Bellarius delves into the often overshadowed Lord of the Night by Simon Spurrier to see if it was worth bringing back for Black Library’s print on demand.
“A flawed gem of a title which takes a direction you would not expect for traitor marines.” – The Founding Fields
Lord of the Night is one of Black Library’s fan favourites, comparable in some circles with Storm of Iron and the original Gaunt’s Ghosts novels. While often overlooked due to the Night Lords trilogy these days, it’s still easy to see why; serving as a fascinating character study of the Imperium’s servants, faith, trust and corruption.
The story focuses upon the hive world of Equixus as it has received an important delegation of visitors, an Ordo Xenos Inquisitor and his retinue, as they root out tauist cells within the city. Amongst them is the psychic Interrogator Mita Ashyn, yet to earn her place in their eyes and distrusted for her skills. Unseen however is a much more sinister figure. Trapped within a Warp storm for ten thousand years, the Night Lord commander Zso Sahaal stalks the city, hunting the stolen gift bestowed upon him by his primarch.
The two protagonists serve as contrasting yet comparable figures following the same path from opposite ends. Each having a near mythical figure they serve, each acting as very much the outcast isolated from their kind and each does not know the full truth of their kind as the other does. But whereas one is loyal the other is a traitor, whereas one has seen the face of his god the other is only understands him through prayer and blind devotion.
The similar path they take is what gives the novel its driving force and is easily its best part, exploring their thoughts, personalities and history. Frequently using the on-going plot itself as a device for them to work off of rather than, as seen in some novels, having them serve largely as devices to further the plot. The changes they undergo in the story and events they follow means that by the end neither is the character they were introduced as. While often heavy handed these portrayals they stand head and shoulders above all other characters in the novel, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
While Sahaal and Ashyn’s characterisations are a point of praise, everyone else serves as a one dimensional device for them to be developed from. Far too many points in the plot feel like they’re being driven by the stupidity of the side characters and frequently the Imperium’s paranoia is ramped up to ludicrous degrees. The crowning examples of this are with Equixus’ arbites. Notably an obstructive commander causing problems because he has heard of the inquisition blowing up worlds for minor heresies, not even considering that his own actions could be grounds for accusations of heresy. Also an unnamed subordinate of who shuns Ashyn upon realising she’s a psycher, instantly forgetting she just saved him by fighting off a traitor astartes. You can’t help but feel the novel would be much shorter if Equixus’ population had a few more brain-cells between them.
The only positive upside of this is the satisfaction of seeing most of them get killed in one of the book’s many bloody skirmishes. While not holding a candle to what was seen in Fire Warrior, Spurrier clearly knew what he was doing when dealing with Sahaal, having him perform the Batman style stealth assaults his legion have become known for. While lacking in some descriptions these are again another aspect used to further the characters in many aspects, building them up and establishing them in the eyes of the reader.
If there is a definite flaw to be found, besides Sahaal’s jaunt in the Warp, in this it’s that the book reserves far too much of its payoff for the last chapters. While this might sound strange, aside from the character insight much of the book up to Part Four feels like it’s spinning its wheels. It just keeps hammering in the same plot points, using the same cardboard side-characters, and focusing upon them for far longer than you’d want it to without any real indication of progression. Any developments never seem to bring the character’s closer to their goals and it’s only in the last few hundred pages that they actually do start to make serious progress and the reader gets answers. This also leads to Sahaal only having a brief exchange with the members of his legion which have seen the last ten thousand years, most of which is isolated to one character. It lacks much of the impact for the payoff you’d want despite the revelations it gives and final stages of Sahaal’s development.
If you are looking for a novel which explore characters, many aspects of faith and obedience but willing to stomach its failings with pace and secondary characters, definitely look this one up. In spite of its flaws it’s a very good entry into the Night Lords books and was responsible for popularising many now well-known concepts such as Konrad Curze’s split personality and the role of the legion in the Crusade. Just be ready to get infuriated every few pages though.