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Book Review-“Night Lords: The Omnibus”

November 27, 2016 Leave a comment

nightlords-omni-thumbIt’s interesting that fans of Games Workshop/Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 universe tend to align behind the two sides in the “Horus Heresy,” the great galactic civil war that set up the status quo of the universe. So you have fans of the Emperor of Mankind and his loyalist Space Marines and forces and you have fans who root for the Space Marines who turned traitor and aligned with the forces of Chaos. Both sides have noble and ugly qualities based on your perspective, but I tend to identify and root for the Loyalist Imperium of Man forces. I tend to see them as more heroic and the Chaos forces as more petty and brutal.

So when it comes to my 40K reading I’ve tended to stick with novels that focus more on Loyalist Space Marines and humans aligned with forces like the Imperial Guard and the Inquisition. However I do remain a fan of crime fiction, a genre that I think provides a more nuanced version of morality and humanity by showing the best people at their worst, and the worst people at their best.

On top of that I always found the warriors of the Night Lords Space Marines Legion to be very cool looking and kind of fascinating. Essentially they’re a warrior culture that was born when their founder, the godlike Primarch known as Conrad Kurze used his power and cunning to violently strike back at the criminal gangs that had taken control of the night shrouded world known as Nostromo. So essentially imagine if someone with the physical power of Hercules took up the Punisher’s lethal approach to crime fighting and used Batman’s tactics of spreading fear and cunning subterfuge. That’s the ideas they were founded on, but many of the Legion’s recruits were men with a love of violence. So some could even be described as the Joker if he used Batman’s methods.

So, intrigued by those ideas I looked into giving the fiction of that particular Traitor Legion a chance. “Night Lords: The Omnibus” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, which contains adb-pichis novel trilogy “Soul Hunter,” “Blood Reaver,” and “Void Stalker” as well as three short stories featuring the members of the Tenth Company war band. These stories appeared to be widely loved by a variety of readers so I picked up and read “Night Lords: The Omnibus” to see if it lived up to the hype surrounding it. I’m happy to report that it does. Dembski-Bowden’s stories are fantastic and deserved to be mentioned in the same company as Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn stories, which are some of the best Black Library stories ever (IMO), and they made me a fan of the 40K setting.

The reason why “Night Lords: The Omnibus” is so good is the fantastic job Dembski-Bowden does with his cast of characters. It’s comparable to great character work in TV series like “The Shield” or movies like Rob Zombie’s, “The Devil’s Rejects” where you’re given these deplorable, violent individuals and you suddenly find yourself rooting for them in spite of the awful acts they commit. Dembski-Bowden does not let you forget the awfulness the Night Lords are capable of, in fact there are several powerful moments where he sort of kicks the chair out from under you and reminds you these guys are killers and vicious torturers, but he also shows the nobility they’re capable of. The Night Lords are also often the underdogs against more powerful and arguably even more twisted forces in several stories. So it’s very easy to root for them as they devise and enact cunning and daring plans to escape, trick, or take down much tougher enemies.

The chief character of the stories in “Night Lords: The Omnibus” is Talos Valcoran, a Space Marine who was given the moniker “Soul Hunter” by his Primarch, a nickname he despises. He is also known as the Great Prophet of the Night Lords because of the often crippling prophetic visions he receives. What make Talos, especially interesting to me though is that ultimately he’s a tragic figure. When we first meet him he’s a very noble individual trying to stay above the moral and supernatural corruption that plagues the Night Lords in the aftermath of the Horus Heresy, a war that he and his fellow Legionaries committed to fighting thousands of years ago. Now millennia later they remain committed to fighting what seems like an unwinnable war against the forces of the Imperium of Man, because if they give up what kind of worth would their several thousand years of existence have?

Surrounding Talos are the equally flawed and fascinating members of his combat squad, First Claw. What I love about these guys is that they don’t really like each other, but they would and do kill to protect each other. They’re a very dysfunctional band of brothers. So they’re fun and easy to root for and when their personal demons lead them into conflict against each other it makes for some powerful and haunting scenes.

Over the course of “Night Lords: The Omnibus’” three novels and three short stories Dembski-Bowden has the members of First Squad interact with and battle an eclectic cast of allies, adversaries, and some characters who are both. Some of the ones I found especially intriguing were the mutated and monstrous members of the Night Lords Raptor division, the two human slaves Talos employs, and the members of the alien race known as the Eldar. Personally I had written the Eldar off as characters that didn’t really resonate with me, but in one of the novels of t“Night Lords: The Omnibus” there’s an especially fascinating Eldar antagonist who tests the mettle of First Claw.

What makes Dembski-Bowden’s character work even more resonant, haunting, and powerful is that the choices his characters make have very real consequences. Over the course of “Night Lords: The Omnibus” characters I liked and identified with got injured and some even died. So the stories had a thrilling almost anything can happen vibe to them.

It’s hard to pick which of the stories in “Night Lords: The Omnibus” is my favorite because all are fun, powerful and exciting. Plus they’re a diverse bunch of tales that feature a wide variety of locales and exciting action. If pressed though I’d have to say the second and third Novels were the ones I enjoyed the most. In the second novel “Blood Reaver” you get to see Talos and company do what they do best as they engage in a daring and cunning assault against rival Space Marines and then pull off a cunning heist. In the third novel, “Void Stalker” you get a fantastic climax that provides a ton of fulfilling and powerful payout to the storylines from the other books and short stories.

If you’re a 40K fan who has yet to read “Night Lords: The Omnibus” yet you need to remedy that. It’s a fantastic series of stories and I look forward to reading more of Demski-Bowden’s 40K work, especially his Horus Heresy novel, “The Last Heretic,” which focuses on the Word Bearers Space Marine Legion since I think they’re some of 40K’s best/worst villains.

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