best of their minute word counts. A particularly poignant example of this is the brief conversation between Kalkator and Zerberyn.
On the other side of the bolter, Annandale gives us some more ferocious, bestial greenskins to act as perennial foils to the Imperium. He displays a real acumen for constructing devious plots and plans to allow the orks to keep one step ahead of the good guys at each turn.
This is a book that will live or die on the quality of its action scenes. Because of this, I was a little bit worried in the beginning, which gives us a standoff between the Fists Exemplar and the cohorts of Mars as Thane is charged with retrieving Urquidex before Kubik can have his mind completely wiped. This encounter reads like a tabletop battle report, and seems more of an excuse to name drop AdMech unit types. The whole thing seems tacked-on, and it reads as such.
Annandale is a writer whose action scenes only compel when they have emotional or ideological underpinnings to them. So, while that initial scene reads as stale, the events on Caldera are truly rousing. Annandale knows how to cultivate despair, how to put victory within reach, and how to make redemption an attainable goal if the hill is charged with enough fervor. These are savage, bloody action scenes, with a strong attention to the details of unit and armament types.
There are a few other solid elements here, but I don't want to teeter too far into spoiler territory. In short, Annandale does a real fine job cultivating the legend of Vulkan, and that, along with the action sequence which is the entire second half of the book, make this a strong entry in the series.
Victor Manuel Leza strikes again with another astounding greenskin.
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