When i heard that a special edition hard cover of Helsreach was coming out, i naturally was quite excited. However it was the fact that a sequel would be included with the hard cover, that made my reluctance to purchase said novel (again) quickly vanish.
Despite my excitement i did approach the novella with some caution as i really didn’t want my expectations to rise so high that the story would just fail under the weight of my own expectations.
During his last days upon the war-torn world of Armageddon, Reclusiarch Grimaldus of the Black Templars investigates a disturbing account of the possible involvement of the Inquisition, in the wholesale destruction of the Celestial Lions Space Marine Chapter.
I shouldn’t even have to mention that the best part of Blood and Fire is the fact that we get to spend a hundred or so more pages with Grimaldus. The ending to Armageddon although pitch perfect and suited to the story just leaves you wanting to hear more stories about him. After all Helsreach is essentially the origin about how Grimaldus becomes the Reclusiarch he is meant to be.
The character arc that brings him here is not forgotten, and it is quite easy to see the contrast between the Grimaldus of the past to the one that was born when he crawled out from the wreckage of the Temple of the Emperor Ascendant. However that being said Grimaldus is still rather new to his current method of thinking, he constantly relates this through his internal monologues about how he would’ve thought before, or how his mentor Mordred would’ve responded to a certain situation.
Thankfully Demski – Bowden explored this to the fullest potential, and keeps Grimaldus from devolving into the usual cardboard cut out that always threatens to take over characters like Space Marines. It is Grimaldus’ internal thoughts and constant corrections to himself that keeps his human quality about him; although he is free from the chains of doubt, he is still in the process of accepting who he is now.
Other highlights are the returns of some of the supporting cast of Helsreach, and the author gives a final battle that is worthy of being a bookend to the journey of the Black Templars new Reclusiarch on Armageddon.
The biggest problem the novella has, is the fact that Helsreach’s story was so fully tied into Grimaldus’ change that Blood and Fire is almost a completely unnecessary add-on. Grimaldus is a static character in Blood and Fire out of necessity, as any change would render the previous story’s narrative depth null and void. I suspect the author knew this when he set out to write this novella. As he compensates with a brisk pace and a much shorter format, that doesn’t allow the story to sag from the lack of the strong character driven foundation that Helsreach possessed.
On a minor note, i do find it irritating that the included art of the book, and the physical model of Grimaldus doesn’t match up with the description of him in the novella (eg. In the book he is described as having a relic like white skull death mask but in the art/models he is given a much more plainer black one). Also he is referred to as “Reclusiarch” as opposed to “Master of Sanctity” which is the title given to his position within the Black Templars codex. It’s not a deal breaker, i think Demski – Bowden made the better choices of titles and physical descriptions, but it is always a nagging issue.
The last issue i have, would have to be with the ending. Although, unlike say Fall of Damos that just decides to stop telling its story, Blood and Fire concludes on a bit of an improper tone. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but someone who is said to have died in the final battle turns out not to have. Although the ensuing exchange is a humorous one, it feels to me that the serious and contemplative tone that the book had been building up to was thrown into a tail spin. Ultimately i am sad to say that it left me a bit dissatisfied.
Instead of acting as a proper sequel, Blood and Fire serves as an extended epilogue to the events of Helsreach. Its lack of narrative depth is a result of the author not wanting to write another novel length book to change the character of Grimaldus into something else. That level of commitment really would be the only way for it not to be a disservice to, or ruin what was wrought in Helsreach.
Thankfully that doesn’t mean this isn’t worth a read, quite the contrary. As it is a shining example of what types of intriguing stories and characters the 40k universe can provide when in the right hands, and the simple fact that it is a “further adventures of Grimaldus and company” is something that i frankly can’t help but love.
**** OUT OF FIVE STARS