Friday, 8 April 2011

‘Blood Reaver’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

If you’ve hung around these parts for long enough you’ll hopefully know that tie-in fiction isn’t just an easy way for writers to make money by coming up with stories in settings where someone else has already done the groundwork. Okay yeah, there are examples of that out there (Star Wars springs to mind for example, you know the ‘gang’ will always win through as George Lucas has pretty much said they have to...) but there are other settings where adherence to canon takes a back seat to telling a decent story. That’s where books from the Black Library come in. You can’t mess with the setting itself but you can tell whatever the hell story you like within it, a formula that makes for some quality ‘Gothic military sci-fi’ that you could do a lot worse than pick up. And that’s where Aaron Dembski-Bowden comes in. You may not have heard of him a couple of years ago but he’s very much in the top tier of Black Library writers right now with books such as ‘Helsreach’, ‘Cadian Blood’, ‘Soulhunter’ and ‘The First Heretic’ (you have to be doing something right to get a shot at writing for the flagship ‘Horus Heresy’ series). You can tell I’m a fan can’t you? You might want to bear that in mind here...

I had a great time with ‘Soulhunter’ (the first book in Aaron’s ‘Night Lords’ series) and ‘Blood Reaver’ soon found itself becoming a novel that I was anticipating more and more. I finally got round to reading it a couple of days ago and it was more than worth the wait. If there is anything that Aaron Dembski-Bowden can do wrong in terms of writing, well... he hasn’t done it yet.

The Night Lords traitor Marines have escaped the attack of the Loyalist Blood Angels and seek to continue their mission of striking terror into the heart of the Imperium from the dark shadows between the stars. Not only are their supplies running low though but their ship won’t obey its navigator and there is discord amongst the Marines over their future course as a warband fighting in the name of Chaos but not sworn to it. One thing is clear though, if they are to proceed in any direction at all an alliance must be sought with the treacherous Red Corsairs in the short term. The price the Night Lords must pay is high though as they will find themselves in the vanguard of an attack on one of the most heavily fortified planets in the Imperium, the home of an Astartes Fortress Monastery...

While other Black Library writers have chosen to chronicle the history of humanity’s bravest champions, Aaron Dembski-Bowden has chosen to bring us the tale of one of the most secretive yet destructive of the Traitor Legions instead. It’s a deal that will suit the reader very well as Aaron spares no expense in lifting that veil of secrecy and showing us just what goes on behind all the gunfire and explosions that you might expect from a book of this nature. If I’m anything to go by, the end results will stay in your head for a long time after you finish.

That’s not to say that you don’t get a taste of the Night Lords in action, not at all. ‘Blood Reaver’ shows the Night Lords doing what they do best and Aaron does a great job of springing it all on you when you least expect it (let alone their intended victims). What makes this book stand out from the rest of the pack though is that the Night Lords are fighting everyone; whether it’s Loyalist Marines, their ‘traitor allies’ or even amongst themselves. These guys are truly duplicitous and you just don’t know what’s going to happen until it’s happening right in front of you. That uncertainty kept the pages turning for me and Aaron’s prose kept them turning very smoothly. There’s plenty going on and you’re right there in the middle of it, the best place to be. You get to feel every bolt hit and every blow land but you get to put the book down at the end of it!

The action is all well and good in that it gives the plot a good shove in the right direction and then keeps it moving along nicely. Where ‘Blood Reaver’ really shone for me though was it’s characters and not only the Marines either, I’m talking about the ship’s crew who must fight with their masters for no other reason that they will be executed if they don’t. The crew do not share the Night Lord’s hatred of the Emperor and adopt a pragmatic approach based on their own survival which contrasts nicely with the hate ridden zeal of their masters. Because of this, we get to see a little more of the crew’s life (they do other things than merely fight) on the warship ‘Covenant of Blood’ and the book fleshes itself out even more. You wouldn’t have thought there was time to carve out a life for yourself (however precarious) on an Astartes warship but Aaron shows us how wrong this view is. Relationships come to life and grow in the darkest of places and there is time for love, no matter that it is as awkward and stilted as it is in real life (and Aaron does well to point this out). It’s also interesting to note that it’s in the near complete darkness of a Night Lords warship that people’s eyes are really opened to what’s around them, I’m thinking of the navigator Octavia finding out that there is more to her mutant attendant than what she sees on the surface. It’s all handled very well by Aaron and you can’t help but feel a little thoughtful about it all by the time you put the book down.

‘Blood Reaver’ is a tale of never ending war but it’s also a heist story and a romance as well as a ghost story, a tale of espionage as well as an examination of the tensions that can arise in a group of Marines that have been fighting together for thousands of years for a common cause but absolutely hate each other at the same time. It’s all credit to Aaron that he fits all these separate parts together so neatly and gives his readers something fast moving and thought provoking at the same time.

‘Blood Reaver’ may be a dark novel based in near total blackness but it still manages to show you far more than the average Black Library novel. Essential reading as far as I’m concerned.

Ten out of Ten


suneokun said...

Wow ... just bumped up my list of 'to read'. I'm currently charging through China Mieville on the way to finish your lovely Mazalan book.

Nick Sharps said...

I'm so excited for this book!

Anonymous said...

It was shear agony to force myself to put this book down at night and not finish it all in one day.
Blood Reaver firmly consolidates Aaron Dembski-Bowdens' position as undisputed master of astartes novels, whether loyalist or traitor.