Ben Counter's Malodrax is a poetically magnificent novel about the Imperial Fists Space Marines, the God-Emperor's faithful legion of super-soldiers, and their quest on the daemon-infested and warp-soaked planet of Malodrax. The main opposing force is the Traitor Marines of the Iron Warriors Chapter, sworn enemies of the Imperial Fists. The Iron Warriors once fought shoulder to shoulder with the Imperial Fists before the Horus Heresy turned them against each other, 10 millenia ago. Focusing on the struggles of one legendary hero Captain Darnath Lysander, the novel is crafted truest to the lores of the Warhammer 40000 universe.
The novel is split into three well-balanced segments, which slowly weave together into a whole story:
1// Chapters 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 18:
This segment tells the quest of Lysander to prove that he is still the rightful captain of the First Company of the Imperial Fists. He returns to Malodrax with a strike-force after his escape from that daemon world to exact revenge on his tormentors and the murderers of his battle-brothers. And Lysander will stop at nothing to achieve his objective, the head of the Iron Warriors' Warsmith, Lord Kraegon Thul.
2// Chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17:
This part of the novel revolves around the painful re-telling of how our hero managed to escape the dangers and insanity of Maladrax. As the story unfolds on how Lysander became stranded and subsequently faced the nightmarish landscape of the daemon planet, he pondered how far should one go to perform his duty with his honor intact.
3// At the start of each chapter and punctuated at various points in the novel, comes a philosophical collection of tales from a prior explorer of Malodrax:
This segment offers captivating glimpses of Malodrax from the eyes of an Inquisitor, Corvin Golrukhan. The bits here actually build up to another gripping tale that binds the whole story together.
++Here, I really do not want to spoil it for you, but please take it from me - the way this smaller part melds into the main stories is truly masterfully crafted.++
Tucked in the center of the novel is a color map of Malodrax to help enhance the story.
While I have discussed about the novels contents, I would like to talk about its highlights:
1:: In terms of combat, the novel contains mainly squad-level action, so some up-close and personal adrenaline-inducing fighting sequence are abound throughout the story. A couple of awesome naval combat scenes were also depicted at the beginning.
2:: On the surface, the star of this story seems to be Captain Darnath Lysander. But no, the star of the show is in fact Malodrax itself - a world given a distinct personality.
3:: As you trek across Malodrax with the novel's characters, the planet's madness and foulness are intricately elaborated and brought to life. Not many authors can delineate a daemon world and yet here Ben Counter had executed an outstanding job in illustrating that mind-warping world and its cruel denizens.
In summary, the segments of the novel are seamlessly integrated together. And stitching these together is Ben Counter's masterful command of language. Using the premise of Imperial Fists against their age-old foe set on a daemon world, the full-flavor of the 40,000 world is presented in Malodrax.
No WH40K fan should miss this and Malodrax sits amongst the top spots in my library.