Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 5 June 2021)
Length: 13 hours and 29 minutes
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Prepare to return to the violent and deadly world beneath the hive cities of Necromunda, as Denny Flowers presents an outstanding and compelling entry in the Warhammer 40,000 universe with Fire Made Flesh.
Over the last year or so I have been having fun exploring the immense extended universe that has sprung up around the Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy tabletop games. I have so far read several cool entries in the Gortrex and Felix fantasy series (Trollslayer, Skavenslayer and Daemonslayer), as well as the awesome science fiction reads First and Only and Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker. However, my favourite Warhammer novel so far was the deeply entertaining Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty, which was part of the Necromunda sub-series, another tabletop game set in the gothic Warhammer 40,000 universe.
The Necromunda games and extended universe are all set in and around the towering and immense hive city, Hive Primus, capital of the industrial planet of Necromunda. Hive Primus is a city of billions, with the inhabitants crammed together in a massive hive structure located both above and below ground. Necromunda fiction is primarily based in the Underhive, the foundational layers of the hive and below, made up of tunnels, habitation zones and caverns, most of which have been abandoned as the hive was built up. The Underhive is filled with various gangs and feuding families who fight in these tunnels for riches, dominance and glory. This unique landscape makes for some impressive stories, such as the awesome narrative of the latest Necromunda novel, Fire Made Flesh.
Deep underneath Hive Primus many secrets and treasures lay hidden in the darkness, waiting to be found by bold adventurers, but none are spoken of with more reverence than the lost habitation dome, Periculus. Periculus was once a flourishing base of commerce where both sanctioned trade and illicit dealings were held, and vast wealth was accumulated. However, Periculus was mysteriously abandoned years ago when its inhabitants were killed, and all knowledge of its location has been lost. Now, after years of searching, someone has rediscovered the dome, and all hell is about to break loose.
Believing that the ruins of Periculus hold innumerable treasures and opportunities, various gangsters, Guilders, hive scum and opportunists have descended into the Underhive, hoping to stake their claim. However, none of the people moving towards Periculus are more dangerous than the revered Lord Silas Pureburn of the Guild of Fire. Holding a monopoly on energy production in the Underhive and gifted with a holy flame from the God Emperor himself, Pureburn inspires loyalty and religious fervour wherever he goes. However, behind his holy facade of purity and flame lies a dark soul determined to dominate everything and everyone he encounters. One of the few people to see the truth about Pureburn is young Guilder Tempes Sol. Sol, a scion of the Mercator Lux, the Guild of Light, has found himself bested by Pureburn many times, and he is determined to discover the truth behind his improbable works. After an unholy accident scars Sol and leaves him with an unusual power, he is forced to flee his guild and travel to Periculus, where his only hope of redemption lies in exposing Pureburn as a fraud.
However, upon arriving at Periculus, Sol discovers a settlement on the edge. Pureburn has gathered around him an army of religious fanatics who control Periculus through fear, fire and bloodshed. Determined to stop his insidious influence before it is too late, Sol attempts to forge alliances with other newly arrived inhabitants of Periculus who have been disadvantaged by Pureburn. However, the deeper Sol dives into Pureburn’s actions, the more danger he finds himself in, as this seemingly holy man hides a dark and disturbing secret. Worse, even more terrible dangers are affecting people within the dome, as twisted creatures roam the shadows, and the humans are struck with a dark rage that drives them to great acts of violence. As the forces within gather for a final deadly confrontation, the fate of both Periculus and the entirety of Hive Primus hangs in the balance.
Fire Made Flesh was an interesting and impressive read that did an amazing job of bringing the twisted maze of the Necromunda Underhive to life. This was actually the debut novel of author Denny Flowers, who has previously written some fun Necromunda short fiction and novellas but had yet to produce a full-length book. This turned out to be a pretty awesome first novel from Flowers, and I had an outstanding time getting through the intense story, especially with its unique locales and outrageous characters, and it was a fantastic piece of Necromunda fiction.
At the heart of Fire Made Flesh lies a compelling and intense story that showcases the unique and deadly battle for control of Periculus. After some set-up to show the rediscovery of the lost dome, Flowers starts establishing the various characters and their motivations, exploring how and why they are heading to Periculus. Told from multiple character perspectives, the reader gets an interesting look at each point-of-view character, as well as the people they travel with. While this was a good introduction to the many complex aspects and figures of the novel, it did make the pacing of the first third of Fire Made Flesh a tad slow, with a couple of difficult sections. However, these pacing issues are resolved around halfway through Fire Made Flesh, once all the primary characters make it to Periculus. From that point onward, the book really picks up, especially as the reader has grown attached to protagonists by this point. From there the rest of the story is extremely fast, with a big moment two-thirds in, resulting in utter bedlam across Periculus and thrusting each of the characters into extreme danger. After several intense and action-packed sequences, the entire narrative gets wrapped up extremely well in a satisfying conclusion, with each of the fun character arcs set up throughout the book coming together wonderfully. I had an absolute blast with this narrative, and I felt that it had the right blend of action, intrigue, character development and Warhammer 40,000/Necromunda detail, to keep every reader happy. I was really impressed by how Flowers was able to bring the disparate storylines together into one entertaining read, and I ended up powering through the last half of the novel in less than a day. I also deeply enjoyed some of the cool twists and reveals right near the end, as they contained some excellent character moments. Interestingly, the story is left open for a sequel, and I know I will be curious to see what happens in the Underhive next time.
Fire Made Flesh is an excellent addition to the Necromunda range of fiction, and I appreciated how Flowers attempted to examine and recreate the various elements of the unique landscape and culture featured within this fictional location. Flowers really dived into the lore surrounding Necromunda, and the reader is soon engulfed in discussions about the social order, technology, and religious zeal of the Hive City. While the author did a good job of trying to give context to this setting and its various features, readers may get a little overwhelmed with all the unique lore elements that are shovelled into it, especially at the front of the book when Flowers was trying to set everything up. While I managed to keep my head around what was happening and what the characters were talking about, I could easily see a reader who has less experience with Warhammer 40,000/Necromunda lore, being a bit more confused and potentially getting lost. Still, this ended up being a great Necromunda novel, and I loved the way in which the author featured the various gangs and controlling interests. I especially enjoyed the in-depth examination of the Guilders, Hive Primus’s merchant class, who provide the various services to keep the settlements running. Fire Made Flesh features members from the various guilds, each of whom have different professions, including slavers, energy providers, fuel dispensers and corpse grinders (people who process bodies to produce corpse-starch, the hive’s primary food source). Readers get a pretty intense crash course in Necromunda lore in this book and will end up having a good understanding of how Underhive works. There are a lot of details that will appeal to long-term fans of the Necromunda game and its associated extended fiction, and they will no-doubt love to see another entertaining and dark adventure. While there are some connections to previous novels, including some of Flower’s short-fiction, I would say its easy enough for most people familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe to jump into this book without getting too lost, and even general science fiction fans should be able to have fun with this novel.
Flowers also makes great use of the dark and dangerous setting that is the Underhive throughout Fire Made Flesh. The Underhive is already an awesome and well-established setting, but Flowers really tried to show just how hostile and unpredictable it could be. There are some great descriptions of the tight walkways, giant caverns and isolated settlements which prove to be an outstanding backdrop to the dark narrative, and I had a lot of fun exploring some new locations in this novel. Periculus itself is also an impressive setting, as the reader is treated to an intriguing look at a newly formed town that is slowly getting to its feet in the ruins of an abandoned settlement, and all the strife that comes as a result. The depictions of the town surrounded by monsters, coated with powdered bone, and filled with fractious groups with enflamed personalities, really helps to set the mood for much of the novel, especially as it all comes crumbling down again. I deeply enjoyed this cool setting and I think that it was an exceptional addition to a fun novel.
I also had a lot of fun with the compelling collection of characters featured in Fire Made Flesh. Flowers made use of several entertaining point-of-view characters throughout this novel, including several protagonists of his previous short fiction reads, and this results in a vibrant and well set-up blend of personalities and compelling personas. The central protagonist is Tempes Sol, the young Guilder genius who spends his days attempting to understand power, electricity, and technology. Tempes has a rather rough journey in this novel, mostly brought on by his obsession with stopping the book’s antagonist, Pureburn, who has bested him in several prior encounters. However, this time Tempes is suffering from the after-effects of a psychic attack, which has gifted him strange lightning abilities associated with his cybernetic upgrades. Cast out of his guild and on the run, Tempes is a desperate figure in this novel, attempting to show the hypocrisy of Pureburn while also trying to redeem himself and understand his new powers. I felt that Tempes had a very interesting storyline in this novel, and I found his personal growth and the exploration of his personal technology to be quite fascinating. I wasn’t the biggest fan of his impulsive behaviour and self-righteous personality, but he did start to shed those as the novel progressed, while also developing a certain amount of savviness, especially when it came to some of his supposed allies. It looks like Flowers is setting Tempes up for some interesting storylines in the future, and I would be quite keen to see this protagonist in another book at some point.
I was also a big fan of the antagonist of Fire Made Flesh, Lord Silas Pureburn. Pureburn is another Guilder character who specialises in bringing fire and fuel to isolated communities, even when it shouldn’t be possible. This, and his family’s legacy as keepers of a holy flame, sees him given religious reverence by the general population, as well a collection of devoted, if deranged, followers, who view him as a celebrated champion of the Emperor. However, Pureburn is really a deceitful and manipulative being, who cares only for profit and his own selfish goals. Flowers does an amazing job setting this antagonist up and the reader is soon pretty sick of his hypocrisy and arrogance, something that become really apparent after you read a few of his point of view chapters. Pureburn ends up annoying or alienating every single protagonist in this book, which results in a loose alliance as everyone attempts to take him down. I love a villain so evil that he brings different people together, and this was a great antagonist to hate, especially once you find out the true source of his power.
Aside from this compelling protagonist and entertaining antagonist, this novel also featured a great range of additional characters with whom the reader gets to spend time with. My personal favourite had to be Lord Credence Sorrow, a corpse grinder contracted to bring food to Periculus against his will. Sorrow is a lover of fine things, and his enjoyment of delicate items and gourmet food is at odds with his profession of turning corpses into edible powder. This character has a brilliant amount of flair, and all his scenes are particularly entertaining, especially as he keeps finding himself stuck between some dangerous employers, resulting in quite a fun and fitting overarching storyline. I also had a great time with the oddball partnership of Caleb Cursebound, the self-proclaimed ninth most dangerous man in the Underhive, and his silent Ratskin partner Iktomi. These two make a great pair, especially as Caleb has all the bluster and personality, while Iktomi has a wicked amount of lethal skill, making them a surprisingly effective team, and I loved the entertaining odd-couple vibes that they gave out throughout the book. I also must highlight Anquis, a member of the notorious Delaque family of spies and infiltrators. Anguis spends most of the novel helping Tempes achieve his goals with her intelligence-gathering and manipulations. However, it soon becomes quite clear that Anguis is playing her own games, and no one, especially Sol, knows what she is really after. The final character I want to talk about is Virae the Unbroken, a Chain Lord (slaver) and pit fighter, who is hired to capture unlucky civilians and bring them to Periculus for labour purposes. Despite initially appearing as a blunt and unforgiving figure, Virae soon proves to be one of the most complex and best-written characters in the entire novel. Virae is a former slave herself, who proved herself to be tough and unbreakable, resulting in her title and her eventual promotion to slaver. However, she really struggles with her profession in this novel, especially after many of her charges die on the journey to Periculus. Her battles for survival, especially in the face of Pureburn’s evilness are pretty excellent, and I loved her eventually transformation into a bloody figure of vengeance. This turned out to be an outstanding collection of characters, and I deeply appreciated how Flowers used them to enhance Fire Made Flesh’s great narrative and make it even more exciting and compelling.
I decided to grab the audiobook version of Fire Made Flesh. This format has a decent run time of around 13 and a half hours, and I ended up powering through it in only a few days, especially once the story started to get very exciting and fun. I had an outstanding time getting through this audiobook, and one of the main reasons for this was the impressive narration of Joe Jameson, whose work I have previously highlighted in awesome fantasy audiobooks like King of Assassins by R. J. Barker, and The Kingdom of Liars and The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell. These previous works by Jameson have been some of best audiobooks of their respective release year, and Jameson is easily one of my favourite narrators. He has an outstanding voice for fantasy and science fiction, and I love the way he can make a story move at a fast pace while also ensuring that the listener is absorbing all the detail and obscure lore with interest. Jameson did a really good job of voicing each of the characters within Fire Made Flesh, and while some of the voices were very similar to those he used in the other books, I think that they fitted this new group of characters extremely well. You get a real sense of the various emotions and personalities of each of these characters, and his affinity for voicing outrageous figures such as religious zealots and conniving businessmen proved very useful here. I had a great time with this audiobook, and it was an amazing way to enjoy this dark and compelling story.
Fire Made Flesh by Denny Flowers is an exciting and captivating novel in the Necromunda series. This is an entertaining and intense science fiction read that makes full use of the unique Warhammer 40,000 universe, the cool setting of the Underhive, and some great and memorable new characters, to produce an electrifying tale. I had a fantastic time reading this book and I cannot wait to see what other adventures wait for this outrageous group of characters in any future Necromunda novels Flowers writes.