There was at least one item that left me confused.
The main battle disappointed me, frankly. My main issue was that I just couldn't overcome suspension of disbelief. Counter was (to me, at least) writing more of a traditional siege than a brutal battle throughout a gigantic spaceship. I also felt that many of his descriptions were just uninspired. At one point, for instance, the Soul Drinkers and their would-be judges fight it out in what is literally described as a reproduction of a village. Seriously?
With respect to Mr. Counter (and I mean this; I loved "Galaxy in Flames", for instance), he had an opportunity to describe one of the iconic
places of the 41st Millennium. Imagine the coolest place a Space Marine could live in, and then let your imagination stretch as to what could have been added over ten thousand years. Or, failing that, check out any number of amazing illustrations commissioned by Games Workshop that show comparable settings and places. I just didn't get that "epic", grand feel.
Worse still, he tried selling the traditional "last stand against overwhelming odds" while adhering to simplistic, broad-stroke ideas about how that fight should be fought. Pugh (or was it the Inquisitor visiting?) at some point remarks about how the Astartes were just not made for these mass assaults against a heavily defended front--they're just too valuable. Yet that is all they were doing throughout the novel!
Did Phalanx have no defenses against any random idiot that managed to get in there? No strong-points, no barriers, no turrets, etc.? I don't write for a living, and opinions are like assholes, but I felt Rob Sanders (with "Iron Within", in the Age of Darkness collection) did a much better job of conveying the desperation of such a fight: the need to defend at all costs, to fall back to the next defensible position, etc.
And what is it with these ...
Other than that... Mr. Counter did do a good job of describing the horrors being unleashed on the Phalanx (from the Greater Daemons to the ghosts and environmental damage) ... if not describing Phalanx itself. The showdown between Sarpedon and Daenyathos is satisfying in that ...
The penultimate battle against Abraxes is also very well done, and Luko just gets ridiculous amounts of cool points.
All in all, "Phalanx" is a decent read, but it's hardly the best of Mr. Counter's work. It's entertaining, but it's not very ambitious. Fans of the Soul Drinkers will enjoy it (and should it get it) if for no other reason than that it concludes that Chapter's storyline. 40k readers not necessarily invested in the Soul Drinkers or even Space Marines will get some enjoyment from it, but I doubt they will really hang on to it after being done other than as a source of a couple interesting fluff points.
I give it 6.5 stars (which, in my grading scale, is decent).
Hindsight moment: I wonder if some of the issues I had with this story had to do with the fact that it was delivered in episodic form? Meaning, I don't know what Mr. Counter's deadlines were. Had he worked on it as a full novel, finished it, gotten a chance to edit and re-work it, etc., would it have been more solid? I don't know.