IMPORTANT: This is book nine in a series – there will be spoilers unless you’ve read I Am Slaughter; Predator, Prey; The Emperor Expects; The Last Wall; Throneworld; Echoes of the Long War, The Hunt for Vulkan or The Beast Must Die.
The ninth book in Black Library’s The Beast Arises series, Watchers in Death is David Annandale’s third and final contribution, following on closely from Gav Thorpe’s The Beast Must Die. With the Primarch Vulkan lost on Ullanor and the remaining Space Marine forces having taken a pounding, Koorland finds inspiration in an unlikely source, leading to a decision that’s as unpopular amongst the High Lords as it is inevitable given the title of this book. With the fate of The Beast unknown but the attack moon over Terra broadcasting terror across the airwaves, Koorland’s new tactics provide a glimmer of hope for the Imperium.
Yes, if you hadn’t guessed from the cover and title – this book deals with the original formation of the Deathwatch. Impressively though, that’s not the only big moment in the book – the first gathering of Marines seconded to the Deathwatch is surprisingly powerful and beautifully handled, but there’s a lot more to this than just one big scene and a load of fighting. For one thing there’s more of Vangorich, Wienand et al than in the last few books, the slightly wider range of characters giving this a feel that’s a little closer to the first three or four in the series than the last few more tightly-focused novels.
There’s still a great sense of excitement and novelty here, as per the rest of the series – for a start we get to see the first ever Deathwatch kill-team missions, watching as Marines from different Chapters rise above their differences for the sake of a larger ideal. There are once again some fascinating moments linking this timeline to the ‘present’ 40k era, and a welcome look at the Inquisition as it was in M32. In fact there’s an interesting repeated plot device, harking back to Veritus’ surprising knowledge of Vulkan’s whereabouts (and the fact he was alive in the first place) which still hasn’t been properly dealt with. Occurring again here, it’s either something that’s being held back for a later reveal, or a rather cheap narrative device. Let’s hope for the former.
Overall this is another fresh and exciting chapter in this consistently impressive series, offering everything we’ve come to expect so far in terms of characters, plot development and crowd-pleasing links and references for the hardcore fanbase. The pace isn’t letting up, events are moving forward, and things are now really ramping up for the final quarter of the series – it’s probably the best of Annandale’s three contributions, and should really get fans of the series so far pumped up and ready for the next chapter.