Tuesday, 12 January 2010

‘Soul Hunter’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)


Way back in the depths of last year, Black Library sent me a copy of Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s debut Warhammer novel ‘Cadian Blood’. It completely blew me away and if you have a look at my post on New Year’s Eve, you’ll see ‘Cadian Blood’ nestled happily amongst the books that left an impression on me in 2009. There may not have been as many zombies as I was hoping for but the end result was still spectacular; dark and gritty warfare in a universe forty thousand years in our future...
All of this left me eager for whatever Dembski-Bowden came out with next but the promise of a Space Marine novel left me a little wary. Part of what made ‘Cadian Blood’ such a great read was its focussing on the battle weary, outgunned and generally shell shocked human armies of the Imperium rather than their invulnerable Space Marine counterparts. Would there be the same level of excitement in a story about Marines able to tackle anything?
In the end, the answer was yes. A most definite yes in fact! I wasn’t sure for a while though...

Fear the dark for you are not alone there... The darkness is where the Night Lords lurk, ever ready to strike at a reeling Imperium and continue the crusade that saw them banished from the Emperor’s light.
The millennia, since the Horus Heresy, have not been kind to them however. The Night Lords are not the legion they once were, reduced to scavenging for armour and munitions and desperate for reinforcements. As such, they are seen as prey by other traitor legions as well as loyalists but there is still some life in them yet. Shadows hide may things, in this case the Night Lords’ to strike hard when least expected...

I’ve got to admit that I found myself wondering if this was the same Aaron Dembski-Bowden who wrote ‘Cadian Blood’. Instead of throwing us in right at the deep end, Bowden takes his time and builds things up gradually, introducing characters and placing them where they’re meant to be in the plot. This is all well and good (especially when you consider that ‘Soul Hunter’ is the opening salvo in a new series) but I found myself wishing more and more that things would hurry up a bit and get going. The plot demands urgent action but there seemed to be no real urgency to get it moving towards that end. There’s also a moment where it felt like Demsbki-Bowden lost track of his characters a little and I was left wondering whom he was talking about (not going into detail here for fear of spoilers). This was the only time this happened in a novel that was otherwise very tight in that respect so I’ll be re-reading that passage again to see if it was Demsbki-Bowden or I who dropped the ball there. Could go either way really :o)

The (slightly annoying) thing is though, while there is a lot of filler to begin with it’s all very good stuff at the same time. I was impatient for the story to crack on but, at the same time, I also found myself really getting into the background of the Chapter and what Bowden was doing with it.
The Night Lords are a legion that rebelled against the Emperor but haven’t gone the whole way and allied themselves with the ruinous powers of the warp. Or have they? Members of the legion are beginning to ally themselves with certain Chaos gods and Bowden uses this to create an interesting dynamic that will shape the Night Lords’ legion in books to come. How can the Night Lords stay true to their Primarch’s principles when he himself admitted that none of it would matter to him after his death? It’s a big question and one that Dembski-Bowden renders on the page in a gripping manner, taking the reader back into the past in order to see events that are only just coming to fruition in the present day. You also get a real sense of the millennia that the Night Lords have struggled through as the characters we get to know were there when the Heresy began...

Dembski-Bowden also gives us a fresh perspective on life in a traitor legion when he takes us below decks and shows us the life lived by ship serfs and slaves. These people all have their own decisions to make and it’s interesting to see what led them to service on the Night Lords’ vessel in the first place. The allure of the warp isn’t necessarily the biggest influence on people’s minds, sometimes it’s purely a case of regular life being a lot worse. If it’s not that then it’s merely a case of circumstance and fate; Eurydice’s journey is a fascinating one to follow in that respect as her resolve fails to overcome the obstacles that life places in front of her...

Just when I thought that the book was never going to get going, Dembski-Bowden upped the tempo significantly and gave me everything that made ‘Cadian Blood’ such an essential read. Planetary assault is the order of the day here and everything that goes with this made the pages just fly. We’re talking Marines going up against superior opposition whilst woefully underequipped and also at the mercy of the infighting and backstabbing common when traitor legions join forces to fight against the Imperium. Dembski-Bowden delivers these scenes in style with an almost intuitive knowledge of when to ramp things up and let them fly. And they really do fly! At it’s roaring best, ‘Soul Hunter’ pummels your senses with high octane warfare and leaves you gasping at the end.

‘Soul Hunter’ is a little bit uneven with its pacing but is another ‘more than solid’ entry in the annals of the Black Library by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Other Black Library authors must be wondering how to up their game right now... Look out for this one in March.

Nine out of Ten

8 comments:

Magemanda said...

Thanks for this review. I'm currently reading my first Black Library book - Horus Rising by Dan Abnett - and I'm wondering if you would consider using a 'Black Library' tab so that those interested can pull out all the books you've read? I really want to know your thoughts on Horus Rising :-D

Right Geek said...

I'll second that. Just starting my adventure with BL myself (I read some Gotrek and Space Wolf some time ago, but now I am going to approach it more systematically ;)).

Graeme Flory said...

Consider it done! Funnily enough though, I read 'Horus Rising' long before starting up the blog and never posted a review though. It was good! Have a look at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, he has a review for it ;o)

James B said...

This is going to become the Black Library Blog if yer not careful! :)

Graeme Flory said...

I've got enough books for that not to be an issue ;o)

Phillip Thomas said...

I shall definitely be giving this one a go.

Anonymous said...

zso sahaal cut off the hand of the callidus temple assasssin and left. it held the primarchs crown
the elder didn't do it. talos had to have seen him do it. so who's telling the truth?

also, why did the blood angels waste the venerable dreadnaught on the smallest ship in the night lords fleeet. not great tacticians.
should be used against acerbus's ship.

Karim said...

Finished it yesterday. As a black legion/Abaddon fan I was kinda annoyed how the black legion was portrayed as silly billies, but all is well ;)
Anyone who's starting out with Black Library books should consider reading the Eisenhorn Omnibus. Is pretty coolio :D
And if any of you have read Lord of Night (also about the night lords) you'll get a few easter eggs (pay attention when Talos is pondering the Black Legion) :)
Time for me to crack on with Cadian blood :D