Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden


Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Black Library Publishing

411 Pages

*This is an advance copy review.


The Night Lords are one of the most feared legions of Chaos Space Marines. Remorseless hunters and killers, they relentlessly battle the Imperium of Man to avenge the death of their Primarch Konrad Curze. Their dark crusade takes them to the valuable world of Crythe Primus, where they will fight Imperial forces to claim the planet. But will the allegiance with their cohorts in the Black Legion last long enough for them to be victorious?


Previously I mentioned that I generally don’t care for Chaos Space Marine novels (see my Dark Creed review). I think it’s because I have a difficult time seeing how I’ll be able to relate to the characters. How can I root for the bad guys? Dark Creed proved me wrong on that, and since Soul Hunter came in my monthly care package from BL, I was willing to give it a shot. This is the first Aaron Dembski-Bowden book for me as well, so I was anxious to get a taste of what he brings to the table. I wasn’t let down.

Let me say that the author does an excellent job in sucking you in to the whole vibe of, well…darkness. The Night Lords are like the Batman Chapter of Traitor Marines. Darkness and fear. That’s their shtick. They really have it down pat. From the very prologue I was hooked.

The author has a real wit to his dialogue. He wraps the characters in interesting quips that are entirely defining. I could go on and on about each character, but seriously, each one definitely has a specific “voice” which is awesome; very akin to Dan Abnett in that respect. The author is also quite a tease. We don’t even know the protagonist’s name for 43 pages.

The story is good. The plot is a bit slow: I think I spent the whole novel half-holding my breath. It is very cool to see some real meat on the Night Lords and get an insight in to how the former great legions (well…all the traitor legions) have decayed. The portrayal of the relationship with the Black Legion and the Warmaster is revealing.

It appears that “Chaos Space Marine” is a very broad term. Even “Traitor Marine” is a huge generalization. These guys are all unique, which makes for an interesting story. I’m very impressed that the author does a good job at making the reader feel so…betrayed. It makes it possible for the reader to sympathize, and it really worked.

There is definitely the feeling that this book is just a prelude to something much bigger. I am assuming that this is the beginning of a series (at this point I have only this novel to go by) Still…the story plays out nicely.

It has what I consider the appropriate amount of “Grim Dark Future” of the 41st millennium. I can’t say that of a lot of Warhammer 40k fiction. Even the top dogs of the Black Library bullpen often can’t really get that perfect balance. I mean, I believe the purpose of the grim, dark future-type stories is that in the midst of a really shitty universe, where mankind is either on the edge of extinction, or under the lash of one tyrannical regime or another, it is possible to see glimmers of hope, or in this case…at least revenge. Man is powerless, small, one among untold billions…meaningless. Even demigods die an ignoble death. Yet there is something cool about one person, astartes, slave, and navigator doing something unique.

That’s what it’s all about.

Aaron Dembski-Bowden captures this.

Actually, the author would be in my mind a kind of hybrid of writing styles: Like the dark love-child of Graham McNeill and Dan Abnett. Abnett I think writes great action and characterizations, dialog. McNeill can pull off more “thinker” novels and also is strong in characterization etc. Kind of a perfect storm in writing styles really.

My only complaints are as follows:

  1. A bit of slowness. Not bad. I just think some folks may notice it. I dig it, but I’m not your typical reader. It’s got a lot of action, don’t get me wrong…it just has some very contemplative bits that not everyone will fully appreciate.
  2. It feels like a prelude. Not really a complaint. When I got the book I started reading it with no foreknowledge. Is it a prequel? It may be. I don’t judge books by the series; I judge the book by the book. By the end you feel like “it’s about to go off.” Maybe it’s the finally finding out that it’s a series at the end instead of at the beginning. Anyhow, totally minor quibble that really means nothing.

  1. The writer is clever; maybe too clever for me. I think there were parts where something happened that I simply missed it. Like an inside joke where you’re not in the know. Still, it didn’t really detract from the story. I’m just not as versed on the Night Lords. I think that someone who is not versed in 40k lore may miss out on some of the fun.


That’s it. Seriously, those are some minor quibbles. For my first Aaron Dembski-Bowden novel, I was pleased with the story, the vibe, and the overall entertainment value. Totally good read.

4 of 5 Stars.


J D Dunsany said...

Great review, Jeff. I more or less agree with you. I think the novel suffers a bit with the ending, tbh. Although the Exalted's breathtaking space maneuvres are very well potrayed, the Blood Angels' rampage through the ship, although exciting, felt like a fairly weak climax to an otherwise enthralling book. And I felt cheated when I found out the fate of the void-born. I understand that there's a point being made here about the arbitrary brutality of both sides of the Space Marine divide, but it still felt unsatisfactory.

That said, the novel as a whole is incredibly engrossing and, in one or two cases, genuinely surprising. The human characters are profoundly sympathetic and Talos is a well-rounded, believably motivated protagonist. Can't wait for the next one. :)

Jeff said...

Yeah, I can't help that the BA rampage was cool, but almost like a tease of something to come.

If this were a stand-alone novel I'd feel almost cheated. knowing there's more to appetite is whetted.

I guess if I look at in THAT works, but otherwise not.