Watchers In Death by David Annandale (Book Review)

Off the bat, you may not realize it, but a lot of what has been happening in The Beast Arises is all a precursor to the status quo we know from the M41 era. There have already been rumblings about the division of specialities in the Inquisition and we also know that there are some High Lords among the High Twelve who do not have that seat by those familiar times. So in many ways, this series is charting out the history of the Imperium and no book does that more than Watchers In Death by David Annandale, his third book in the series.

As its name implies, Watchers In Death is all about how Lord Commander Koorland forms the Deathwatch Kill-Teams that are so famous and ubiquitous in M41 lore. It all begins with a need to fight the Orks on a different axis, brains over brawn essentially, and I absolutely loved how it all turned out. It made for some stirring reading, especially since it was all used to strike back against the Orks with immediate effect. And the Deathwatch aren’t the only ones to have made their mark here, for we also see the return of some of the most badass Imperial warriors from the Great Crusade era.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

There are two major moments in this novel. The first is the formation of the Deathwatch Kill-Teams, establishing a precedent that will be set in stone for the next 8500 years, and then the second is the return of the feared Sisters of Silence, a women-only force of psychic blanks who were the Emperor’s premier anti-psyker bullet during the Great Crusade. Either one of these on its own would have been enough to make this a memorable novel, but having both of them together and even working together against the Orks in extremely relevant ways? That’s just golden.

With the supposed fall of Vulkan on Ullanor, and the Ork threat still grinding gears without pause, Koorland is forced to come up with a unique way to fight against the xenos. The conversations that lead up to this are fascinating as Inquisitor Veritus once again imparts bits of secret knowledge that it seems only he is privy to, with respect to the Sisters of Silence. We first them them in the Horus Heresy novels, specifically Flight of the Eisenstein, and they have done little since. As it turns out, in the intervening years since the end of the Heresy, they have disappeared from all (almost!) recorded memory and are little more than a myth. We already know as well that Vulkan wanted the Sisters on his side as a strong opposing force to the Ork psykers to nullify their strengths.

And all of this is condensed from the key piece of information that lands into Koorland’s lap in the very first few pages of Watchers In Death: a recording that details the death of an Ork psyker and how that feedsback into the rest of the Ork force around that psyker and killing them all, a scene we saw previously when Venerable-Marshal Magneric fought against the Orks on an Iron Warrior world. Multiple ships, multiple Astartes died to bring this information to Terra and now we have the beginnings of a new plan to fight the Orks. Where the massed armies of the Imperium failed against the xenos, Koorland forms the Deathwatch Kill-Teams which will accomplish with stealth and precision and infiltration what these armies failed to do.

The entirety of the novel is given over to the utilization of these two new weapons in the Imperial arsenal. First we get the Deathwatch as the very first squads are formed. Heavy on symbolism and intent, the coming together of the Astartes from the different Chapters is a thing of beauty. David gives these scenes a lot of emotional heft and you do get the sense that something momentous is happening. All the members of the first Kill-Team remark on it. The Inquisitors take special notice of this. The High Lords are visibly upset at this huge change in status quo. But the fact remains that the Last Wall is still in place as an active force and that Koorland is still the Lord Commander, a rank and status he retained even under Vulkan’s leadership in the last novel.

There isn’t more to say on that front as what we see of the Kill-Teams after that is just them in action full-on against Ork-held Imperial worlds, testing out the new strategy of capturing Ork psykers and “detonating” them in the middle of a large Ork force, which just cascades down into bigger feedbacks throughout the horde.

The second weapon doesn’t get that much use in the novel since it first has to be found. That’s more symbolism for you. The Sisters of Silence represent an element of lost Imperial glory, hearkening back to an era where the Imperium was ascendant in the galaxy and at its peak. With Chapter Master Thane of the Fists Exemplar and Inquisitor Veritus leading the hunt to find them, wherever they may be, things get really heated up. The Beast might have been dealt with on Ullanor by Vulkan, but there are still uncounted armies of his hordes laying waste to the Imperium and the Sisters are the big key.

One thing that I found rather odd was that the Orks often seem to be a few steps ahead of the Imperials when it comes to the Sisters, as if the Beast was aware that they might be a problem and takes preemptive steps to have them dealt with and deny their strength to the Imperium. But then again, the Orks all through the series have been very unusual, to say the least. New technologies, new power structures, ambassadors, widespread use of psykers, new strategies and tactics. I’m not even surprised at this point. In fact, thanks to the momentum that has built-up over the last few novels, I’m now excited to see how the Imperium reacts. A fire has been lit, and it isn’t going out by any means.

However, given all of this, I’ll make a point to say that the politics amongst the High Lords do not take a back-seat at all. The formation of the Kill-Teams is seen by the High Lords as a big power grab by Koorland, and the way in which he manages to get them all to agree with his decision is spectacular. Drakan Vangorich, Grand Master of the Officio Assassinorum, gets to flex his metaphorical muscles once again and it is pleasing given that he has been so hampered all throughout so far, whether by choice or circumstance. And of course, the discussions between the two Inquisitors of note, Wienand and Veritus, were also relevant since they pertain to the future of the Imperium as a whole. David Annandale did an amazing job of bringing all these viewpoints together to present a unified front for the larger narrative and I expected no less certainly.

And speaking of characters, what I found absolutely entertaining was that Koorland is mostly just done with the politics of Terra. He doesn’t care what the High Lords do as long as they don’t interfere with his plans. He literally has more important things to do than engage in mindless politics that don’t produce any results. He’s grown so much through this series and he’s hitting his peak now.

As before, David is really good at the action scenes as well and he delivers here too. There are multiple different situations where our characters get involved and he depicts them in full force. Small squads of Astartes against Orks? Done. Sisters of Silence against Orks? Done. Clash of words between different characters? Absolutely brutal. If there is any real negative to these situations, it is that the Astartes overall take very little casualties all through, which was surprising since until now they have been getting absolutely pummeled despite starting to rack up a few victories. It helps take away from the realism of the whole thing.

In the end though, the novel was an absolute blast to read as the last few have been, and I really enjoyed it. It almost functions as a stand-alone novel too, which was interesting.

Rating: 9/10

More David Annandale and The Beast Arises:

  • The Beast Arises#1: I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #2: Predator, Prey by Rob Sanders (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #3: The Emperor Expects by Gav Thorpe (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #4: The Last Wall by David Annandale (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #5: Throneworld by Guy Haley (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #6: Echoes of the Long War by David Guymer (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #7: The Hunt For Vulkan by David Annandale (Review)
  • The Beast Arises #8: The Beast Must Die by Gav Thorpe (Review)
  • Overfiend #1: Shadow Captain (Review)
  • Overfiend #2: Forge Master (Review)
  • The Death of Antagonis (Review)

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