Today I’m going to talk about the Tome of Fire Series, not the book of the same name that’s going to be released some time later this year. The trilogy consists of three books: Salamander, Firedrake and Nocturne, and, surprise, surprise, stars the Salamanders Space Marine Chapter.
I picked up Salamander after reading Hell Night. I wrote about my opinion of Hell Night in an earlier post. Having read the series, Hell Night makes much more sense! It still doesn’t excuse the daft names but it makes the story far more understandable.
The series is very much character driven, but that is not to say that the plot is not nice and tight. It’s very lean with nothing happening without a reason. Even quite small things feed straight into the plot. That’s not to say that there aren’t side plots, the character driven nature of the series means that there are plenty of strong secondary characters with their own stories, but in the end, these fit right back into the main story.
The secondary characters, particularly the protagonists, are the stars of the stories. The primary antagonist, Nihilan, is rather sketchily written in. The other antagonists are seen a little bit more personally, particularly the Dark Eldar and the sinister Salamander Iagon.
The primary protagonists are Hazon Dak’ír and Zek Tsu’gan. Both of the characters are, at the start of the series at least, sergeants in the Salamanders’ Third company, and both hate the other’s guts! It’s quite a nice touch having two main characters who not only start off hating each other, but show no intention of ever doing so right up to the end. Both are flawed, but both have their good points. Tsu’gan is rather stuck up, and a little too fond of masochism, both things that are used to manipulate him. He is haunted by failure, a failure that he shares with Dak’ir, and which only fuels the hate between them. However, his sense of failure also links into his extreme bravery and his longing to do what’s right. In Salamander we see this in his campaign against the new Captain of Third, not, as Dak’ir thinks, purely for personal gain, but because he does not think that N’kel is right for the job. This desire to do what is right really shines in Firedrake and, a little bitter-sweetly, in Nocturne.
Dak’ir is an outsider, the first member of the nomadic Igneans to be accepted as a member of the Chapter. He is particularly human, even for a member of the unusually compassionate Salamanders Chapter, but he is a bit of an outsider, even among his own people. He also dreams. These dreams are manifestations of what turn out to be rather potent psychic powers. One little niggle I have with Kyme’s otherwise good characterisation, is that nobody seems to realise this until the end of Salamander. Some members seem to have suspicions that something is not right, but nobody seems to go “hang on, shouldn’t we actually test this guy or something?”.
When you start Salamander, it feels as if Dak’ir is going to be the star of the series, in some ways he is, but although we see a lot of him in Salamander, we see less of him in the other two books, and more of the secondary characters. This is not actually a fault. If the books had focused purely on Dak’ir and Nihilan the plot would have been: “Woe is me. Why aren’t I accepted?”, “Revenge!”, “I’m a psyker?”, “Revenge! Mwa ha ha ha!”, “Woe is me. I’m a psyker and a prophesy and no one is ever going to accept me.”, which would not make a particularly good book, let alone a whole series!
It is in the end, the secondary characters that really shine in the series, everyone from the boy Val’in, to Brother, later Sergeant, Ba’ken, the Apothecary Fugis, Chaplain Elysius and the Librarian, Pyriel. Nobody is perfect, nobody is irritating, and you really sympathise with them.
In conclusion, although this series is not perfect, it’s an enjoyable read, full of likeable characters. While the books are not among the most sparkling of those published by Black Library, they do what they need to and, as a result, are well worth reading!