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Book Review- “A Thousand Sons” by Graham McNeill

Thousand SonsWhen you read a series of books that you enjoy a sense of complacency can start to set in. You can almost become accustomed to certain things and after you read an entry you’re left with a feeling of like, “Okay. That was fun. On to the next one.” Sometimes though an entry comes along in a series that is so good it’s like a refreshing blast of cold water or even slap in the face. It wakes you up and reminds you of why you fell in love with a particular series in the first place and shows you just how special, exciting, and powerful a book in that series can be. I just finished “A Thousand Sons” by Graham McNeill, which is book 12 in Games Workshop/Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” (a prequel storyline that sets the stage for their Warhammer 40,000 line of novels) series, and I’m happy to report it’s just such a book.

The titular characters of “A Thousand Sons” are a Space Marine Legion and McNeill was given a gift in these characters because they’re one of the most fascinating and unique Space Marine Legions in all of 40k. I’ve mentioned in other reviews that the great thing about Space Marines novels is they allow the author to take a deep dive into the diverse martial cultures of a particular Legion, and what makes the Thousand Sons so compelling is the fact they combine the transhuman bad-assery of your typical Space Marine, with the academic bent and powers of your archetypical sorcerer from fantasy stories, and add just a hint of Marvel Comics X-Men to make things extra tragic and poignant.

That’s because unlike most Space Marine Legions that feature a handful of members with psychic powers many of the Thousand Sons are capable of incredible mental feats. It’s part of the culture they hail from, and their godlike primarch/father, Magnus the Red, is one of the most powerful Psykers in existence. Unfortunately for them though, in the reality of 40K psychic powers are linked to the unstable reality known as the Warp, a tumultuous dimension of demons, psychic monstrosities and malevolent, power-hungry, gods. So. the Sons are feared and distrusted by many of their brother Legions who label them Warlocks.

Over the course of “A Thousand Sons” we meet an eclectic cast of the titularGraham McNeill characters and we get to bond with them and see them live, study, and of course fight. My favorite legionnaire was chief Librarian, Ahzek Ahriman, who I knew was one of the most beloved anti-heroes in 40K, but now I know why. In “A Thousand Sons” Ahriman is a charismatic and compelling character constantly questing for truth and plumbing the warp with his precognitive and astral projection powers to serve his Primarch, Legion, and the Imperium of Man.

Magnus the Red is of course is a fascinating character too, but I like that McNeill didn’t make the Primarch the focus of the story. It makes the scenes with him extra special. When Magnus makes an entrance the only way to describe it is to quote Sargent Nicholas Angel from “Hot Fuzz” and say, “Shit just got real.” That said, Magnus remains a very human character in “A Thousand Sons.” Despite his vast power and good intentions he makes mistakes, big, powerful heartbreaking ones. He’s a tragic figure in the classical sense.

My other favorite group of characters in “A Thousand Sons” were the three Human scholars/remembrancers that are traveling with the Thousand Sons when the book begins. Each of them have a psychic gift and a unique back story that draws them into the larger world of the Thousand Sons. It’s a lot of fun to see these characters bounce of the Space Marines and observe how the behavior of the human and posthuman characters impact each other. Another cool aspect is that one of the Remembrancers, Camille Shivani, is the first LGBTQ character I’ve encountered in the world of 40K. We even get to see her with a significant other at one point in the book.

Over the course of “A Thousand Sons” we travel with the titular Space Marines and human characters to a variety of worlds and watch as they take on a whole host of foes including one of their brother legions, the barbaric Space Wolves. The rivalry between the Wolves and the Sons is a believable and tragic one. I’m actually a pretty big fan of the Wolves so the fact that I was actively rooting against them in “A Thousand Sons” is a testament to the characters McNeill created and the narrative he weaved together.

The narrative is a fascinating one too. We get a handful of big battles, but we also get the equivalent of a court room sequence, which was fascinating and something I’ve never really seen before in a 40K book as McNeill chronicles one of the big events in the pre-history of 40K. The novel then follows a series of shocking revelations and tragic mistakes that climaxes with one of the most epic and poignant battles I’ve read about in a 40K or “Horus Heresy” book. Long time fans will know what I’m talking about, but I don’t want to say too much and spoil things.

Another fun aspect is that McNeill peppers the novel with little Easter Egg nods to other classic tales of fantastic fiction. I’m sure I missed all of them, but two that I caught were fitting and organic nods to the works of Mary Shelly and H.P. Lovecraft.

So, “A Thousand Sons” is one of my favorite entries in “The Horus Heresy” series For me it’s right up there with Dan Abnett’s “Legion” and Ben Counter’s “Galaxy in Flames.” It’s a big novel full of fun, fascinating and powerful stuff. Best of all it’s made me especially fired up to get to some other 40K and “Horus Heresy” novels that are sitting on my “to read” pile like John French’s Ahriman: The Omnibus,” and Dan Abnett’s “Horus Heresy” novel, “The Burning of Prospero,” which I understand is kind of companion novel to “A Thousand Sons.”

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Book Review- “Throneworld” by Guy Haley

ThroneworldWhen Games Workshop/Black Library announced last year’s long “Warhammer 40,000” event story line, “The Beast Arises,” I was pretty skeptical. I wasn’t exactly sure how a 12 part novel series about a massive invasion by the Orks (a faction that I find interesting in a force of nature sort of way, but never really as compelling villains) could maintain momentum and my interest. The kick off novel to the series though, “I Am Slaughter,” was by Dan Abnett, one of my favorite 40K and comic writers. So I decided to give “The Beast Arises” series a shot.

I Am Slaughter” was pretty good, but I was kind of underwhelmed by book two, and book three had some interesting parts. Then something surprising happened with book four, “The Last Wall.” I suddenly found myself won over and invested in the conflicts and characters of “The Beast Arises” event. I’m happy to report that my enthusiasm has only grown after reading book five, “Throneworld,” by Guy Haley.

I was prepared not to like “Throneworld” because it’s cover featured a member of another 40K faction I find pretty underwhelming, The Eldar. 40K’s space elves do play sort of a large role in the opening chapters of “Throneworld,” but they are not a huge part of the novel. Haley handled them well too. It was interesting seeing them running wild on the Imperium of Man’s home turf of Terra, and their interactions with one of the series main character’s Drakan Vangorich, the Grandmaster of the Imperium’s office of assassins, were pretty interesting. Plus those interactions set the stage for some other compelling dynamics that could be explored in the series second half.

One faction that does play a decent sized role in “Throneworld” that Haley does a pretty fantastic job with is the Adpetus Mechanicus, the Machine Cult of Mars. I used to have zero interest in the Mechanicum. I thought they were one of the most boring factions in the world of 40K. Then I read Graham McNeil’s “Horus Heresy” novel, “Mechanicum” and realized how interesting they could be, and in “Throneworld” Haley further illustrated why Mars is one of the most intriguing worlds in 40K. Quite a bit of the action in the novel involves mystery and intrigue on the Mechanicum homeworld as an ambitious and power hungry Fabricator General advances a secret plan that might lead to victory over the Orks and civil war against the Imperium. Standing in his way are several of Vangorich’s agents.

The rest of the action in “Throneworld” involves 40k’s most ubiquitous faction, the Guy HaleyImperium’s Space Marines, which is fine because Haley utilizes them in fun and fascinating ways. Space Marine stories need action and there’s plenty of really cool, intense, and apocalyptic set pieces in “Throneworld,” but like any good stories the best Space Marine tales are ones that feature strong, vibrant, fully realized characters. There are plenty of those types of Space Marines in “Throneworld.”

The most fascinating of course is Koorland AKA Slaughter, the last surviving member of the Imperial Fists. Watching him rise from the tragedy that cost him his Battle Brothers and grow and change from a front line soldier into a cunning galactic hero and leader has been one of the most satisfying parts so far of “The Beast Arises.”

In “Throneworld” you get to see Koorland kick-ass and continue to grow as he leads “The Last Wall,” an army of different Space Marine legions descended from the Imperial Fists, into battle against an Ork Attack Moon (I’ll never get tired of typing the words Attack Moon! So cool and imaginative!) and deals with the treachery and machinations of the people in charge of the very world he’s trying to defend, The Lords of Terra.

My favorite parts of “Throneworld” though had to deal with some Space Marines new to the larger action of “The Beast Arises,” the Imperium aligned warriors of the fanatical Black Templars legion and the Traitor Legion known as the Iron Warriors. Part of the reasons I find Space Marine Legions so fascinating is each Legion has it’s own cultures and customs. I have not read much about the Black Templars and in “Throneworld” Haley shows off their best and worst traits. The Iron Warriors are allowed to be equally nuanced as well. You don’t forget they betrayed humanity and the Emperor, but their main representative in the book is allowed to be both articulate in his reasons and charismatic.

Kalkator, the Iron Warriors, leader is a fun and interesting character. So is Magneric, the relentless Black Templar High Marshall and cybernetic Dreadnought that is leading a force to hunt down and destroy Kalkator and his grand company of Iron Warriors. Their scenes together are fascinating because of their dynamic as both hunter and hunted and former friends. Plus you get to see what happens to that dynamic when it’s confronted by the savage monstrosity of the Orks. I hope to see more of Kalkator, Magneric, and their respective Legions in future installments of “The Beast Arises.”

So with “Throneworld” my investment and excitement over “The Beast Arises” series has grown. I look forward to reading the next entry in the series, and more books by Guy Haley. I believe this is my first book I’ve read of his and I can’t wait to read his return to “The Beast Arises” with “The Beheading” (The final book in the series) and “Dark Imperium,” which moves the timeline of 40K forward in some directions that sound exciting.

Book Review- “Tales of Heresy” Edited by Nick Kyme & Lindsey Priestley

Tales-of-Heresy-Neil-RobertsThe world of Games Workshop and Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 universe is so huge and rich that it’s easy to think all of it’s best stories would be big, sprawling epics. That’s by no means true though. I’ve certainly read some fantastic novels, trilogies, and multi-book series, but “Tales of Heresy,” the 10th installment in “The Horus Heresy” series that chronicles the galaxy spanning civil war that shaped the current 40K time line, is a great reminder that some of the most powerful and entertaining 40K tales are shorter fare. The seven tales that make up the book provide some fascinating insight into the most celebrated heroes, villains, and organizations of the Imperium of Man. We get to see some of the pivotal events that shaped them and how they react to the initial fires of a war that will turn into a conflagration that will eventually envelope the entire Imperium.

I’ve never actually reviewed an anthology before. So this is something that I’m still trying to get the hang off, but overall I thought “Tales of Heresy” did a great job fleshing out some of the more interesting characters and organizations that didn’t get a whole lot of coverage in the first nine books of the series, which detail the outbreak and initial skirmishes of the Horus Heresy. I also liked that the tales that were included in the book were incredibly diverse. Readers are taken to a variety of locations and given tales of desperate battles to conquer and liberate planets, a spy mission on Holy Terra, an investigation into a missing ship, a Space Marine trying to reach his mentally unhinged Primarch, and best of all, a simple conversation about the inspiring and destructive power of faith between the priest of one of Earth’s last churches and a representative of the secular Imperium.

That story is Graham McNeil’s “Last Church,” and there were a number of reasonsThe_Last_Church_on_Terra_by_Noldofinve why I loved it. The first is because of how different it is from your standard 40K fare. Essentially it’s two guys talking about religion. It’s almost a one act play. That structure makes the story fresh and pretty powerful since the two characters are talking about the ways religion can hurt and harm society. The second reason I really enjoyed the story was that it gave some more insights into life on Terra and the history of the Unification Wars where the Emperor came to power. The third reason is the story has some great twists and turns that I’m not going to spoil here. It all came together to make one of the best 40K short stories I’ve ever read.

Another favorite of mine was Matthew Farrer’s “After Desh’ea.” It’s another story that’s essentially just two people talking, but in this case it’s the Gladiator Primarch Angron and the Space Marine who will go on to become one of Chaos’ deadliest warriors, Kharn. What’s especially great about this story is Farrer manages to both humanize Angron and still make him seem godlike and horrific. That’s because he shows us that not even Primarchs are immune to the psychological damage caused by a lifetime of violence. In the story we see Angron fight for and lose control over his body as Kharn tries to talk his Primarch out of beating him to death and into his role as leader of the XII Legion of the Emperor’s Space Marines.

Rounding out my top three favorite stories in “Tales of Heresy” is Dan Abnett’s “Blood Games,” which takes readers deep inside an organization I wasn’t too familiar with, the Adeptus Custodes, the Emperor’s elite body guards and agents. Their world is a pretty fascinating one too since they’re genetically injured super soldiers like the Space Marines, but they’re also supremely cunning. So Abnett’s story is essentially about the Space Marine versions of Jason Bourne pulling off two very different undercover missions. The story is full of bad ass action, intrigue, and fun.

The other stories in “Tales of Heresy” were also pretty entertaining as well. So when you add them together with the three standout ones I discussed above you have a collection of fun and powerful stories that showcase how fascinating and deep a world Games Workshop and Black Library have created. Kudos to editors Nick Kyme and Lindsey Priestly for putting together such a great anthology.

Book Review- “The Last Wall” by David Annandale

Last WallI took a bit of a break from Black Library’s year long event storyline “The Beast Arises” after book 3, “The Emperor Expects.” Not because the series was bad. It was quite entertaining. It wasn’t as epic as I wanted it to be though. I got the rest of the series this past Christmas so I decided to go back to it with Book 4 “The Last Wall” by David Annandale. I’m glad I did because in this book Annandale turns things up to 11 by taking all that stuff that works in past books and amping it, as well as adding some new and very interesting twists.

One of the most interesting elements of “The Beast Arises” series has been the political intrigue and maneuvering. You get more of that in “The Last Wall” as Drakan Vangorich, the Grandmaster of the Imperium of Man’s Officio Assassinorum tries to protect his ally in the Inquisition and deals with the petty posturing for power of the High Lords of Terra. Annandale does a fantastic job drumming home how awful, narcissistic, and power hungry the various High Lords are in the novel. By the end it was clear that they’re just as big of villains in the story as the invading Ork forces are.

The political elements of the novel also stretched out to some other returning characters that weren’t part of that type of intrigue in the past like Koorland, the surviving Imperial Fist. In the few chapters he appears in you see him having to make nice and navigate the egos of the leaders of the Space Marine chapters that had descended from the Imperial Fists. You don’t often get to see that type of interaction between the martial minded Space Marines and it was pretty interesting to see.

Annandale also introduces a number of new characters and forces into the conflict. david_annandaleI would love to talk about one of the new forces, but it’s a big spoiler. I’ll just say that a major Warhammer 40,000 player I never thought I’d see facing off against an Ork invasion is forced to deal with an Ork attack moon (man that’s such a fun and METAL thing to type) in “The Last Wall.” It made for some really cool and interesting scenes and I never thought I’d be cheering the members of this faction on, but I was!

The bulk of the new characters introduced in “The Last Wall” are the humans of the “Proletariat Crusade” that a High Lord of Terra creates in order to deal with the attack moon hanging over the Imperium’s home world. Much of the action in “The Last Wall” involves the formation of the crusade which is composed of thousands of ships and the billions of average citizens and Imperial Guardsmen those ships are hoping to land on the attack moon.

So we get scenes of chaos on Terra, people coming together, and intense fighting, and all of them work. Along the way we meet some characters that I grew attached to like the crew of the Merchant ship Militant’s Fire, and my favorite new character Galatea Haas, of the Adeptus Arbites. She’s got a great arc that involves which duty she should devote herself too, and she’s part of some really nice action scenes. So she’s both very human and a bad-ass like a lot of the best characters in the Warhammer 40K universe.

The other element of “The Last Wall” I really enjoyed addressed one of my biggest criticisms of “The Beast Arises” storyline, the Orks. For the first three novels the Orks really felt monstrous, but they also felt like a force of nature. So instead of feeling like an epic tale of interstellar war “The Beast Arises” almost felt more like a saga of cosmic disaster, which was still fun, but not as cool or as epic as I felt the story needed to be.

Annandale changes that in the “The Last Wall.” There were several scenes where the Orks really did start to feel like a sinister invasion force. The most powerful and just plain “HOLY SHIT I DIDN’T EXPECT TO EVER SEE THAT IN A 40K NOVEL” though comes at the end of the book. I don’t want to say what it was, but that scene fully invested me in the characters and larger conflict of “The Beast Arises.” I can’t wait to plow into it, and finish the last 8 novels in the series.

Book Review- “Roboute Gulliman: Lord of Ultramar” by David Annandale

February 8, 2017 Leave a comment

gullimanThe “Warhammer 40,000” universe created by Games Workshop and it’s licensed fiction division Black Library is populated by many fascinating figures, but some of the most compelling are the 18 genetically engineered “sons” the God Emperor of Mankind built to lead his super soldier armies, the Adeptus Astartes AKA the Space Marines. In the current 41st Millenium timeline of 40K many of these demigod like Space Marine Primarchs are missing, dead, or have been transformed into demonic beings. So they’re more figures of legend than actual characters.

The “Horus Heresy” line of prequel fiction that chronicles the intergalactic civil war that set the stage for the world of 40K has allowed us readers to spend some time with the Primarchs and given us some great glances into what make these characters tick. Black Library though recently kicked off another line of fiction that should give readers an even greater insight into the fathers of the Space Marine Legions. I’m happy to report that their “Horus Heresy Primarchs” line is off to a promising start with “Roboute Gulliman: Lord of Ultramar” by David Annandale, which focuses on the titular father of the Space Marine legion known as the Ultramarines.

What makes “Lord of Ultramar” so much fun and so interesting is it’s essentially a character study of the titular character. Gulliman is a character of contrasts. He’s a warrior fighting for the day when humanity no longer needs to go to war. He’s a a person constantly trying to balance reason and action. The idea of endless, thoughtless war haunts and terrifies him and he seeks to inspire his sons to be something better.

Annandale let’s us see Gulliman wrestle with these fears too. We get to go inside hisdavid_annandale head, hear his private talks and hopes with most trusted advisors, and we even get to see some of his writings on war. My favorite among these sequences involves a bit of Warhammer 40K lore that shows Gulliman tormented by some earlier dealings with the Legion of one of his brother Primarchs, Lorgar and his Word Bearers.

So Annandale provides some great humanizing moments for Gulliman, but he also lets his protagonist be the demigod like bad-ass we know him to be. In the novel the Lord of Ultramar and his sons descend on an Ork infested world. So we get to see Gulliman lead the Ultramarines into battle and some of those scenes are so much fun and so METAL! One of the things I love about 40K is over the top action scenes and Annandale provides quite a few of those and they’re all immensely entertaining.

Gulliman is such a great character that as a reader you want to spend almost all your time with him and he can’t help but eclipse some of the other characters in the book. Still there were quite a few supporting characters I found especially interesting like Gage, Gulliman’s second in command, and Hierax, a member of a special type of Space Marine unit that Gulliman is trying to reform called The Destroyers.

We journey with these characters and their Primarch as they try to break the grip the Orks have on an ancient world once home to a human culture while trying to preserve the artifacts and heritage of the disappeared culture. It leads to some fun, large scale battles that take place on mountain sides and brutal underground fighting. The climax of the novel where Gulliman and the Ultramarines discover what really happened to the humans that called the planet home also made for a fun and chilling reveal.

So with “Roboute Gulliman: Lord of Ultramar” David Annandale follows through on the promise of the “Primarchs” series and gets it off to a great start with a fun and fascinating look at the titular father of the Ultramarines. I look forward to reading the next book in the series and more of Annandale’s entries in the Ork invasion storyline “The Beast Arises,” which I have yet to complete.

Book Review- “Mechanicum by Graham McNeill

January 9, 2017 Leave a comment

poster-mechanicum

Games Workshop’s “Warhammer 40,000” universe has so many cool and diverse elements, but one part of it that I’ve always been lukewarm and kind of “meh” about is the Machine Cult of Mars. They just always felt a little too weird and uninteresting to me. So I approached Graham McNeill’s ninth entry in Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” series (which is sort of a prequel series that chronicles the intergalactic civil war that sets the 40K universe up), “Mechanicum” with some trepidation. A whole novel focusing on the tech priests of Mars? I’m not sure if that’s something for me. Turns out I was quite wrong. “Mechanicum” is a highly, enjoyable, read where McNeill pulls off some Herculean heavy lifting and pretty much succeeds at everything he had to do and intended to do.

In “Mechanicum” McNeill had to bring Horus Lupercal’s rebellion to Mars, which meant he had to introduce many readers like me to a whole new world. He had to establish the power players on this planet, the places they lived and worked, and also introduce a number of characters in Mars’ various military orders like the Titan Legions and mecha piloting Knights. He also had to make us care about them. Then he had to create an interesting tale about the subtle and insidious way civil war comes to Mars and how it gives birth to the Chaos and Horus aligned Dark Mechanicum. Then he had to give us a number of gripping, action set pieces as the Chaos and Imperium aligned members of the Machine Cult war against each other for control of Mars. Plus he had do that without relying too much on established, cool concepts like the Space Marines. Some members of the Imperial Fists chapter of the Adeptus Astartes appear in “Mechanicum,” but they appear very briefly and only towards of the end of the book.

Admittedly some elements were better than others, but McNeill accomplished all of that. Graham McNeillWhat made “Mechanicum” especially enjoyable though and showed how great a writer he is was the fact that he didn’t stop there! On top of all those interesting things we also got a very cool and incredibly imaginative tale about the ancient past of the Imperium’s ruler, the Emperor of Mankind. We also got a fun almost Lord of the Rings quest style adventure featuring an incredibly endearing band of characters that I don’t recall ever seeing before in a “Horus Heresy” or 40k book.

Those sections of the book were the high point of “Mechanicum” for me. In those portions we journey to Mars with Dallia Cytheria; a compassionate, curious, transcriber with an eidetic memory. Dalia is a great character and her kind and caring perspective is a refreshing one to see in the “Grim, Dark” world of the “Horus Heresy” and 40K. That perspective also earns her a band of loyal and caring friends. My favorite member of Dallia’s band of friends was the cybernetic being assigned to protect her, Rho-Mu 31. He starts off as kind of an aloof, almost alien character but as his relationship with Dallia changes and grows you get to see the humanity beneath his cybernetics.

Midway through the book Dallia and her friends embark on a quest to get to the heart of an ancient Martian mystery. What they find at the end of their journey is fascinating, poignant, and powerful.

Of course while Dallia and her friends are on their quest things unravel on Mars and some epic fighting breaks out. The Mecha style combat between the rival giant robot pilots of the Titan legions and Knights was cinematic and breathtaking. There was apocalyptic pace and tone to the battles that just made them pop and flow.

So in “Mechanicum” McNeill did the unthinkable for me. He changed my mind about the Machine Cult and Mars. He did that by telling a hell of a story that included a ton of great world building, memorable and fascinating characters, and some intense action. Plus he did all of that in just a little over 400 pages. It made for a hell of an impressive feat and and incredibly enjoyable novel.

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.