MY RATING: (Add 1 star if you’re familiar with the Chaos Space Marines Night Lords forces from other books.)
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Night Lords attempt to recover a valuable artifact.
PROS: Outstanding performances by John Banks and Beth Chalmers; gripping action sequences; cinematic experience overall.
CONS: Some extra world building would have been appreciated for newcomers like me.
BOTTOM LINE: Works less as a standalone than as background filler for the apparently-rich Night Lords corner of the expansive Warhammer 40K universe.
Throne of Lies by Aaron Dembski-Bowden is a recent Black Library audio production set in the Warhammer 40K universe – specifically it’s about the Night Lords forces of the Chaos Space Marines. The story is introduced by two narratives. The first concerns Octavia, the new navigator of the ship Covenant of Blood, a woman who seems to have special psychic sight abilities and is at odds with the ship’s AI. In a thrilling, world-building opening sequence, Covenant of Blood evades an unseen foe as it travels through a warp space of psychic energies. The second narrative involves an assassin on a mission to kill a high priest. The assassin moves about incognito by wearing the skin of her victims, thus posing a serious threat undetected by even the best guards.
Obviously these two narratives are connected, but the connection between them is tenuous at best: Octavia is simply transporting the Night Lords on a mission that ultimately involves the assassin. At that point, the focus is on the Night Lord Talos and his desperate mission to find a lost artifact. The mission, to be sure, is filled with the military sf action one comes to expect from a WH40K story, but it seems like a lost opportunity not to explore the tension between Octavia and the ship’s AI, or further expand on that aspect of the story; especially the world hinted at by the psychic energies and the space between dimensions. Long before the high-octane siege on Uriah 3 is underway, Octavia is never mentioned again. Why spend any time with her at all?
The answer, of course, is because she is a character featured in another WH40K books, Soul Hunter by the same author. Therein lays the most noticeable caveat of Throne of Lies. It feels more like background filler for another story than it does a standalone piece of fiction. This being my first exposure to the Night Lords, my enjoyment was ultimately limited to whatever breadcrumbs were dropped in this story. It would have certainly helped to know a little more about the Night Lords going in — their mission, tactics, allegiance, history… It would have made for a richer understanding of the story.
That said, the production is not without its virtues. As advertised, the action scenes are quite gripping and cinematic in their descriptions. Outstanding performances were given by both John Banks and Beth Chalmers. The tension drives continually upward toward the unexpected conclusion, which I have to admit was somewhat lost on this newbie. This made Throne of Lies a good story, just not a great one for those not already acclimated with the Night Lords faction