Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the exemplary start to the Night Lords trilogy, Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
“An amazing start to an amazing trilogy, not only because it uses the most underrated group of Space Marines in 40k, but with some of the best characters in Black Library, an epic plot and plenty of grim humour to boot, how could it not be awesome?” – The Founding Fields
Soul Hunter is a special novel to me. It was the first Night Lords novel and the first novel that I ever reviewed, because it was just so awesome that I had to share my thoughts on it. This is a re-review because my review back then could use some retouching and updating.
The Night Lords are a scattered Legion. No-one has truly led them since Konrad Curze allowed himself to die on Tsagualsa 10,000 years ago, now they roam the galaxy bringing terror and death wherever they go. When Talos, the Prophet of the Eighth Legion, suffers a vision of a world named Crythe the 10th company makes for the planet, only to find that the Black Legion are here already. And with them is the Warmaster Abaddon, who has a task for the Sons of Curze. With the Blood Angels charging towards Crythe to end the threat and the Black Legion, always untrustworthy allies, at their back with bolters aimed at them, the Night Lords find themselves trapped and must trust each other in order to escape the deathtrap that is Crythe Primus.
The story that Soul Hunter starts is not only about the Night Lords but about the protagonist most of all. Talos Valcoran. This is his story more than anything else, and it’s a damn good story. Aaron tells a character driven story, one that explores Talos as much as it does his Legion, this book focusing on his status within the Legion and about his beliefs regarding the Imperium, Chaos and the other Legions. But it’s also a story about the Night Lords in the present day, how they are viewed by other Legions, how they view their own brothers and about the general situation that the Legion itself is in, and the 10th company as it becomes involved in the Battle of Crythe. ADB also uses flashbacks to tell the story of the Night Lords after the Heresy, how they survived and what they did, and these parts feature some surprisingly revelations about Konrad Curze and about his Legion as a whole. I also very much enjoyed the links to Simon Spurrier’s Lord of the Night, though you’d have to have read the book to understand them.
One thing that Aaron does well, among many others, is characters, believable yet alien characters. It’s this series’s characters that I feel put him a league above other authors for one key reason, he made Chaos Space Marines sympathetic. And these are not guys who go easy on the murder and mayhem, they are just as evil as the Black Legion or the Word Bearers, but the novel gives us many characters from Talos the Prophet, Cyrion, Uzas, Xarl, and the slaves Septimus and Octavia whose own story is that of a new arrival to servitude to the Legion and it’s through her that we learn about the Night Lords from those who are the closest to them. But the traitor marines are the best part of it, the dark humour of Cyrion makes me laugh whenever he cracks a joke, Uzas whom at first I thought i’d hate but I grew to love as much as the others, Xarl the straight-man whose more dangerous than an entire Tactical squad. But Talos most of all for being one of the most complicated characters that i’ve read, and who is definitely one of my favourite fictional characters overall.
The battles are done as well as you’d expect ADB to do them, brilliantly. The terror and rapid strike warfare of the Night Lords makes for very interesting reading, whether they are boarding enemy ships, fighting a Warhound Titan on foot, or battling Space Marines in tight corridors, the Night Lords are always a delight to read in battle. Uzas in particular was fun as I couldn’t help but chuckle as he praised Khorne and hacked his way through deck hands or blasted a Titan at near point blank with a bolter, some battle humour is always welcome. But the battles are very well written and coreographed, and it’s a very interesting sign when you find yourself rooting for the traitor marines and not the loyalists, or even just the traitors and hoping that not one loyalist survives.
The pacing is nicely done as well. ADB creates a very dark atmosphere aboard the Covenant of Blood and on Crythe, using the darkest aspects of 40k life for slaves and prisoners to make the locales fit in with the theme and protagonists of the novel. His dark humour keeps the novel from becoming too grimdark, and his addition of an actual use of the Nostraman tongue really lets you get into the novel and feel like you are actually there on board the Covenant with First Claw. And the flashback scenes were a brilliant touch, elaborating on a pivotal moment in 40k that i’m sure many were dying to know more about.
Now for my favourite quote, there is one that cracks me up every time I read it but i’ll go for this one instead just for how awesome it was in the book,
“Even after all this time, you are still a worm.”
The ending is rather surprising and sad, surprising because of it turning to a POV that was completely unexpected and unshadowed by the book, yet it promises so much more to come that you’ll be hard-pressed not to turn to Blood Reaver and start reading right away. And sad because of the fate of one character, without spoilers you don’t see this particular type of character dying in 40k and yet it happens here, a very grimdark moment that gives you a very good image of the harshness of life aboard the Covenant and in the 41st millennium as a whole.
For a brilliant start to what is, in my opinion the best series that Black Library has to offer, characters that are some of my favourite fictional characters of all, and for being the first real book about my favourite Legion and not just one character of it, I give Soul Hunter a score of 9.0/10. Any fan of Chaos Space Marines NEEDS to read this book, as do any other 40k fans and perhaps even just sci-fi fans. This is a series that I believe any sci-fi fan can love and hopefully many will use this series as their first step into the grim darkness of the 41st millennium.
That’s it for this review. Next will be a review for Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy, so until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX! IN MIDNIGHT CLAD!