Space Marine Battles: Malodrax by Ben Counter – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, covers Ben Counter’s latest entry in the multi-authored Space Marine Battles series, looking at the Imperial Fists Chapter and covering First Captain Lysander’s struggles with the Iron Warriors on Malodrax. This book is published by Black Library and set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
“A fast paced, fun and enjoyable read – Malodrax may not be the best Space Marine Battles Novel but neither is it the worst, with Counter proving just how well he can write the forces of Chaos. Unfortunatley, this comes at a price – and his Imperial Fists don’t leave as much an impression as they should.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Held prisoner for years at the hands of the Iron Warriors, Captain Darnath Lysander returns to the world of Malodrax with the Imperial Fists Chapter at his shoulder to exact revenge on his one-time captors. What bargains did he make to escape the world that had become his gaol and to what lengths will he go to keep those pacts veiled from his battle brothers?
The fourteenth novel in the main multi-authored series set in the main Warhammer 40k Universe is Malodrax, written by veteran Black Library author Ben Counter. Counter has a sort of mixed reputation with fans and can either be hit and miss – both his early Soul Drinkers and Grey Knights novels have been enjoyable but Battle for the Abyss is widely regarded as one of the worst entries in the Horus Heresy series. When you’re putting Counter in a series that already has a reputation for being incosistent – the Space Marine Battles novels have seen more weak elements than successes, it’s always going to be a risky gambit. However, it’s safe to say that Malodrax is no Battle for the Abyss. It’s not something that you’ll struggle to get through. It is, in fact -a fun, action packed read that revels in bolter-porn, something that Counter is very familiar with writing. If you want the equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie in the grim-dark far future, Counter has established himself as the go-to-guy and that is very much the case with Malodrax.
The event of Malodrax is something that fans of Warhammer 40k lore and particularly those who have read at least the fifth edition Space Marine Codex will be familiar with. However, what will irk some fans is the changes to the story that was laid down in the Codex lore – don’t go in expecting a carbon copy. Changes to the lore will most likely be frowned upon by hardcore fans so if you’re somebody who holds what is written in the Codex as perfect canon and should not be altered in any way, then Malodrax is probably not the novel for you. However, if you’re open to change – you’ll be quickly swept into the engrossing, page-turning and action packed blockbuster that Counter brings to the table.
Malodrax mixes three ongoing plot threads with a mixture of success. You get a segment looking at Captain Lysander’s escape from the world of Malodrax, detailing how he survived. At the same time, you get the return of Lysander to the Imperial Fists and how the Chapter returns to the world to take revenge. Rather than be told in act breaks, the plots alternate every few chapters, which can make it difficult to follow especially with this many threads. Counter keeps the two entries separate which prevents them from being cluttered and even more complicated as a result, but you can’t help feeling that it would have been better if he’d split the book into the standard acts, shown how Lysander escaped from the prison first before showing him and his fellow Imperial Fists returning to extract revenge. However, that’s only the two main stories. One that doesn’t feel as successful as the main narrative primarily because it explores a different group altogether, and it seems its only purpose is to explore Malodrax in more depth that couldn’t be covered in the main story. This feels like the weakest part of the novel and it probably would have been better had Counter focused on the Imperial Fists and left the other group out of the storyline.
One thing that Counter does well is write the Chaos element of a novel. He really gets it. Regardless of what you may think of Counter’s writing you can’t help but argue that he’s one of the best people in Black Library’s writing stable when it comes to handling the worlds within the Eye of Terror and exploring them in all their full and gory detail – and it really works here. However, it comes as a price – the Chaos elements come at a cost to Counter’s ability to write Imperial Fists, and instead of feeling like the strongest elements of the characters like they should be, the Imperial Fists themselves feel flat with Lysander’s character only being really memorable because he is such an iconic character in Warhammer 40k lore.
If you enjoy Counter’s ability to write portrayals of Chaos forces and don’t mind a divergence from canon and don’t mind a fun bolter-porn read, then Malodrax comes recommended. Don’t expect an amazing novel by any means, but Malodrax is far from the worst book in Black Library’s arsenal and is something that can be cautiously recommended if you are familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 Universe.
SPACE MARINE BATTLES NOVELS: Rynn’s World by Steve Parker, Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Hunt for Voldorius by Andy Hoare, The Purging of Kadillus by Gav Thorpe, Fall of Damnos by Nick Kyme, Battle of the Fang by Chris Wraight, The Gildar Rift by Sarah Cawkwell, Legion of the Damned by Rob Sanders, Architect of Fate by Various Authors, Wrath of Iron by Chris Wraight, The Siege of Castellax by C.L. Werner, The Death of Antagonis by David Annandale, Death of Integrity by Guy Hayley, Malodrax by Ben Counter