Blood and Fire. Aaron Dembski-Bowden has Black Templars Reclusiarch Grimaldus join the last stand of Celestial Lions Space Marines Chapter in the closing days of the Third War for Armageddon (shortly after the events of Helsreach).
If this isn’t some of the most iconic, epic Warhammer 40K material ever, I don’t know what is.
Blood and Fire is a brilliant read. Nothing less was expected from Aaron Dembski-Bowden taking on Grimaldus for a second time. If anything, it’s the sheer awesomeness of Grimaldus as a character that gets into the way of things. He doesn’t share the limelight easily, not even with the tragically doomed Celestial Lions, who eventually take a back-seat to the grim Black Templar.
In the aftermath of the war for Hive Helsreach, Black Templars Chaplain Grimaldus receives a unexpected distress call from an old ally. The Celestial Lions Space Marines are being targeted by the Inquisition and have been brought to the brink of extinction. Will they regroup and rebuild, or will they choose to go out in a final blaze of glory? That is what Grimaldus must decide..
#1 – The Format: Armageddon
Helsreach is one of Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s older stories. Blood and Fire is a newer one, originally published as a Black Library novella. Black Library now bundles them together as “Armageddon”, both as hard-cover Space Marines Battles novel and ebook-bundle.
Blood and Fire can be bought separately on iTunes for £3.49. I don’t think Blood and Fire is still available by itself in print.
In the Armageddon hardcover, Blood and Fire takes up 89 pages, considerably shorter than the “full” 330+ pages novel Helsreach.
#2 – The Last Stand of the Celestial Lions
Ok. I suppose most people heard or read about the Celestial Lions, a Space Marines chapter that crossed the wrong Inquisitor, ending up marked for death by the Inquisition. Blood and Fire opens with the Inquisition’s work largely done. The Celestial Lions are down to the last few units and in the middle of preparing a last glorious charge into a rift known as Mannheim Gap, one of the remaining Ork strongholds on Armageddon after Ghazghkull has fled the planet.
As Celestial Lions share their Primarch with the Black Templars, and because they are out of Chaplains, they turn to the newly famous Hero of Helsreach – Reclusiarch Grimaldus – to bless their last, suicidal charge and honourable death.
“Will you bless our last hours, Reclusiarch, and consecrate our final deeds?”
I looked across the foundry’s junkyard, where Cyneric patrolled with another Lion, bolters in their hands. I rose to my feet amidst their desperate, respectful silence. Ekene started to object, to ask em to stay, but my mind was ironclad. The decision had been made.
Grimaldus, of course, has other plans! I am not going to spoil them, even in this massively spoiler-filled review, but it’s well worth reading.
#3 – Reclusiarch Grimaldus Steals the Show
As said, Grimaldus (and his new Chaplain-in-training-sidekick Cyneric) still the show.
Aaron Dembski-Bowden does his best with the Celestial Lions, but he clearly enjoys writing about Black Templars more. Ultimately, the Celestial Lions remain a somewhat two-dimensional mix of “honourable-to-the-end” and a few jungle/lion-themed puns. The dilemma of the Lions is quickly narrated, and beyond that it feels more like an excuse for more Black Templars-flavoured musing about the nature of war, the Imperium, and the role of the Space Marines within it.
He chuckled as he watched it die. I have recorded elsewhere that what earned Cyneric his commendations to the Chaplaincy were his other numerous virtues and fervent insights, but in this personal accounting I can confess it was then, in that moment, as he laughed at the asphyxiating alien’s pain, that I made my decision.
His hatred was pure.
That is without a doubt where Aaron Dembski-Bowden is at his best. If you love Helsreach and hunger for more Black Templars, Blood and Fire delivers. If you’re reading Blood and Fires for more depth on the Celestial Lions, you might leave slightly disappointed.
#4 – The Verdict
I may be fishing for reasons here to not give ADB the third 5-stars in a row in my book-review-collection. Blood and Fire is an awesome story. As a Black Templars tale, it’s easily 5 stars.
The only (minor) nitpick is the (I felt) slightly wasted opportunity to give the Celestial Lions a bit more substance.
Then again, with Grimaldus in the room, few other characters (or chapter) can manage to shine.
Oh, and the action is – of course – top-notch.
A worthy read!