The Grey Knights Omnibus by Ben Counter – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

Grey-Knights-Omnibus

Bane of Kings reviews The Grey Knights Omnibus, written by Ben Counter and collecting the novels Grey Knight, Dark Adeptus and Hammer of Daemons, published by Black Library and set in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe.

“Awesome, page-turning action that will have you hooked right the way through.~The Founding Fields

I’ve read quite a lot of stuff by Ben Counter, and although he isn’t my favourite Warhammer 40,000 author out there, he is by no means my least favourite. Although, he has come quite close to being my least favourite author at times, with the shocking Battle for the Abyss, which currently holds the title for the ‘worst Horus Heresy book ever.’ And to be honest, after reading Battle For The Abyss, I was put off of reading any more Ben Counter. I was done with this author, it seemed, the poorly written Battle for the Abyss overshadowing the fun, enjoyable Galaxy in Flames that was the conclusion to the opening Horus Heresy trilogy, and I was not going to pick up another book by him again.

So, what changed? Well, quite simply, I happened to be in my local library one day, a few months back – where they had a few books for sale, for quite cheap – which they obviously weren’t stocking anymore. And to my surprise, among them was not only The Grey Knights Omnibus, but also The Soul Drinkers Omnibus, which is also by Ben Counter. And so, naturally – I picked up both, especially as they were very, very cheap indeed (20p each, in case you’re wondering). Although, this being Ben Counter, I didn’t start reading them as soon as I got home. The Soul Drinkers Omnibus was put off for a while, until I eventually read Soul Drinker, which my review of can be found here. I enjoyed it. Sure, it wasn’t the best Black Library book ever, but it  was by no means as bad as Battle for the Abyss had been. Which was a sign, and it reminded me that Ben Counter wasn’t all bad. He did have some good novels out there. Galaxy in Flames, for one. Soul Drinker, another.

And that leads us to where I am today, having recently finished The Grey Knights Omnibus, containing the novels Grey Knight, Dark Mechanicus and Hammer of Daemons, which I’m now going to be offering my opinions of below. So, hope you enjoy the review for The Grey Knights Omnibus, starting with the review of Grey Knights: 

On the world of Khorion IX, daemonhunter Mandulis of the Grey Knights is locked in a titanic battle with the daemon prince Ghargatuloth. In a fight that costs him his life, Mandulis manages to banish the foul daemon back to the warp for a thousand years.

A millennium later Justicar Alaric of the Grey Knights leads an elite team of his brothers to put paid to a prophecy which heralds Ghargatuloth’s return.

As expected, Grey Knights is the first novel in this Omnibus, and if you’ve read The Soul Drinker Omnibus, you’ll know that Ben Counter likes to open Space Marine series with a novel named after the Chapter in question. In this case, it is the Grey Knights. For those who are unfamiliar with the Grey Knights, they can be described as the elite of the elite. They are better than your average Space Marine, and they are designed to be the main enemy when it comes to facing Daemons, and the creatures of the Warp.

So, you kind of know which faction the enemy will belong to before you’ve even brought the book. There’s no Orks, Necrons or Dark Eldar for that matter within the pages of Grey Knights, it’s just Daemon after Daemon after Daemon. But don’t let that worry you, as Ben Counter manages to make each battle seem entertaining, awesome and different. There’s some many fast paced, well-written fight scenes in this novel, and each of them will have you turning the pages to find out what happens next.

The plot of Grey Knights is pretty interesting, and fits in nicely as a standalone and as a series opener. There isn’t any foreshadowing, and neither is there major plot holes, which is a good thing.

However, the characters are where the story starts to drop a bit. The Grey Knights themselves are all pretty much interchangeable, with no unique personality, and neither will any of their names stick in your head long after you’ve read the novel apart from Alaric himself, and that’s only because he’s the main character in books two and three. There’s also a problem in the fact that the Grey Knights are all pretty much one-dimensional characters. The other, non Grey Knights are fine, it’s just that the Grey Knights in particular remind me all to well of the Ultramarines. They’re just too bland for my liking. They’ve got no stand-out personality, nothing that makes them particularly different as a character, and this is what I hope that Aaron Dembski-Bowden can improve upon in his upcoming Grey Knights novel, The Emperor’s Gift, coming out in June (ish).

But don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Grey Knights despite being a tad bit predictable, the action, the fast-pacedness of the novel, and the mere fact that it’s Grey Knights, is the thing that makes this novel, and indeed, the Omnibus as a whole, begging to be read.

Verdict of Grey Knights: 3/5

The second novel in this Omnibus, entitled Dark Adeptus, continues on from the events in Grey Knights and is possibly the most disappointing novel in the entire collection, although that probably was because it was sandwiched right in the middle of two awesome novels. I can’t really remember much about Dark Adeptus, but I can remember some good things, and some bad things, so I’ll give it my best shot.

One hundred years ago, the forge world of Chaeroneia disappeared amidst rumours of corruption and civil war. Now it has returned and the once teeming factory planet is now a silent sentinel floating through space. Is it an empty tomb or a foul nest of Chaos? That is the question facing Captain Alaric of the Grey Knights. The elite daemon hunters are charged with a new mission; to investigate Chaeroneia, determine the presence of any daemonic influence and terminate with extreme prejudice. However, nothing can prepare even the Grey Knights for what they find on the planet’s surface. One hundred years of isolation has corrupted the engineer-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus beyond all imaginings, and their monstrous, possessed machines prowl the surface like predators. In order to complete their mission, the Grey Knights must rely on their faith, and trust a ghost lurking in the machine!

The pace was pretty quick, as you’ve come to expect from any novel written by Ben Counter, as well as frequent, non-stop action that will have you hooked, as well as a plot that should prove enjoyable if a bit simplistic. However, these are possibly the only things that will keep you reading Dark Adeptus. Standing in at just over 400 pages, the second Grey Knights novel does have its flaws. First of all, the villain is not as well, evil as the last one. I know this statement may seem odd at first, but the villain is simply not as destructive, and as threatening as the last one, the one in Grey Knights seemed to be. This thus made the novel a tad bit predictable, after all, if Alaric and his Grey Knights have already defeated a stronger enemy, then how do you expect there to be any suspense in the novel at all? So yeah, Counter’s Dark Adeptus isn’t as unpredictable as one would like it to be.

Again, like the issue that I had with Grey Knights, the Space Marines in question are also pretty forgettable characters, bar Alaric himself. There’s nothing to make them stand out from the rest of the Grey Knights, and I’ve mentioned this before, so I won’t cover it again in much detail, but they’re pretty much interchangeable once more. There’s also little character development to be found in Dark Adeptus, which is dissapointing, as I hoped that Counter could learn his lesson from Grey Knights.

But nonetheless, there’s no considerable lack of quality in this novel, which is a relief as Counter seems to either be capable of producing really enjoyable novels or really rubbish ones, but with Dark Adeptus, and like Grey Knights before it, Counter seems to have found the middle ground with his second novel in the Grey Knights Omnibus.

There is however, an addition to the series that I found to be quite nice and fun to read, the Mechanicus themselves, both corrupted and, well, not corrupted. I haven’t read that many novels that feature the Adeptus Mechanicus at all, so it’s nice to see them get a role for a change, and that’s one of the things that kept me reading Dark Adeptus.

Verdict of Dark Adeptus: 2.5/5 

Grey Knight Alaric is taken back to the Eye of Terror and stripped of his armour and weapons. He is forced to fight in a gladitorial arena for his daemonic masters, who worship their god, Khorne, with endless slaughter. His only chance to escape is to find a legendary weapon with the power to destroy the forces of Chaos that imprison him, before he is killed, or worse, corrupted.

Ben Counter’s Hammer of Daemons is the third and final novel to grace the pages of The Grey Knights Omnibus, and in my opinion, Counter has saved the best for last. Although there are no short stories commonly found in Omnibus, and the plot of a Space Marine being stranded within the Eye of Terror isn’t exactly new (See Dead Sky, Black Sun by Graham McNeill and Black Tide  by James Swallow), Hammer of Daemons still manages to have enough, fun, fast-paced action to keep you reading throughout the novel, and for the first time, you get the feeling that the Grey Knight Alaric might not make this one out alive…

I loved Hammer of Daemons. In my opinion, it’s the best one out of the lot, standing head and shoulders above Grey Knights and Dark Adeptus. It’s the first novel in the Omnibus where we get not only a sense of character development, but also a sense of unpredictability in the outcome. Counter really has saved the best for last, and in my opinion, Hammer of Daemons is the novel that makes The Grey Knights Omnibus worth reading. Non-stop action throughout the way through, Hammer of Daemons is pretty much a bolter-porn novel. Now normally, that would be a bad thing, but Counter has proved that he can make bolter-porn novels enjoyable (Grey Knights, Dark Adeptus, Galaxy in Flames), and we’ve also had, with the case of Know No Fear by Dan Abnett, another bolter-porn novel that has proved to be really enjoyable, at least from my point of view, and one that will keep you hooked from page one til Four Hundred and Sixteen.

And the ending. Oh, the ending. It’s a satisfying conclusion to not only Hammer of Daemons, but also the entire Omnibus, in my opinion at least. The pace, despite a slow start, really kicks off and runs at a consistent, fast pace right throughout the novel. If you want some awesome, hardcore Grey Knight bolter-porn, a hero facing up against all the odds, The Grey Knights Omnibus would probably be the one for you. A complaint from me would be that there are no additional short stories contained within its pages, but nonetheless, the novels make up for it in my opinion at least. Awesome stuff.

Verdict for Hammer of Daemons: 3.5/5

Verdict for The Grey Knights Omnibus: 3/5

More by Ben Counter: Galaxy in Flames, Battle for the Abyss, Van Horstmann  

The Soul Drinkers Series: Soul Drinker, The Bleeding Chalice, Crimson Tears, Chapter War, Hellforged, Phalanx 

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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