BOOK REVIEW: Night Lords: The Omnibus, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

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Publisher: Black Library

Series: Night Lords(#1-3)

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 942

Publication Date: 2020

Verdict: 3/5

The Night Lords, once under the leadership of Konrad Curze but now turned to the path of Chaos, roam the dark places of the Galaxy. Plagued by visions, their prophet Talos now leads them into the Imperium, and into danger . . .

This is a book that’s been sitting in my TBR stack for most of the year, and likely would have remained there for a while yet. However, I decided to revise my planned reading list for this month, and get through some of the longer books in my TBR. This was the longest. Few can deny how physically imposing Black Library’s omnibuses are, and the Night Lords omnibus is one of the biggest. It’s also likely to be the last one I read for a little while, for reasons I’m about to get into.

As the title suggests, this omnibus gathers the three novels of Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords novels, as well as a trio of short stories featuring the same characters. It’s a complete story collected in a single volume, which is always nice to see. For those who don’t already know, the Night Lords are one of Warhammer 40,000’s Chaos Space Marine factions. Super soldiers in service to evil. They’re a faction I don’t have all that much interest in, in all honesty, but a friend much more versed in 40K lore than myself speaks very highly of these books, so I added it to my splurge of omnibuses earlier in the year.

I will say this for Dembski-Bowden, he avoids most of the pitfalls that I associate with both Chaos and Space Marines. In the former, the Night Lords are a nice break from the frothing-at-the-mouth murder machines I generally expect from Chaos worshippers. I’m not even sure if the Night Lords truly worship Chaos at all. They’re definitely aligned (and serve Abaddon the Despoiler), but they reject the taint of Chaos, even going so far as to cast out or kill those so afflicted. Make no mistakes though, they are an evil bunch. They murder their way across space, killing innocents in the thousands, all while laughing about their victories.

It’s this humour that hit me by surprise. A lot of Space Marine lore paints them as rather grim and humourless individuals. Little more than killing machines made of meat. Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords come across as strikingly human. They have personalities, rivalries, and even friendships. It’s unexpected, and it’s great. This omnibus also makes a wise choice to showcase characters outside of the Astartes. The human slaves who dwell in their ship have just as much page time, and Septimus and Octavia are great characters in their own right. The demigods may be the focus, but the mortals could easily support a trilogy of their own.

But I still have a lot of issues with this omnibus. Not so much because of the story itself, but because of larger issues. After nearly a thousand pages, things do grow repetitive. There’s a plot-line in the second book that is very similar to one in book two. This wouldn’t be an issue if I read the books further apart, but one right after the other is not the best way to experience this story. I don’t have a problem with Dembski-Bowden’s writing – indeed, he’s one of the better authors Black Library have for Space Marine stories – but the sheer size of this book makes it tiring. Though I enjoyed the Night Lords omnibus, it was an exhausting experience, and I’m in no rush to repeat it. This is likely my last omnibus for a while. Aside from ongoing series, it’ll probably be the last Space Marine book i pick up for a while too. I need a break to refresh myself, and want to come back with renewed enthusiasm.

Taken on its own, however, this is one of Black Library’s stronger trilogies, and a must-read for anyone interested in the openly evil side of the grim, dark future.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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