Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords trilogy is among the most beloved of Black Library series – and it’s back in a glorious limited edition boxed set that you’ll be able to order this Saturday. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at why the trilogy is so revered by Warhammer 40,000 fans, and getting some thoughts from Aaron himself.
When Soul Hunter hit bookshelves a decade ago, it changed the way some Warhammer 40,000 fans thought about the Night Lords. Prior to the novel, we knew a lot about how the VIII Legion fought, and their reasons for turning traitor. What the Night Lords trilogy added to their lore was an idea about how they might think and feel, as well as how they function as individuals in the 41st Millennium.
The Night Lords had previously been presented mainly through Imperial eyes – they were a force to be feared. Dark and lightning-wreathed predators who mercilessly continued the Long War, they struck from the shadows and committed the vilest of deeds.
A New Approach
Soul Hunter delighted fans of the Night Lords because it showed them as they see themselves. They’re depicted as a broken Legion of broken souls, psychopaths, and failures.
The Night Lords of Tenth Company, the protagonists (we can’t really call them heroes, after all…) exist on the Imperium’s fringes, surviving on what scraps they can get from attacking poorly-defended worlds and outposts. When they do face a force equal to them – like the Blood Angels they fight in Soul Hunter or their fellow traitors in Blood Reaver – they struggle to gain the upper hand and usually end up retreating until they can’t any more… This inversion of the usual way Heretic Astartes are depicted fascinated a lot of readers.
Sons of Nostramo
Many fans love the series primarily for the characters. The members of First Claw are written as flawed and truly horrible in many, many ways. They’re popular because, despite all that, Aaron makes them likeable, and shows a different side of the Legion that readers can relate to and empathise with. Talos, the tortured prophet who takes out his own pain on others, marked for a destiny he doesn’t want to fulfil. Uzas, the bloodthirsty, barely lucid psychopath. Cyrion, the self-loathing psyker hiding a dark secret behind sardonic humour. Variel, the turncoat Apothecary who chooses to join this motley assemblage.
Then there’s Xarl. Contemptuous of Chaos and the Imperium alike, he can be seen as the exemplar for the tragedy at the heart of the series and Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s vision of the Legion. He fights the Long War not out of a belief in Chaos, or a desire for vengeance, but simply because it’s all he can do.
Why do they stick together? They’re all they’ve got.
Lords of Chaos
Alongside these core characters are a cast of wonderful villains, each of them fully realised on the page. Abaddon the Despoiler. Huron Blackheart. The Exalted. Each of these – the closest Chaos has to authority figures – challenges First Claw and pushes them out of their comfort zone, changing them fundamentally, and leading them directly to their varied fates in Void Stalker.
In short, Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords trilogy engaged imaginations and set a tone for the Night Lords that found its way into the Horus Heresy, and will doubtless continue to grow and evolve. A decade on from the first book, these three novels are a cornerstone for any hobbyist wanting to get to grips with who the VIII Legion are – and they’re an extremely good read too.
The Author Speaks
We caught up with Aaron to get his thoughts on the impact of the series. Here’s what he had to say.
Aaron: When it comes to this trilogy, it’s hard to say anything that hasn’t already been said. Often what’s been said was done by people who’re way brainier than me, too. That makes my contributions to the debate doubly useless. Plus! I did a series of pretty candid author introductions for the new boxed set (in the biz, although our editors call these “prefaces”, we wordslingers call them “Oh jeez, what can I say here that will be fun to read without giving away spoilers…?”) which should hopefully offer some cool context about how the series was written. Which, if you’re keeping score, makes my words here triply useless. Uh-oh.
But I figured I’d take a moment here because there’s definitely something worth saying. Something worth really driving home, in fact.
I’m incredibly grateful for the reaction to these books. The fan art, the feedback, the enduring love for the characters – from their less than noble origins, all the way through their equally ignoble narrative arcs. They’re bad people, broken in some pretty savage ways, but they have each other in a galaxy that hates their guts. Readers have always empathised and sympathised with Talos and the rest of First Claw, and that’s the trick of writing any character in Warhammer 40,000. They don’t have to be right in their attitudes or beliefs (everyone in the setting is wrong or deluded one way or another) but they have to have a point. The reader has to be able to see a character’s perspective, even if it’s flawed or misguided. People got Talos. They got First Claw.
I was careful never to be definitive. That’s something I always strive for in my writing. Like any faction in Warhammer 40,000, this isn’t how all of the Night Lords think and act; it’s a spread of several ideologies, reflections, and ambitions – all in one squad – amidst a Legion where no one really remembers history quite the same way as the others. But something about First Claw and the way they see the world really resonates with people. And, like, ten years later, some of my most ardent and sincere responses from readers are still about the Night Lords Trilogy. That’s both humbling and gratifying, in ways my attempts at wordsmithing here can’t really convey.
If this (beautiful!) new set will be your first encounter with First Claw, then I hope you enjoy what’s ahead. If this is your second, third, or X-number of returns to the bad lads and ladies of Nostramo, then welcome back.
But either way? Thanks, gang. I appreciate it.
Thanks, Aaron. Speaking of that new collectors edition boxed set… Each of the three hardback books is clad in the midnight blue of the Night Lords, bearing the Legion symbol on the cover alongside rich gold foiling. The page edges are illustrated with a lightning bolt, and all three books are contained within a sturdy card slipcase also bearing Night Lords iconography.
Each copy of Soul Hunter has been personally signed by the author, and all three books include a full-colour art page, and those introductions Aaron mentioned above. There will only be 1,000 copies of this set available, so make sure you’re ready come Saturday.
And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!