Review: Watchers in Death by David Annandale

Posted by DarkChaplain at 8/28/2016
Brute force has failed – and drastically so. The assault on the ork home world has ended in disaster and new tactics are needed. But will Koorland's new force – his so-called ""Deathwatch"" be effective?

The attempt to hunt down and kill the orks’ leader has ended in catastrophe. The Imperium is reeling from the loss of so many beloved heroes, and the military forces of mankind have been reduced to tatters. Koorland now knows that brute force is not the answer – but how else can the orks be fought? In a radical move, he creates small, mixed Chapter units of Adeptus Astartes – compact teams that will hit the enemy hard and fast, and with deadly accuracy. With armour painted the black of mourning, the new strike teams become known as the Deathwatch. But will this be enough to tip the balance, or does the Imperium need to discover other new means to defeat the orks?
Nine done, three more books to go. The Beast Arises isn't going to let us go straight to the finish line, however, so here's another curveball flung at followers of the series, courtesy of David Annandale. This is his third and final book in the series, which means a full quarter of it sprung from his keyboard!

The Story:
"Brute force has failed – and drastically so. The assault on the ork home world has ended in disaster and new tactics are needed. But will Koorland's new force – his so-called ""Deathwatch"" be effective?

The attempt to hunt down and kill the orks’ leader has ended in catastrophe. The Imperium is reeling from the loss of so many beloved heroes, and the military forces of mankind have been reduced to tatters. Koorland now knows that brute force is not the answer – but how else can the orks be fought? In a radical move, he creates small, mixed Chapter units of Adeptus Astartes – compact teams that will hit the enemy hard and fast, and with deadly accuracy. With armour painted the black of mourning, the new strike teams become known as the Deathwatch. But will this be enough to tip the balance, or does the Imperium need to discover other new means to defeat the orks?"

The Review:
Watchers in Death was quite enjoyable to me. It suffers from some contrivances of the overall series, but the overall story was a satisfying origin piece for the Deathwatch and their particular style of engagement.

Firstly, though, the cover presents a discrepancy with the book's content. The Deathwatch marine shown is wearing an Inquisition-branded shoulder guard, whereas in the book, the Deathwatch are autonomous. They are allying with Inquisitors Veritus and Wienand, but over the course of the book the two merely discuss the possibilities inherent in the new Space Marine formation, foreshadowing future developments. But at the book's present, the Deathwatch is not a militant chamber of the Inquisition yet, and is under the sole direction of Chapter Master Koorland of the Imperial Fists, with Maximus Thane of the Fists Exemplar as his second.

The whole creation myth of the Watchers in Death was interesting to follow, especially seeing the animosity between Dark Angels and Space Wolves, and how that takes the backseat as the Kill Teams get more invested into their role as new elite strikeforce. In general, I felt that Annandale did a bang-on job depicting how the various Astartes grew into their new identities. It was moving in places, and neat to see how Deathwatch and Chapter origin could coexist.

Deathwatch. The word, the name, the truth was shouted by every warrior in the Monitus. It was the moment of creation. That which had been shattered on Ullanor had taken on a new shape, renewed of purpose.
Deathwatch. It was a blade aimed at the throat of the Beast.

A big woe of mine was that, once more, this was pretty much limited to the usual bunch of Chapters. Imperial Fists/Fists Exemplar in the leaders Koorland and Thane, Space Wolves, Dark Angels, Blood Angels and Ultramarines. We knew the Salamanders took part in the assault on Ullanor, but none of them seemed to join the DW. Neither did the infiltration specialists of the Raven Guard make an appearance, or any of the successor Chapters beyond the Fists Exemplar. It was a meek turnout, and seeing how the diversity of Chapters and their individual tactics are perhaps the biggest strength of the Deathwatch to come, this seemed too vanilla for my taste. It ticked the necessary boxes based on previously involved Chapters, but didn't go beyond, which it well could have.

Either way, the Kill Teams go on to finally deal with the attack moon above Terra, which is a plotline I would have liked to see tackled a few volumes ago. Thankfully, there is some finality here, as the Deathwatch come into their own. Where The Hunt for Vulkan and The Beast Must Die were stuffed with big action setpieces, Watchers in Death focused more on small groups of combatants, which was a needed change of pace and delivered something notably different from the rest of the series with its massive scale.

About half the book deals with another hunt for a legendary leftover force from the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy era: The Sisters of Silence. Like with Vulkan before, it is Veritus who divulges the secret of their continued existence. I thought that too typical. Using Veritus again might make sense considering his position, but it was also a bit of a cheap way to handle it. I keep wondering if much would have changed had Wienand found an old dusty tome instead, while Koorland dealt with the attack moon. If anything, that might have benefitted the book by exploring the Inquisition's customs a bit more, and had been more emergent from the events of TBMD, whereas Veritus just has a "oh, by the way, I know this and that" moment. Doing it the way I suggest here would also have made a stronger case for later events to turn out the way they did, involving the two Inquisitors.

But thankfully, we are back to Terra for half of the book. There are politics to be watched unfold again, from the proposal of the Deathwatch's establishment over power play predictions and the Inquisition's scheming. Mesring's role developed a little further, as did Juskina Tull, and even the uneasy relationship between Koorland and Fabricator General Kubik. Vangorich, too, has a chance to spread his influence directly again, which was welcome. His role has been moving to the back lately, whereas I still consider him the true star of the series, for (soon to be) obvious reasons.

However, the story soon moves on to Thane and his Kill Team searching for the long-lost and forgotten Sisters of Silence, guided by the Inquisitors. This was fascinating in a way, but also a little disjointed and could have benefitted from more pagetime and switching back to Terra once in a while.
I'd like to note though that I do not in theory object to the Sisters only entering the stage now. After all, their relevance was only clear to the reader, not the characters. Or rather, the characters who found out about the threat of the Ork psykers took quite a beating in past volumes and their messages only reached Terra now, after the disaster at Ullanor. So, in a way, while Vulkan hinted at the Sisters coming in handy, nobody knew why he'd say that, or that they still endured.
While yes, this drags the series out, it feels like more natural progression resulting from previous novels' plotlines finally developing further.

The individual Deathwatch missions were enjoyable to follow and had some pretty cool moments, especially involving ork-derived technology. If I have one criticism though, it is how comparatively easy their jobs were. Their success was always a given, seeing how their concept gives birth to a full force in the future, but even then, there was a surprising lack of losses and hard choices involved. That could have been handled better, even though the action scenes and infiltration sections were well executed.

A relatively small part of the novel also returns us to Captain Zerberyn of the Fists Exemplar and Iron Warriors Warsmith Kalkator. I won't spoil this part, because it was incredibly good, and showed the inner turmoil of the loyalist captain, and is foreshadowing some big reckoning. I loved this section.

In the end though, this was a solid entry in the series. I had a good time. Some memorable scenes came from the formation of the Watchers, which I remember fondly. A few tweaks could have made it better, but even without them it holds up and brings us one step close to the series' completion.

Watchers in Death on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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