Deathwatch by Steve Parker – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings returns to the grimdark far future with Steve Parker’s Deathwatch, published by Black Library.
“A book that is great fun to read. Steve Parker crafts an entertaining, action packed read that reminds us why the very idea ofa Deathwatch novel is so awesome.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ve fallen rather behind on my Black Library reading as of late, with the last novel that I finished being Dan Abnett’s Pariah. But when I saw Deathwatch in the shelves, it was a chance that I knew I couldn’t pass by. I’d been waiting for this novel for ever since it was announced that Steve Parker was working on a Deathwatch novel, following the short stories in the various …of the Space Marines anthologies, which I all really enjoyed. So, how does the full novel fare? Quite well, as it turns out, and it seems that my return to Black Library novels has been a successful one indeed.
When they first came together, Talon Squad were a disparate group of Space Marines from various Chapters. Under the auspice of the Deathwatch, trained in an ironclad Watch Fortress, they become a kill-team. Alien hunters, experts in xenos extermination, their first mission under the mysterious Inquisitor Sigma is a deadly one. Of all the enemies the Deathwatch face, the genestealers are amongst the fiercest, the most invidious. Led by Brother-Librarian Karras, Talon Squad must penetrate the bowels of a genestealer lair and put the abominations to the flame or face the consequences of an entire planet’s extinction.
A Deathwatch novel allows the possibility to draw Space Marines from a variety of Chapters under one banner and explore their characters. This does run the risk of using archtypical portrayals of Space Marines, with their standard cliched impersonations – for example, you get the law-abiding Ultramarine, the gung-ho rebellious Space Wolf always arguing with the Dark Angel, the stealth expert of the Raven Guard, the staunchly determined Imperial Fist – you get the idea. In the wrong hands, you start to remember their roles over their names, which is never a good sign. But thankfully, Parker manages to avoid that trap, by sticking with the same team, Talon Squad – that he’s worked on in the aforementioned short stories, Headhunted and Exhumed, he takes this opportunity to use this novel as a prequel for those two shorts as a way to appeal to newcomers to his work as well as fans who have read the previous books.
The dramatis personae is quite small for this book, and we’re drawn into a variety of team members that have different roles, but Parker manages to avoid the fear that I had above and continue to build upon some interesting characters that aren’t just bland and one dimensional. For example, you get Lyrandro Karras, nicknamed Scholar, the Librarian and leader of Talon Squad, standing alongside Darrion Rauth, aka the Watcher, and a member of the Exorcists Chapter. He’s also the only member of Talon Squad who doesn’t come from a first-founding chapter. Then there’s Maximmion Voss, the Imperial Fist, codenamed Omni, Ignatio Solarian of the Ultramarines and Siefer Zeed of the Raven Guard, who are supported by Chyron, a Dreadnought of the Lamenters Chapter. This allows Parker to explore a wide view of what different Chapters have on the Deathwatch, and allows to give us some very different personalities. Karass gets the most page-time, but they’re all interesting warriors of their own with stories to tell, and I really hope that either in future short stories or standalone ones, Parker explores them further.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Black Library book without some action and Deathwatch delivers some very entertaining action indeed. Using his experience as a Black Library writer being one of the more prolific authors of this Publisher to date (even if he may not be held in as high regard as the likes of Dan Abnett and Aaron Dembski-Bowden), Parker manages to craft several action sequences that are a step-up from the average bolter porn novels from the likes of CS Goto and Ben Counter, with some great battle scenes and the way that he manages to narrate them prevents the character development from being dragged down and allows for the book to have a breakneck pace.
The plot itself you can tell has been planned out into various acts and Deathwatch clearly benefits from that particular method rather than the make it up off the top of your head method that some writers are known to use (outside of the Black Library verse, Stephen King is a well known user of this method). Parker takes some time to show the assembling of Talon Squad when he could have just dived straight into the main plot, which allows for some great set up where we get to know the characters before the fun really begins, and when the fun begins, it certainly does – this is one of the better Black Library novels that I’ve had the pleasure of reading and Steve Parker really knocks it out of the park. I really hope that there’ll be more Deathwatch novels, or just short stories soon – I’ll certainly be on board for them.
Deathwatch is also a pretty strong book for newcomers to the Warhammer 40,000 Universe providing they have a basic understanding of the lore. I wouldn’t suggest it for somebody completley new to the Universe, you might want to try either Dan Abnett’s Gaunts Ghosts / Eisenhorn Omnibus, or check out what fellow Founding Fields reviewer Shadowhawk has to offer on the subject<INSERT LINK HERE> here <INSERT LINK HERE>. As already mentioned, it gives an introduction to a variety of Chapters and explains how the Deathwatch function clearly, as well as providing explanations for certain terms – but all the terms are fresh, and I haven’t encountered them before in the Black Library Universe.
So, what next? Now that I’ve returned to the realm of Black Library, I’m thinking that my next purchase will probably be along the lines of Baneblade by Guy Hayley, as I’d prefer to either wait for paperbacks or buy ebooks. And Guy Hayley is an author whose work for Angry Robot I’ve really enjoyed, so I’m hoping he can deliver within the Warhammer 40,000 Universe.