Void Stalker by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Originally published in 2012, Limited Edition (pictured above) published in 2016
Genre: Science fiction, military fiction
“It knew itself only as the Eldest.”
The Exalted is dead and now Talos leads the beleaguered remains of the 10th and 11th companies of the Eighth Legion aboard the reclaimed warship Echo of Damnation. This is where we find First Claw and the cast of characters from the previous books in Void Stalker. After experiencing a frightening prophecy which makes up the prologue, Talos awakens and finds himself facing a world he thought he would never see again. With no memory of directing his subordinates to head to the planet (Tsagualsa), Talos must figure out why he has returned to the place where the Legion separated into its disparate war bands centuries ago.
Void Stalker starts in medias res, or in the middle, thrusting us immediately into the action and pacing that will continue throughout the remainder of the novel. There is no fluff or filler to be found in the final book of the trilogy; in Soul Hunter, the characters needed to be set up and Blood Reaver continued their development, but Void Stalker is the end that all roads point to. The events all follow logically and heighten not only the stakes present, but the emotions of the reader.
**WARNING: Some plot summary ahead**
The pacing in Void Stalker is nearly breakneck and quite a bit happens in the 400 pages of the novel. Beginning with the Legion’s arrival at Tsagualsa (the planet…the one I just talked about two paragraphs ago…you need to pay attention or this is never going to work), Talos and his warriors land and begin decimating the human population that has settled there in the time since their departure. During this wholesale slaughter, the Genesis Chapter of the Space Marines attacks the Echo of Damnation and cause heavy losses to the fighting strength of the Night Lords.
After defeating the Genesis Chapter, Talos then creates a torturous hell for the astropaths of Tsagualsa (the planet…PAY ATTENTION), who are humans with psychic abilities, in order to silence a hundred worlds as an act against the Imperium of Man. He is successful but draws the ire of the Eldar, a race of ethereal aliens, who seek to stop the prophesied rise of the warrior who will unite the Night Lords and destroy them.
Loss is a constant theme throughout Void Stalker, and very few of the main characters make it to the end of the book. *BIG SPOILER ALERT* Xarl goes down in a spectacular duel with a Genesis Chapter company champion that ends with both warriors lain low. Mercutian plays the part of the hero staying behind so that his brothers can reach their goal and is killed by the Void Stalker, a dangerous Eldar warrior who is out for Talos’s blood.
We find out that Uzas is not responsible for all of the deaths he has been blamed for, but Cyrion allows him to be found guilty and is killed by Talos when he seeks retribution. Cyrion helps Talos in his final fight with the Void Stalker, but falls in battle and begs for forgiveness from Uzas before dying.
Along with the loss of his battle brothers, Talos deals with the fact that his body is fighting itself and slowly killing him. The organs that make him super human have the potential to create a better prophet who can unite his scattered Legion. Legacy, an ever present theme throughout this series, comes into play yet again when Talos sacrifices himself to kill the Void Stalker and is able to pass along the genetic material necessary to create the messianic prophet.
The prophecy in the prologue is repeated at the end with slight differences, which demonstrates the fluidity of prophecies and possibilities that can be changed by the actions of those involved. Dembski-Bowden does this masterfully with the final chapter of the book and shows us, rather than simply telling us, the way that the future can be molded.
Much of Talos’s growth as a character comes about through the way he treats Octavia and Septimus. Though he is enraged and beats Septimus after finding out Octavia is pregnant, Talos allows him to remain with her when they flee the doomed Legion. Talos’s interactions with the two humans and the emotional toll of Xarl’s death show the small amount of humanity that remains in this superhuman warrior. He wants both his Legion and himself to be better than they are. Due to this, Talos sacrifices himself and shows mercy to his slaves rather than forcing them to die with the rest of the crew.
Void Stalker is a fantastic read and easily the strongest of the three books in the series. There is a lot of payoff from bits of story and character interactions from the first two books, though I will say I was a little disappointed that the creepy little girl didn’t make it off the Covenant of Blood to bother Octavia, but I suppose we can’t always get what we want. The Night Lords trilogy is a dark (pun SUPER INTENDED!) journey that is held aloft by strong writing and intriguing characters. Ave Domnius Nox.
Verdict: 5 dismembered Night Lords out of 5
Recommended for: readers of the first two books, fans of great character writing and emotional payoff, and fans of science fiction.
Not recommended for: children, the squeamish (lots of blood and flayed people in this one), First Claw, or the Astropaths of Tsagualsa (definitely not recommended).