Daenyathos by Ben Counter – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius reviews the Soul Drinkers’ seed of treachery in Daenyathos by Ben Counter.
“A flawed but vital tale to the Soul Drinkers saga, let down by its page length.” – The Founding Fields
As we established last time we looked at it, the Soul Drinkers series is a heavily flawed saga. Having garnered criticism for various problems and authorial decisions it has not always been regarded in the best light. One of the biggest problems readers had however was Daenyathos. Set between the two final novels Hellforged and Phalanx, it was intended to serve as a major twist to the series. Along with explaining the shadowy turn of one major figure of the novels and flesh out the chapter’s history, it paved the way to the series’ grand finale. Explaining events and allowing for Counter to have a far grander ending to the series than he would have otherwise been able to create.
Unfortunately, much like the very similar Iron Warrior by Graham McNeill, Daenyathos ended up being a limited print product on Black Library’s website. This action resulted in many missing the necessary information to fully understand the final book and many elements of the series’ conclusion seemingly came out of left field. Motivations and plans were hinted at but not fully explored or outlined to readers. Now printed en-mass alongside the two omnibuses the public can finally know the fateful decisions of the chapter’s beloved figurehead and how he became the man see in Phalanx. Has it been worth the wait? Let’s find out.
What’s most notable about the novella is how much information it is attempting to convey within so few pages. Counter clearly desired to show Daenyathos’ change of heart over many years, from its first sparks in his mind to fateful eventual decision. To accomplish this he broke up the narrative into several time periods, beginning with him as a sergeant at the Second Siege of Terra and ending with his interment within a dreadnought. Each section is individually separated by decades but manage to retain a strong degree of continuity. Each era builds upon the last one with elements originating from the Battle of Terra both in terms of Daenyathos’ development, the astartes under his command and the challenges they face. It allows the novella to feel like it has a much bigger plot and to give some emphasis upon the passage of time to enhance Daenyathos’ increasingly radical views.
Furthermore while this is a character-piece it none the less manages to nail many parts of the canon perfectly. The space marines feel and act as they should, like gods of soldiers who are still at risk of falling in battle while the Inquisition is ruthless as ever, and even minor daemons are a grave threat. Something which gives the book enough fights to break up the more poignant scenes of thought and a degree of grounding within the canon which some have criticised the saga for lacking. This being said he is willing to go out on a limb if it enhances the plot.
As an author Counter has the talent of knowing when to bend areas of the canon but never break them so when new elements are introduced, they feel natural or can be justified with enough thought. This is the case with the case with the Scintillating Death, an ancient derelict of a warship haunted by the ghosts of dead Soul Drinkers; used to test astartes initiates and the faith of potential chaplains. It’s a key location within the novella and enhances both the mysticism behind the chapter and potential for fan theories, while at the same time furthering Daenyathos’ descent into fanaticism. Helping him reflect upon the chapter’s entire history of failures and use them to try and confirm his own beliefs, justifying the ideology he would develop actions he would later take.
The book is built upon scenes of importance such at it which help to give importance to events. Rather than characters it looks into specific moments or places in Daenyathos’ life which steered him towards his destiny. In this way it is very clever as while it has a number of characters serving as a supporting cast, it uses these to prevent them from overwhelming the short plot. Keeping everything concentrated upon the protagonist and the development of his character which is so important to the overall series. The few characters it does use it re-incorporates as frequently as possible, trying to give greater meaning to their presence, but this unfortunately was not taken far enough. Even with reincorporation into the plot many are present only for brief sections or with long interludes between appearances. Something which weakens the degree of their involvement with the plot and leaves less space to include all necessary characters. Something which is a definite problem when Inquisitor Kayeda, a character who serves as a major inspiration to Daenyathos’ views is never seen or spoken of again beyond his brief conversations.
Furthermore, while the efforts to make Daenyathos’ development through windows into different eras are effective, they are not as refined as they could have been. Several, the first one in particular, feel either clunky or not fully realised. Each skimming over many details about the individual missions and Daenyathos which could have greatly improved immersion and the book as a whole. Furthermore the novella suffers from a surprisingly slow start, with reasons for the opening scenes being very unclear during initial read-throughs.
Is the novella flawed? Yes. Could it have been done better? Definitely. However, it does adequately explain the events building up to Phalanx and delivers an effective twist. One clearly present in previous books upon re-reading them, yet invisible without thumbing through Daenyathos’ pages. Due to its relevance to the Soul Drinkers series this is a must buy for fans, but as a stand-alone tale it lacks the relevancy or closure offered by the other novellas released. Read before moving onto Phalanx, otherwise look for something else.