767 pages, The Black Library, ISBN-13: 978-1844164165
The Soul Drinkers Omnibus by Ben Counter collects the novels Soul Drinker, The Bleeding Chalice and Crimson Tears together between two covers and tells the tale of the Soul Drinkers Space Marines, a renegade chapter that, while an enemy of the corrupt and duplicitous Imperium of Man (as Counter says himself in the forward, the Imperium is a great bad guy) is still loyal to the God-Emperor of Mankind, immobile on the Golden Throne on Holy Terra lo these past ten millennia. In a nutshell, the Soul Drinkers turn traitor against a system that has wronged them, have their brush with Chaotic temptation but, ultimately, decide to go for a third, more difficult path: they will fight evil in the name of the God-Emperor without the help of the corrupt Imperium that rules in his name but not in his spirit. If you are familiar with Counter’s writing then there will be no surprises here: he dives right into the story, writes a ton of action sequences while adding the odd twist along the way to keep you interested, all without wasting time on things like plot or filler. The downside to his writing is that it tends to jump around a bit, often for extended periods of time passing between chapters, but at least he informs the reader of it. It also ends up leaving out some events that a reader would want to actually read about (not going to tell you cause it would be a spoiler), but to Counter’s credit, this keeps his books from dragging and being drawn out, so it’s a worthwhile trade off, if you ask me.
So then, if you’re looking for a deep storyline, complex characters, metaphors, Aesop’s, or stellar writing, then you’re definitely not going to enjoy The Soul Drinkers Omnibus. The plots are simplistic and predictable, the protagonists are paper-thin, and overall writing quality is average – then again, I don’t know why would anyone search for literary merit in a media tie-in novel, anyway; if it’s there then great, but if not who cares? That’ s not what these books are for. That being said, The Soul Drinkers Omnibus is pure entertainment because it’s a work of joy created with the sole purpose of sparking joy in others, and that’s something they absolutely succeed at. They’re crammed with explosive action, over-the-top moments, and delicious stereotypes. The depiction of the 41st Millennium is spot on, the atmosphere of the novels is ominous, morbid, and pessimistic, and the feeling of constant, desperate warfare is ever-present. It’s obvious the Soul Drinkers chapter is on a downward spiral, stuck fighting for goals that are ultimately beyond their power to achieve, yet it’s equally obvious there’s nothing else they can do – you could almost say that they’re stuck in a far future of grim darkness in which there is only war.