Published by Black Library
Mass Market Paperback 448 Pages
Book one of The Tome of Fire Trilogy
The Warhammer 40,000 universe has become one of the most popular shared settings in science fiction. With dozens and dozens of novels, stories, and games from storytellers building this dark, gothic future, the line has amassed an intricate story-wide history and legions of fans. Fortunately for readers like myself, a great number of their novels work well as entry points for the uninitiated including Salamander by Nick Kyme, the first in The Tome of Fire trilogy.
Salamanders are the elite fighting units of the Space Marines – the military force of the Emperor’s Imperium of Man. Bred and genetically enhanced to the fullest extent of human physical capabilities, they are on the frontline of the galaxy defending the worlds of man and helping to enact the Emperor’s will. In genre shorthand, think the soldier’s of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers standing seven-feet tall, amped up on steroids, armed with blot throwers and chain-swords.
Kyme’s novel centers on the Third Company of Salamanders just as their captain is killed. While the novel is very much a military SF/Space Opera hybrid, Kyme also focuses on the smaller issues. Not the least of which is the jealousy and infighting of these Salamanders when a member of their own takes up the leadership role upon the captain’s death. From that point, the Third Company is set on mission to find Scoria, a planet long-thought to be lost that may hold some secrets about the very existence and beginning of the Salamander clan of troops.
Of course, all doesn’t go quite according to plan. Along the way, the Salamanders encounter what initially seems to be an abandoned ship floating in space. Unsurprisingly (and we might not have a novel as fun as this turned out to be) the ship is not so abandoned. The Salamanders wind up having to battle some giant insect-like creatures (chitin) and come gun-barrel to gun-barrel with another troop of Marines. Although contentious between military factions are commonplace in military SF, Kyme handles the ego swaggering between the Salamanders and Marines quite well. He infuses these scenes with ample amounts of tension, which help to keep the pages turning. From finding and ancient near-holy artifact on the ‘abandoned’ ship, the Salamanders head out to Scoria.
Kyme populates his Salamanders with quite a range of characters, with Dak’ir as the de-facto protagonist. Da’kir has prophetic dreams and is haunted by past battles, and both of these converge along the way. Other characters include the plotting Iagon and Tsu’gan, as well as the newly appointed captain N’Keln. Considering the novel centers on a troop of Salamanders, there are additional characters. Unfortunately, they weren’t too distinguishable from one another and this was not helped by their similar sounding names often broken by the great genre apostrophe. Kyme also has a tendency to fall back on some tropes that come across as anachronistic – literary phrases that seemed to have lasted 40 thousand years. The only other flaw is an occasionally unevenly paced narrative.
So what do we have here, then? Salamander is an entertaining read that serves as a good primer for the Warhammer 40K universe. I like the mythology that surrounds the Salamanders as well as the universe itself. Kyme has laid out a solid foundation for his series, so I’m looking forward to the second installment of The Tome of Fire trilogy. Furthermore, Kyme has laid more than enough minor details about the Warhammer 40K universe in Salamander to encourage me to read more of the books in the this universe. If you are interested in super-soldiers fighting monsters across the galaxy entrenched in a long-reaching mythology then I’d recommend Salamander.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford