Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Originally published in 2010, Limited Edition (pictured above) published in 2016
Genre: Science fiction, military fiction
“It was a curse, to be a god’s son.”
In Soul Hunter, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Talos is a Space Marine in the 10th company of the traitorous Night Lords legion. He and his battle brothers search the galaxy, seeking vengeance and blood for the death of their primarch, Konrad Curze. Along the way, Talos and his squad encounter other traitorous legions and internal political conspiracies as they attempt to regain the glory of the past.
For those who are unaware, Soul Hunter takes place in the year 40,000 (pretty science fiction-y, no?) in the galaxy and worlds of the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000. Games Workshop, the company behind the game, also has a publishing company called the Black Library that creates and sells background stories and novels about the characters and aliens living in the game; Soul Hunter is one such book.
The lore of this universe is very dense, but much centers around an event called the Horus Heresy in which the Warmaster Horus sought to supplant the Emperor of Mankind. Horus was a primarch, one of 20 “sons” of the immortal Emperor and convinced some of his fellow brothers and their Legions of Space Marines to rebel. The traitorous legions were repelled and cast into a Warp storm called the Eye of Terror. The Night Lords were one of these legions and continue their crusade against the Imperium of Man despite their slowly deteriorating resources and alliances.
Space Marines are effectively immortal demigods, so one might imagine it being difficult to identify with them as the subjects of a book, but Dembski-Bowden does this very well with the help of two human characters: Septimus and Octavia.
Septimus is Talos’s servant and artificer. The seventh slave that Talos has owned (hence the name), Septimus takes care of his master’s armor and weapons, as well as piloting the Thunderhawk transporter Blackened. His other human counterpart is Octavia; she is a Navigator, which is a person who can see into the Warp and guide ships through it. She is captured early in the book by Talos and comes under his ownership and protection.
Along with the two human serfs, the dramatis personae is rounded out by Talos’s squad, First Claw, which is not without it’s own unique characters. Cyrion is the joker who Talos turns to for insight at times, Xarl is often the voice of reason and distrusts anything that has to do with the Warp, and Uzas is a fanatical killer who often loses himself to battle lust.
Even though his squad mates are rather stereotypical at times, Talos is where the true identification is found and executed very well. Known as the Soul Hunter, for reasons explained in the book but not here (Sorry!….kind of…not really), Talos suffers from debilitating visions that set him apart from his battle brothers. It is due to these visions, which is a trait he shares with the Legion’s primarch, that he is awarded a special place in the minds of his fellow warriors. However, Talos carries the responsibility of his “gift” on sagging shoulders as he tries to help the Legion retain its sense of honor and decorum.
Talos is a sort of link to their past, which is a recurring theme in the story. The glory days of the Legion are far behind and this is ever present in the mentality and daily life of the traitor Space Marines. The Legion is in decay with resources and personnel dwindling as their war of attrition takes its toll. In a ship that once boasted 100 Space Marines ready for battle, barely more than 30 remain.
Soul Hunter allows us to see the daily lives of these fallen heroes and how their yearning for vengeance for a deed done long ago consumes them. There is irony here that is not addressed by any of the Space Marines and it comes about when they speak of honor and having certain standards that they will not lower themselves to. Many Night Lords despise the Warp and anything associated with it and they hold themselves higher than their brother traitor legions because of this. Then again, no villain sees himself as such.
The writing in Soul Hunter is very good, though there is one trope that nearly became cumbersome. The Night Lords’ home planet was covered in an eternal darkness and as such, their ships have extremely low lighting. This, logically, makes sense and while it is important to the character of the Legion, it does become tiresome after a while. I understand that it is an integral part, but to remind me every five pages that the interior of the ship is the darkest dark that ever darkened the dark doesn’t add anything and honestly took a little away from my willful suspension of disbelief.
Soul Hunter is great and I really enjoyed reading it a second time. The characters are complex, the action is gripping and the experience as a whole is well worth the time. Dembski-Bowden keeps the mysterious nature of the Legion present while slowly revealing little by little about these intriguing characters.
Verdict: 4 dark and creepy corridors aboard the Covenant of Blood out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Chaos Space Marines, fans of Warhammer 40K, those who enjoy mysterious and dark spaceships, and people looking for the first book in a solid science fiction trilogy.
Not recommended for: Loyalist Space Marines, servants of the God-Emperor, children, children of the servants of the God-Emperor, people who are afraid of reading about the dark, or Raguel the Sufferer.