This week, I’m finally uploading my review of the Night Lords Omnibus, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, which I have been promising/threatening to do for months now. A version of this review originally appeared on Amazon, just in case it feels familiar to anyone reading (I have only plagiarised myself, is what I’m saying).
This review contains an affiliate link to Bookshop.org, which will earn me a commission if used, and will help to support independent bookshops.
This omnibus edition of Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s much-loved trilogy consists of all three novels – Soul Hunter, Blood Reaver and Void Stalker – as well as the short stories Shadow Knight, Throne of Lies and The Core, which help to fill in gaps in the history. The remnants of the eighth Legion clash bloodily with loyalists, fellow renegades and heretics, and even the mysterious Eldar as they desperately struggle to survive in a hostile galaxy. Whilst spreading as much terror as possible in their wake, of course.
The trilogy details the fate of the tenth company of the Night Lords legion, focussing specifically on what they refer to as First Claw. They’re a squad of battle-hardened murderers, consisting of Talos (the main character), Cyrion, Xarl, Mercutian and Uzas. Talos is afflicted with visions, similar to those experienced by the revered primarch of the Night Lords, Konrad Curze, leading to the rest of the company referring to him as ”The Prophet”. When lacking orders from the Warmaster, Abaddon, Talos can often give guidance on a course of action based on his visions (neatly setting up plot points and motivation). Whether or not his predictions are heeded is another matter entirely of course – this is, after all, a Chaos Space Marine warband, full of all the infighting, betrayal, distrust and outright murder you would expect. Talos and the leader of the tenth company, The Exalted, are not exactly the best of friends, their strained relationship playing a large part in crafting tension in scenes where the two meet.
Throughout the trilogy, we often witness the actions of the tenth through the eyes of those humans they rely on to do the things that hulking, armoured murderers can’t (or just plain won’t) do. Septimus and Octavia are slaves of Talos – the former his artificer and pilot, the latter the navigator for the ship tenth company travel in, The Covenant of Blood. Septimus has been enslaved for a number of years before we meet him, whereas Octavia is captured during the course of the first novel, so we get the viewpoint of someone who has already come to terms with their position in life and someone who is forced to do so. The reactions of Septimus and Octavia to the things the Night Lords do help to provide a much needed, human perspective on what would otherwise just be a collection of stories about evil beings doing evil things. The presence of Septimus and Octavia in what is a persistently dangerous environment really gives the reader someone to root for too – even if you aren’t swayed to the side of their captors by the grey morality of the universe, you still hope the two slaves will make it out alright.
That grey morality is ever present too. Nobody can make you root for the villains like Aaron Dembski-Bowden can, and this is certainly something explored elsewhere in his work; his more recent Black Legion titles also make excellent use of sympathetic villains. With the Night Lords, much of this is done through reminders that they are just struggling to even survive, their armour a patchwork of pieces liberated from fallen brothers and foes, their ships disintegrating around them and every loss felt keenly. Crafting a narrative which is asking the reader to be on the side of characters who revel in acts of terror and slaughter takes some skill, and it’s laudable that Dembski-Bowden pulls it off so well.
Speaking of acts of terror and slaughter, there are plenty. It wouldn’t be a Warhammer 40,000 book without plenty of “grimdark” in there, and this one has it in spades. Orbital boarding actions, elaborate infiltration missions, torture and terror tactics are all here, giving us more insight than ever before into how the Night Lords fight. A personal highlight was a township invasion which spent a paragraph on each warrior of first claw as they are first encountered by members of the populace. This whole chapter was very stylishly done, and really showed how the Night Lords approach warfare in a distinct and different way to other Chaos legions. The action scenes themselves are excellently paced too, with everything from orbital battles to ground war seeming to leap right off the page. Many of these scenes are as bloody and gore packed as you would probably expect if you’ve read any previous Black Library publications, and I would go so far as to say this trilogy probably ups the ante on these elements, if only because of some of the scenes of torture. You have been warned…
Simply put, this book is one of the best Black Library publications I’ve ever read. It’s full of interesting and distinct characters being manipulated by forces they don’t fully understand, as well as by allies they can’t completely trust. A must for fans of Warhammer 40,000, and recommended for fans of the military sci-fi genre too.
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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Night Lords: The Omnibus, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden”
Yay for Aaron Dembski-Bowden! Definitely one of the best of the Black Library authors. I’m lucky to have him on the chaos side, where I think his style and attention to detail really brings nuance to the baddies. 🙂
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They’re so much more interesting than some other authors make them. I’ve seen them come across as just generically evil spiky space marines so many times, and he does so much more than that!
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