Watchers in Death by David Annandale. Book Nine in The Black Library's "The Beast Arises" series. Originally published August, 2016. Approx. 191 pages.
The Beast Must Die ended with a brutal loss at Ullanor for the Imperium, as well as the loss of the Primarch Vulkan, who gave his life going toe to toe with a monstrous being most assumed to be the Beast himself. However, upon returning to Terra, Koorland is dismayed to still here the perennial chant of "I Am Slaughter" being broadcast from the ork attack moon hovering over Terra.
A new approach is most definitely in order. Which brings us to Watchers in Death.
After conferring with Grand Master Vangorich, Koorland realizes that instead of massive frontal assaults against the orks, the Astartes should custom make 5 marine mixed-Chapter "kill teams" to conduct surgical strikes and precision kills. Never mind the fact that at the climax of The Beast Must Die, a kill-team of various Chapter Masters failed in their task of taking out the Beast, but I digress.
Koorland proposes the notion to the Council of High Lords, knowing full well that a) they will balk at the notion and oppose it vehemently, and b) he's going to do it anyway. As to why the High Lords are perfectly fine with planetary assault forces composed of mixed Chapters at full strength, but fear the notion of 5 member teams (I'm assuming they are worried that they might be utilized for purposes of assassination, at which point I'd remind them about Vangorich glaring over their shoulders).
So, there's a lot on the line going into this installment. There's the sense of urgency, and the palpable tension between Koorland and the High Lords. Ergo, this should be a slam dunk for Annandale, whose prior two installments were fairly strong.
The problem is, the finished product is anything but a slam dunk. While not bad in the least, Watchers in Death is, in areas, flat and mundane. It just shouldn't be this was. Let's have a look-see...
Much better here than in some previous installments. Koorland is still showing maturation and increased capability as a leader, but we aren't seeing enough of the rage, sorrow, and loss that must be huge drivers for him.
We get to see more of the High Lords in all of their conniving action again. I would implore writers of this series (well, the series is already over, but you know what I mean) to not lose focus of the importance of these characters, as their appearances have been a bit lean lately. Especially of interest in Ecclesiarch Mesring's further mental declination into madness in the light of his impending death.
Also enjoyed was the continued duel of one-upmanship between Inquisitorial representatives Wienand and Veritus. This is enhanced by one of the story's subplots - a covert mission to determine whether or not the secretive Sisters of Silence (they of the infamous Sister of Silence audiobook) still exist.
However, not all of the characters fare this well. Also, I need to mention; for all the positives that I mentioned, there still, in my opinion, needed to be a bit more. We should've seen more of the fallout of Koorland's Deathwatch mandate across the entire swathe of High Lords; how it affected each of their positions, spheres of power, and machinations. And, I really don't think that is asking too much, either - Watchers in Death is definitely one of the leaner tomes in the series. An extra five pages for character development would have worked absolute wonders.
Also, the members of the first Deathwatch units are, to be frank, a tad dull. First of all, there is a frustrating lack of diversity in the initial groups. They are populated primarily with Space Wolves, Dark Angels, Ultramarines, and Blood Angels. This same assortment is applied to all three of the original teams. There is nothing spectacular about these characters, either, and I had a hard time with both keeping up and caring to. I could tell you that the Space Wolf would be the growly one, and the Dark Angel would have "ie" in their name somewhere. There was a librarian in each team. That's about it. For the initial group that would set the standard for how this method would turn the tide in the battle against the Beast, it's a pretty boring batch.
One last note: it's nice to see an appearance by Annandale's best character from his entries, Galatea Haas, even if her job here is little more than a cameo.
Not much to say here. Koorland proposes the idea, the High Lords balk. The teams assemble; there is a cringe-worthy moment that explains why they choose to wear black. Then, they go on a few missions to show how effective this dynamic is. Plus, Wienand, Veritus, and Thane go on their SoS wild goose chase. It tells the story, to be sure, but that's it.
One of my traditional sticking points with Annandale. I believe him to be a meaningful writer; therefore, he only really writes well when there is something of import. When he was describing the Proletarian Crusade, there was a faith based charge on the line. The participants were getting swept up in the the ideology of their ultimately damned maneuver. And Annandale was able to invest the reader fully in that.
With standard action sequences, that engagement is not present. It ultimately devolves into familiar territory: boltguns crack, bones crunch, combatants die in scores, swathes, and droves. There are literal mountains of the dead.
Also, we want the Deathwatch teams to succeed, but the processes of their tasks become methodical.
What Annandale excels at is the aftermath(s). Whenever a Deathwatch team takes out an ork target, the fallout is usually quite amazing (won't go into too much detail because of spoilers).
All in all, Watchers in Death is a good entry. Should have been great, but it is definitely a step above average. I would like to commend Annandale for three strong entries in this series.
Ah yes, the extremely photogenic, if a bit Robert Pattinson-y, Deathwatch kill team member. This is a great picture. I only have a few things to mention here: first of all, there's no real rhyme or reason to that hairline. Second of all, the picture of the Marine himself is so well done (look at the original):
....that it's a real shame that the final cover had to cut the heavy bolter off midway through. I understand it's a formatting issue and all, but it throws off the overall effect. Still a great picture.
One last minor quibble: the mark of the Inquisition is in plain view on the pauldron; and, at this point, the Deathwatch are not yet under the Inquisition's purview. Nothing really damning about that; the picture still stands as a fantastic piece of art.
Cover Final Score: