Wednesday, 7 July 2010

'Soul Hunter' by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Time for something new for The Glorious Works, a book review! I wanted to start with this book for two reasons, firstly and obviously I’ve just read it! Secondly, it’s really inspired me in regards to which army I might build for 40k next! Anyway, I’m a proper fanboy so this probably won’t be the purest book review and just as much a chance to talk over the awesome background material! So, on with it…!

The plot of ‘Soul Hunter’ centres around the assault on the Crythe Cluster by the forces of Abaddon the Despoiler, amongst them the Night Lords aboard the Strike Cruiser Covenant of Blood. The central character is Talos, formerly an Apothecary in 10th Company but now de-facto leader of First Claw after the decline of 10th. The plot moves along nicely and Demski-Bowden has a knack for knowing when to leave proceedings and throw us back in a little further along in the plot. I can’t remember feeling as if the story was coasting at any point and to use the old cliché this made the book a real page turner!

The principal characters are all very well developed and have that gritty Warhammer 40,000 feel to them even the best amongst them are flawed. Of particular note in my opinion are some of the slightly less central characters in the plot. Especially Dembski-Bowden’s interpretations of Abaddon The Despoiler and Malcharion the Dreadnought. I noticed in the discussion between Aaron Dembski-Bowden and Dan Abnett that the Black Library published on their website there was mention of proposing a series of books about The Despoiler. I would dearly love to see Dembski-Bowden working on that, after more Night Lords book of course! Dembski-Bowden’s Abaddon captures all the facets you’d expect of such a character and he does this in a very short cameo appearance. As for Malcharion, Aaron Dembski-Bowden does a brilliant job of describing the dishonour as which Malcharion sees his fate and his detachment from the world of the living but we also see the inspiring presence such a legendary hero brings to his men and the internal conflict all of this brings about in the old warrior.

I saw your Emperor. A handful of times
back in the age before he betrayed us all...

And he was no god. Perhaps not a man, but
never a god.
Talos of the Night Lords

I had a feeling I’d love this book when I read in Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s bio that he got into the hobby through Space Crusade, which was what suckered me in all those years ago! It certainly appears from this book that Aaron Dembski-Bowden has been immersed in the Warhammer 40,000 ethos for a long time. You get the impression that the quest for justice and vindication was just as much Dembski-Bowden’s quest to ensure the Night Lords were done justice. A great legion, full of character the Night Lords have been sadly a little sidelined in recent years, being only a little footnote in the last Chaos Space Marines codex and completely absent from the Horus Heresy books so far! Dembski-Bowden does a wonderful job in this book of creating the character of the legion and showing the influences of their unique home world Nostramo. This is done in subtle ways such as the use of the word night when we would often use day and humerous little nods such as the Rhino named Carpe Noctum – Seize the Night. What he certainly doesn’t do is just play to the clichéd spikey marines vibe. Don’t get me wrong, the Night Lords are seemingly spikier than a herd of hedgehogs in a stack of needles but Dembski-Bowden plays upon the character of the legion and not just the appearance they choose so as to instil fear in their enemies.

Dembski-Bowden also captures that whilst renegades, the Night Lords aren’t heretics in the same sense as the World Eaters, Word Bearers, Sons of Horus etc. Their fall happened before Horus’ treachery came to the fore and had little to do with the chaos gods. The Night Lords were already enemies of the Imperium because of what they felt to be a great injustice done against them by the Emperor of mankind. When the galactic civil war broke out they only had one side to join. The Night Lords are noble in their suffering. They survive with only a handful of their former numbers and a skeleton crew aboard their vessel. They salvage equipment from the dead and they continue their war of terror on the Imperium, in their view, in the name of justice and vindication following the martyrdom of their Primarch.

Residing in the warp as they now have to the taint of chaos is evident amongst them but they haven’t ideologically embraced it and indeed many see it as decay and abhor their brothers who become slaves to the Dark Gods. One of my favourite parts of this book was when each of the chaos gods speak to Talos in turn, offering their gifts should he swear himself to them. Each of the gods appearing as altered reflections of himself. It’s a wonderfully written section of the book and really captures the characters of the Ruinous Four.

We will bring our wrath upon the empire
betrayed us, and though the ages may see
us divided
and broken by the endless war ahead,
we will stand untainted
until the stars themselves die
The War-Sage Malcharion

There are plenty of amazing scenes in this story and I do wonder if Aaron Dembski-Bowden had sitting on his desk a ‘Rule of Cool Checklist’ specially for writing this.
Dreadnought vs. Dreadnought. Check. Marines felling a Titan. Check. Pretty much anything to do with the Night Lords. Check…

The only dislike I had of the book was in regards to The Exalted and how the story ended. I thought his actions in the finish, whilst believable, seemed a slight contradiction to his character up until that point and this wasn’t really ever justified enough to the reader which gave the ending a slightly rushed feel.

Certainly after reading ‘Soul Hunter’ I’m quite keen to read ‘Helsreach’ and the future Horus Heresy book ‘The First Heretic’ about another chapter I love, the Word Bearers, both by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Next month also sees the release of ‘Throne of Lies’ an audio cd following on from the events of ‘Soul Hunter’. Personally, I’ve never quite gotten on with the audio book format but I might be inclined to give it another go given the subject matter and the author. In my opinion the duopoly of Abnett and McNeil as the great writers of the Black Library has been broken. The triumvirate of Dembski-Bowden, Abnett and McNeil shall reign supreme!

All in all then it’s a very worthy 9/10. Earning it the Mark of Tzeentch, certainly the Exalted would be happy with that but not sure how pleased Talos would be with the fall to the Dark Gods…


Anonymous said...

I liked it too, starting a small Night Lords army is tempting isn't it.

Blitzspear said...

I think a trip to the book shop is in the offing this weekend after reading this review.
Been putting it off as i've never read anything by him but all the reviews i've seen are positive.