Bane of Kings reviews the first novel in the Soul Drinkers series, by Ben Counter, published by Black Library:
‘A well-deserving, action-packed series opener, hopefully the start of something exciting.’ ~The Founding Fields
Soul Drinker, as one would expect, is the first novel in the popular Soul Drinkers series, written by Ben Counter. The one thing that put me off getting into this series earlier was the abomination that was Battle of the Abyss, but it’s safe to say that Counter is now back in my good books after just one novel, and with several more Soul Drinker novels to look forward to, including the recently released Phalanx, this looks like it’s a good thing.
I’m pretty sure most long-term fans have heard of Sarpedon and his Soul Drinkers by now, but for those who haven’t, or simply haven’t picked up the books, the Soul Drinkers are perhaps a ‘unique’ chapter, and I don’t mean that by their colour scheme, and their Pre-Heresy Emperor’s Children-similarities, I mean that by the fact that the Soul Drinkers no longer serve the Imperium.
Wait; hold on, that’s not very unique, is it? You’re right there, but although the Soul Drinkers no longer serve the Imperium, they remain dogmatically loyal (Or at least in Soul Drinker, I haven’t read the rest of the series yet outside of the first two chapters in Hammer & Bolter, Black Library’s Monthly E-Magazine, and I’ve been avoiding the rest as I don’t want to be spoiled on the eventual outcome of the Soul Drinkers), to the memory of the Emperor. They don’t serve Chaos, or one could be argued, that it’s the intervention of a certain Chaos slave that ‘opens’ the Soul Drinker’s eyes to what’s going on in the galaxy at large.
The novel itself, as to be expected from the first novel in the series, focuses around Sarpedon, a Librarian in the ranks of an Imperial allied Soul Drinkers, who have been since the second founding, where they were split from the Imperial Fists alongside the Black Templars and the Crimson Fists in the wake of the Horus Heresy.
Sarpedon finds himself in an unlikely role of command when the commander falls in battle, during a mission to reclaim a lost relic of Rogal Dorn, the Soulspear. But when they do reach the Soulspear though, they find it taken away from them on the crisp of victory, prompting them to embark a path that will eventually, no matter how hard they fight it, lead them to Chaos.
Although Soul Drinker isn’t the best of its kind, the novel is certainly an enjoyable read, and like most of Counter’s works, contains plenty of fast-paced action. In my opinion though, the Soul Drinker’s break from the Imperium happened too quickly. Counter could have made the novel a little longer if for example, he had included several more encounters between the Imperium and the Soul Drinkers as they fought alongside each other, before the Soul Drinkers eventually understanding that the Imperium is indeed very corrupt, and leaving.
I also believe that the Soul Drinkers themselves act a little stupid in this novel, and you can’t help but wonder why they were so easily deceived into abandoning the Imperium as a whole. I know, I mentioned earlier that they still serve the Emperor… but for how long? The fall to Chaos will be inevitable, as we have seen from the case of the Astral Claws.
There’s also the odd grammatical/spelling error that I found throughout Soul Drinker, but then maybe I’m just nitpicking here. Counter’s written a novel that is basically the Warhammer 40,000 equivalent of the new-ish Transformers movies, lots of blowing stuff up, some nice scenes here and there, although there are several drawbacks.
The characters, other than Sarpedon, are seemingly average Marines, and I hope that Counter can expand them further in the upcoming novels. Normally when I read a book I want to remember the names of at least one character, but here – it’s just Sarpedon, unfortunately. I don’t even remember the name of the bad guy, and I finished the book yesterday morning. I had the same issue with Battle of the Abyss, if my memory serves correctly. If you come here looking for a book with memorable characters, you might want to steer clear of this one.
Soul Drinker itself will most likely be a hit-and-miss to you. You’ll either find yourself loving most of the action and enjoying every second of it (as the reviews on Amazon seem to show), or hating it and wishing you hadn’t paid £10.99 for the three book Omnibus).
I’m going to be a bit hypocritical and say that I found myself more in the middle-camp here. I loved some parts, and found it surprisingly easy to get through, but disliked some of the elements that Counter put across. I can’t help feeling that this could have been, so, so much more.
And on that bombshell, (To quote Top Gear), I leave you with:
More Soul Drinkers: Soul Drinker, Bleeding Chalice, Crimson Tears, Chapter War, Hellforged, Daenythos (Limited Edition Novella), Phalanx (Released as an e-book and in serialised chapters in Hammer and Bolter, to be released April 2012 in paperback)
More Ben Counter: Galaxy in Flames, Grey Knights, Dark Adeptus, Hammer of Daemons