Blood Reaver by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Originally published in 2011, Limited Edition (pictured above) published in 2016
Genre: Science fiction, military fiction
“The Covenant of Blood tore through the warp, splitting the secret tides like a spear of strained cobalt and flawed gold.”
Blood Reaver takes place a few months after the end of Soul Hunter. Octavia is now the navigator of the Night Lord’s strike cruiser, Covenant of Blood, Talos and First Claw continue to fight and live in the darkness that surrounds them physically and mentally, and Septimus is still a slave; albeit a slave with some sexy facial bionics. Like Soul Hunter, the title refers to an actual character in the book and in this case it is the Tyrant of Badab, Huron Blackheart of the Red Corsairs traitor Space Marines. Years of battle damage have taken their toll on the Covenant of Blood and it is because of this that Talos and company seek Huron’s help for repairs. The aid of the Tyrant of Badab comes at a price, however, and the 10th Company finds itself thrust into a suicide mission: attacking the fortress world of a Space Marine Chapter.
Life aboard the Covenant of Blood continues on much like it has this past age….woops, that’s from The Lord of the Rings. Anyway, Octavia and Septimus grow not only as individuals but eventually into a couple. Woops again…um, *Spoiler Alert*? Come on, they’re not Ross and Rachel. You knew it was going to happen eventually despite everyone telling them it is unnatural since Octavia is technically a rung higher on the evolutionary ladder and the fact that Talos explicitly told Septimus not to touch her; but I digress.
Octavia takes her new responsibilities as Navigator seriously despite the attempts by the ship to break her spirit. She also, unknowingly and metaphorically (boom, adverbs), holds up a mirror to Septimus that makes him come to terms with the bad things he has done in his life. She is something good for him and it is because of this that he is no longer able to act callously in the execution of his duties.
Continuing the theme of dwelling on legacy, Blood Reaver dives deeper into the pasts of Talos and his First Claw brethren. There is a flashback with Talos as a child which gives further insight into not only his and Xarl’s (yeah, they knew each other as kids. Who’da thunk it?) upbringings but the class systems that existed on their now destroyed home world of Nostramo. This comes into play in the interactions between Xarl, who was from the lower class slums, and Mercutian, who was born in a more affluent part. These divisions live on despite the hundreds of years since their youth and create more depth in the characters.
Another theme that pops up again is the strange irony of loyalty among thieves, erm, traitors. There is quite a bit of infighting and double crossing that happens in Blood Reaver. *Spoiler Alert* (There we go. Got it in this time) The traitorous legions of Space Marines are often at each others throats, quite literally at times, and this comes to the forefront during the Night Lords’ time among the Red Corsairs.
Talos and co. find out that one of their Legion’s space ships has been taken and appropriated by the Red Corsairs and within the space of a page of the book decide to take it back through treachery. They agree to fight and help in the assault on Vilamus, the world that contains the fortress monastery of the Marines Errant, in order to place themselves better to steal back the ship they feel belongs to them.
In Soul Hunter, the Night Lords primarily fought in the open and it is noted that this is averse to their preferred method of fighting. Blood Reaver allows us to see them in all of their frightful glory. From the beginning of the book, when the Night Lords are going to attack a Marines Errant installation for raw materials, the traitor marines are in their element. Using a weapon called the Shriek, which jumbles communications and defensive sensors, the Night Lords drift among their prey and begin the wholesale slaughter of the crew.
This knack for scare tactics is the reason the Night Lords are included in the plan to take Vilamus because their mission is to infiltrate and confuse the defenders. This is where Talos and First Claw excel by splitting up, creating chaos, and spreading fear in order to allow the first wave of heavy fighters to teleport in. Flayed victims without eyes and the cries of the dying fill the halls when the Night Lords hunt, and the assault of Vilamus showcases this in all its gory glory.
The climax of Blood Reaver sets up a great cliff hanger that teases the last book in the trilogy and contains some twists that are partly expected, but keep with the logic of the story. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more done with the creepy dead little girl who haunts Octavia sporadically in the story. I suppose there is still the final book but it seemed kind of peppered in without much payoff, at least within the confines of Blood Reaver itself. I definitely look forward to finishing this series and seeing where Talos and First Claw’s story ends.
Verdict: 4 ironic betrayals by traitors speaking of honor out of 5
Recommended for: lovers of creepy dead little girls haunting the hallways of a cursed ship, horror enthusiasts (there are some pretty classic tropes present thanks to the amount of emphasis the Night Lords put into making fear a weapon), and people who read Soul Hunter.
Not recommended for: Huron Blackheart (you gon’ get betrayed fool), The Exalted/Captain Vandred, Hound (goodnight, sweet prince), or those afraid of the dark.