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Revisiting an old title, Bellarius sees how Ben Counter’s Daemon World has stood the tests of time.
“Better used as a source of inspiration than a true Chaos novel.” – The Founding Fields
If you were to define Warhammer authors purely by Hollywood directors then Ben Counter would be Black Library’s Tim Burton.
No this is not a comparison made in terms of style, though they do both have the habit of emphasising upon stylised versions of the darkest of subject matter, it’s in terms of their concepts. Even when examining the weakest of their products where the plot turns in on itself the ideas present always manage to hold your interest.
Where am I going with this? Well it’s the sort of mentality you need to have when reading Daemon World. As a conventional story it fails to stand out but as an examination of Chaos as a force and corrupting influence it is easily one of the best texts to be officially printed.
The story of this one is set in the Maelstrom on the corrupted world of Torvendis. As a favoured world of the gods, the planet’s surface warps and alters in near constant flux and has changed hands of champions multiple times. Currently dominated by the servants of Slaanesh, the book begins on the eve of a major change and follows the tales of several key characters representing different facets of Chaos. An aspiring champion, a ruling empress, a manipulator of events and a band of traitor marines tasked with hunting one of their own.
As it has been mentioned already here’s the bad: where the story fails is largely in its characters. Few of them develop during the course of the novel and many feel as if they had been written as everyman examples of what they were representing. Save for one none of them leave any impact and their most interesting aspects tend to come from details about their cultures rather than individual characteristics. Atop of this the final fate of several characters is unseen, and the actual ending is more of a “rocks fall everyone dies” event than a true conclusion. While the story’s conclusion and approach could not have worked otherwise, there’s no denying that both these aspects are significant flaws which do drag the tale down.
What helps make up for this is every other part of the book. You wouldn’t think there would be much left to enjoy with a flawed conclusion and characters which fail to truly stand out but the setting alone helps distract you from the problems. This is one of the very small number of stories set almost entirely upon a truly chaotic daemon world and Counter takes advantage of the planet’s corruption and insanity. While aspects found in the outlying regions where the book starts seem fairly tame, things like the city devoted to Slaanesh are Chaos at its most nightmarishly ingenious and only seems to be limited in the extremely low level of development Torvendis’ endless upheaval allows.
What is more is that with each character reflecting different aspects of the Chaos gods in various ways. not simply in how they worship them or how the one closest aligned to Khorne decides to settle all disputes with an axe (though that certainly helps) but in how they think and act. This might sound run of the mill, but it isn’t delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer as it is in most books. There’s little mention of glory or worship to Khorne in the aforementioned example and any bloodthirst feels far more like it’s naturally a part of his personality. This even extends to some almost Malalite ideas by one character in their rebellion against the gods, who delivers a speech which worth the price of the book alone.
When it does delve into the relationship between the Chaos gods and the mortal races, and goes outside of worship, it mostly goes into areas of how they really love to screw over their servants. As with most things this is best seen with Slaanesh’s devotees, particularly the fate of one monastery, and often outright lie to them. Again, fairly standard but it details areas not usually seen and is going somewhere, building up the points needed for the conclusion to have real meaning.
Again it needs to be specified that the novel is far from great. Even with the strengths outlined above and an admittedly original huge battle scene featuring lakes of blood and more bows than guns, it can be hard to get through. With Torvendis’s specified eras of worship, it would have made far more sense to have this be collection of short stories a-la Architect of Fate but it’s still easy to enjoy this one. If you’re looking for a very different perspective on Chaos itself rather than the traitor legions and imagery to inspire your own writing it’s definitely worth seeking this one out. But if you’re looking for a true story stick with one of the more popular series.