Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Soul Hunter By Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Unlike many Space Marine (SM) or Chaos Space Marine (CSM) novels, Soul Hunter doesn’t start with a bolter round to the face. Instead, Aaron Dembski-Bowden (ADB) eases us into the inner workings of the Night Lords, setting up characters and relationships before ploughing ahead with the action, which believe me does come! We are introduced to Talos, makeshift leader of the rag-tag ‘first claw’ of the 10th Company Night Lords Legion. Through Talos and his merry band of men we quickly learn of the dire situation the Night Lords are left in 10,000 years after the heresy. Without delving headfirst into it, The Night Lords are unique in that they do not worship Chaos (well the majority of Night Lords don’t), yet they wage war against the Imperium, putting them somewhere in the middle ground... a bit like the Soul Drinkers chapter.... but all chaosy and stuff. Problem is they are still using old crusty equipment from before the heresy, and without the blessing of chaos, all their gear is starting to fall apart. Yet worst of all, as their numbers dwindle in combat, they are not being replenished from their homeworld as they blew that up long ago. Sounds like a pretty scummy situation yeah? Well you’d be right. Ok, scene set? Let’s get back to it.

The whole back drop of this story revolves around the struggle for power between Talos or ‘The Prophet’ so called as he gets visions of the future and such, and his Captain of the 10th Company Vandred or ‘The Exalted’. Problem is, Vandred lost his mind a while back and has been basically taken over by a daemon of Tzeentch (well I suspect Tzeentch), who now controls Vandred’s warping body like a puppet. As the Night Lords despise the ruinous powers, Talos gets his grumpy on and decides to bring the company back to its former glory. Meanwhile Vandred is more than happy to maintain 10th Company’s high attrition rate as long as he looks good in front of Abaddon the Despoiler (who gets a cameo!). I won’t let you know the conclusion for this struggle for power, or even if it is resolved by the turn of the last page, but I will tell you that characters you initially consider the enemy do grow on you by the end of the book and you may find yourself changing your mind on who you want to ultimately win. Other notable mentions include an appearance by the Blood Angels, Night Lord Squads taking on a Warhound Titan and a tasty Dreadnaught vs Dreadnaught death match.

An interesting point I noticed early was the way the Night Lords interacted with each other during their conversations. After reading a wheelbarrow load of SM and CSM novels by Abbnet, McNeill and Counter etc, something that has been lacking is humour. Space Marines, particularly loyalists, are rather boring and wouldn’t make for good conversation over a few beers and some Nintendo Wii. ADB seems to have removed the pole from their asses and introduces an amount of sarcasm and wisecracks between his Night Lords 10th Company. I’m still not sold if this is better or worse than traditional hardcore SM/CSM conversation, but it does work very well in this book. Just remember not to compare styles too quickly to Abnett or McNeill when reading. ADB isn’t a clone of these guys and doesn’t try to be. It feels more like a breath of fresh air has come to SM conversation rather than someone trying to force a laugh. Being somewhat a sarcastic fellow myself, I related well to the witty banter.

Something I loved in the novel was the way it meshed with Lord of the Night by Simon Spurrier. Simon wrote his novel way back in 2005, and really laid down the Night Lords fluff as far as post heresy. He also created arguably one of the best Night Lord, if not CSM characters in Zso Sahaal. Rather than pretend this book never happened, ADB interwove his story with the fluff created in Lord of the Night. Sahaal even gets a mention/small cameo which is fantastic for all those hardcore Night Lord fans out there. (Silently raises hand.) I was so thrilled ADB went this way as I loved Lord of the Night and it really worked well to subtly pay homage to it in his own novel. I’d recommend reading Lord of the Night before or after Soul Hunter. Either way, they work really well together despite 2 different authors and 5 years difference.

Overall I really enjoyed the read. Interesting, dark and brutal yet tongue in cheek funny at times. It sets the scene for a Night Lords trilogy which is something many fans have been begging for. This was my first novel by ADB and I must say I’m impressed and looking forward to what he can do with his upcoming Horus Heresy novel.

High Point: First Claw vs a Warhound Titan. Further proving the proverb: “The bigger they are the harder they fall”. Or should it be “The bigger they are, the bigger guns they have to kill you with!”
Low point: The whole scene with Abaddon. He seemed far too chatty and polite for my liking. Considering the way Talos speaks to him and the amount of power Abaddon wields in the 41st millennium, I thought Talos was lucky to get away with his head still attached after their first exchange of words. I always imagined Abaddon as a no question, no quarter, no mercy Warmaster of Chaos. Not the way he was portrayed in Soul Hunter.


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