Welcome once again xenos lovers, Imperial loyalists and everyone in between! It is time once again to delve into what the Black Library has to offer. This time I read the novel Soul Hunter by the heretically good Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Soul Hunter is the first installment in the Night Lord Trilogy, and what an opening it is! So, without further delay let us enter the dark and tragic world of the VIII Legion, another example of how someone so noble can fall so far from the Emperor’s grace.
“My sons, the galaxy is burning. We all bear witness to a final truth – our way is not the way of the Imperium.
You have never stood in the Emperor’s light… And you never will…
You shall stand in midnight clad…warring through the centuries as the talons of a murdered god…
Rise my sons, and take your wraith across the stars.
In my name.
In my memory.
RISE MY NIGHT LORDS.”
There are many stories of the fallen Legions and to be honest, most of them are similar to each other. A lot of these try their best to take their own twists, trying to set each other minutely apart. Soul Hunter takes the Chaos Marine stigma, completely obliterates it, packages the sedimentary remains, and ships it back to Terra in hopes that the High Lords take sugar in their tea. Aaron Dembski-Bowden (ADB) is, in my humble opinion, one of the top three authors that the Black Library has to offer and so his reputation precedes this novel. However, no good author goes without a few flaws: Dan Abnett likes to over complicate his dialogue and story line, while Graham McNeil has so much experience and vision when it comes to writing military fiction that he tends to elaborate his battle scenes to the point of losing the reader completely. So, does ADB follow in these footsteps? Or is he completely flawless in his attempt to shed light on the darkest, and arguably, the most tragic Legion to fall from the Emperor’s light?
" I saw your Emperor. A handful of times, back in the age before he betrayed us all…’ The admirals’ death flooded the ships machine spirit, and Talos withdrew the blade in a harsh pull. Blood hissed on the golden blade, dissolving against the heat. ‘ And,’ the Night Lord said to the dying man, ‘he was no god. Perhaps not a man,’ the Astartes smiled, ‘ but never a god."
Soul Hunter takes place in the Crythe Cluster and it is the next target for the up and coming 13th Black Crusade, led by non-other than the Great Despoiler, Abaddon. It is here that the Warmaster calls upon the all but broken 10th company of the Night Lords, who are now nothing more than a marauding war band. The Exalted, the daemon corrupted commander, all but obliges Abaddon’s wishes. Enter Talos, a member of First Claw, who is burdened with his Primarch father’s gift of foresight. He is all too ready to avoid the Black Legion with Abaddon, for he has seen what this battle will bode not only for him and First Claw, but the company itself. Everything from the ever rising threat of betrayal to the thirsting calls of the Gods of Old.
I have to say with great humility, and greater shame, that this was my first experience reading Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s work. To say the very least I wasn’t anywhere near disappointed with the novel as a whole. Without a doubt, ADB is the master of character development, a talent that sadly isn’t too prevalent in the Black Library. He takes a not so popular Legion, with frankly very little back story, and turns them into this noble cause that is so antagonistic yet so sympathetic. Countless times through my journey I had to remind myself that I was reading about the bad guys! With everything that happened to them from the Great Crusade, all the way to the fall out of the Horus Heresy, you can only look with pity upon them. Believe it or not, it will make you question, not only your perspective of Chaos Marines, but that of the Imperium itself. HERESY! I know! Just trust me on this one. When you read about the full damnation of the VIII Legion, you’ll be looking at your precious Imperium a little differently.
As I mentioned previously, with any great writer there will always be flaws that stand contrast to the shining gems of their prose. Mr Dembski-Bowden is no substitute. For whatever he has in the areas great story telling, character development and story progression, he has equally in his lacking ability to write great combat scenes. It feels as though he puts so much effort into writing a near flawless story that by the time it gets to the descriptive nature of combat, he gives up. The Night Lords relish and pride themselves in their ability to strike fear into the enemy whilst breaking their terror stricken bodies against their might, not once did I really get that feeling in this novel. Now keep in mind that one of the necessary conflicts of the story revolves around the idea that the Night Lords can’t bring their own brand of warfare to the Crythe Cluster for reasons that you will later learn, but if this were your first taste of the Night Lords like it was mine, you might end up with a feeling of want. Their terror was always alluded to, but was never truly delivered. The action was there, but it strangely wasn’t enough.
All in all, Soul Hunter is a fantastic novel. ADB gives us such an intimate look at the fallen sons of the Imperium that you find yourself cheering for the “wrong” side. The Night Lords’ very essence is so entrenched in tragedy and heart ache that it leaves them at times emotionally vulnerable. This gave Astartes the quality that they lack so much of…humanity. There were times I read passages that left me truly sad and heart broken. Something I’m not very used to with this universe. To me, any 40k novel that makes your feel any extreme emotion is an automatic winner in my eyes. Soul Hunter will not only impress but will deepen your understanding of the Warhammer universe that we all love. A victory no doubt for the Black Library.
Imperial Clearance Level 2 - Expedite release to general public for immediate consumption.