Deathwatch by Steve Parker – Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the marvelous Deathwatch by Steve Parker.
“A Space Marine novel like no other. Deathwatch will have you hooked on it’s memorable characters, it’s eerie atmosphere and beginning to a story that you’ll be dying to read the rest of by novel’s end.” – The Founding Fields
Deathwatch is a novel I have been looking forward to for a long time. I absolutely loved the two DW shorts that Steve Parker released in the last few years, Headhunted and Exhumed, and when I found out that my favourite kill-team were getting their own novel I was very happy as short stories just didn’t have enough of these characters for my liking. And after reading the novel I can say that just one novel is not enough! We need a trilogy, perhaps two trilogies dedicated to the unique brother-marines of Talon Squad.
The Deathwatch, the elite order of alien hunters that every Adeptus Astartes looks up to as the greatest of their order. Only the best are called to serve this ancient brotherhood and wear the black and silver, to learn the ways of war of an order devoted to stealth and operations that very few Space Marines would ever find themselves performing. But the Deathwatch are like no other Space Marine chapter, and when Lysandro Karras is called to serve he finds himself in a whole new world. A squad of brothers from different chapters, each one a vastly different personality, and with their first mission looming ahead of them, Talon Squad will need to put their differences aside and work together or they may find their ends in the dark mines of Chiaro, where they will perish far from their chapters and be doomed to never again see their homeworlds.
The story in Deathwatch is without a doubt only the first part of a series to come, and it serves as a prequel to the two short stories featuring Talon Squad so those who have read them will see the formation of Talon Squad and how this mixed group of brothers first met. With a novel Parker can introduce so much more elements and he does so, working in multiple character plots and overarching stories that will carry on into the next novel and multiple POV chapters that show the events of the novel from different characters and allow the Chiaro plot to advance while Talon Squad is still training. I very much enjoyed the atmospherically creepy and eerie moments of the novel, of which i’m sure the movies Alien and Aliens were an inspiration to the author, and the twists in the plot that feature plenty of grimdark and mystery that will keep the readers waiting for the next book.
The characters are definitely the best point of the novel. The Deathwatch is an organization of great variety and Parker uses this well, no two marines are from the same chapter and the clashing personalities and creeds really show the differences between the different chapters and how these brothers work together despite disliking each other or forging unlikely friendships. The brothers of Talon Squad are as we remember them from Headhunted and Exhumed, but we learn a lot more about them in the novel that paints them in different lights, but one or two of them still have mysteries behind them that we’ll have to wait to find out more about. And Parker’s human cast is just as good, the enigmatic Sigma returns and we get some tantalizing hints about just what this faceless taskmaster is working to achieve, and one new character that I dearly hope shows up again so that we can see what became of her.
The action is not as prominent as I had expected it would be, this being an origin story, but the second half of the novel is much more action-oriented as Talon Squad embark on their first mission and though it’s not as numerous as Parker’s previous novel Rynn’s World, the action is still very enjoyable and tense which fits with the atmosphere that these sections have, and the environment they are set in. The unique style of the Deathwatch is captured well here, they really felt like an entirely different group of Space Marines and this of course made the fighting scenes much more enjoyable. He also made the enemies feel like a dangerous force, both individually and as a group, and managed to convey the threat that they represented while at the same time making it clear that Talon Squad could fight them, but that there was a limit to that.
The pacing of the novel is good, though it does speed up in the second half as the mission really gets underway, whereas the first half consisting of training and events leading to the mission are somewhat slower and more subdued. It’s understandable and it didn’t bother me, but some may not like the type of novel that focuses nearly all of it’s battles to it’s second half. One thing that Parker did very well though, among others, was the humor in the book. Courtesy mostly of Brother Siefer Zeed, Deathwatch is a funny novel at times and that helps brighten the darker sections, but there are quite a few dark moments and some that will make you shudder at the disturbing imagery they evoke. Parker mixes these elements well and the result is a novel that will make your breath catch and make you laugh, a welcome combination.
Now for my favourite quote, definitely this line and the two that followed it which I won’t post here because they were extremely fitting for the moment,
“And I saw the true face of darkness behind that veil, and it did blind me with it’s horror.”
The ending is a cliffhangar without a doubt and a damn good one, perhaps a little abrupt, but it ends on a note that promises so much more and while one or two questions are answered, at least ten more are presented and these ones are even more stupifying than the last. Deathwatch closes on mystery and leaves the reader wanting more, and knowing it will be some time before we get more of Talon Squad, but I think that judging by the ending it will definitely be worth the wait to discover the truth behind Blackseed and the motives of Sigma, and the other matter that I won’t mention here due to spoilers. Some may find the ending abrupt due to the page it leaves Talon Squad on, but I think it was a good place to end the novel as the mission had been completed and the further developments will be left for the next novel.
For a great story, the return of a really great cast of characters that I look forward to seeing again, and the best portrayal of the Deathwatch in all of Black Library fiction I give Deathwatch a score of 8.2/10. This is a novel I would recommend to any readers of 40k, its got Space Marines fighting diabolical aliens, very good humour mixed with some very disturbing scenes and the potential for a great series in the future. This is a novel that any reader of Black Library can enjoy I think, though if you don’t like reading about the Imperium then it’s not for you but then you kind of limiting yourself a lot there. Anyone who has not read Steve Parker before, I encourage you to make Deathwatch your first exposure to him, it will hopefully have you awaiting his next work eagerly as I am.
That’s it for this review. Next I will be reviewing the reprint of the classic BL novel Gilead’s Blood by Nik Vincent and Dan Abnett. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!