Q3 2016 has been all about the Deathwatch, and in his debut novel Ian St. Martin takes us back to where it all started with Legends of the Dark Millennium: Deathwatch featuring Captain Artemis, who was first introduced back in the 2001 Inquisitor game. Now tying in with the latest iteration of the Deathwatch, this sees Artemis and his squad pulled into a huge conflict as a previous mission proves to have had horrifying unforeseen consequences. Facing both an ork Waaagh! and a tyranid hive fleet, the Deathwatch must resort to desperate measures in order to find victory.
Deathwatch stories have always been small-scale in the past, but this is something totally different. There’s still plenty of kill team action but it’s part of a much, much bigger battle that sees the Deathwatch deploy as an entire army for the first time, including a host of cool new toys to tie in with the recent Games Workshop codex update. Occasionally it does feel a little like an advert for the codex, but that’s inevitable under the circumstances and doesn’t get in the way of the story. Instead this new aspect to the Deathwatch allows St. Martin to tell a fresh and exciting sort of Deathwatch story that retains much of what makes them such fun but ramps up the size and scale to pretty monstrous proportions. Suffice to say this book doesn’t really do subtle.
Artemis is the obvious choice of protagonist given his roots in the background, and he proves to be an entertaining viewpoint character. We get a tiny glimpse of a younger Artemis, which would have been fun to see more of, and there could have been a bit more detail around his identity as a Mortifactor, but in his role as a Watch Captain he proves to be interesting and engaging, if a little cold. His Deathwatch brothers are drawn from a range of chapters both established and less well known – the balance between them is good, and they provide some great opportunities for entertaining dialogue and satisfyingly brutal action sequences. The action scenes overall are nicely varied and enjoyable, but crucially there’s enough calm moments in the gaps between them for the book to feel well paced and to add some tension away from the battlefields.
As a debut novel this is pretty impressive, clearly showing that St. Martin has a strong grasp of the 40k aesthetic and some pretty good writing chops. As a novel with a clear purpose – to support the release of the Deathwatch codex – this does its job well, but more than that it’s a genuinely enjoyable book to read. Maybe it would have benefited from a touch more variety in the narrative and a little more development for Artemis, but put it up against past Deathwatch books and short stories and it stands up really well. It’s a new angle on a much-loved concept, but it’s still firmly entrenched in the grim darkness that’s 40k’s trademark.