BOOK REVIEW: Catachan Devil, by Justin Woolley

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Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • A Standalone Novel
  • Focuses on the Astra Militarum
  • Published by Black Library in 2022
  • Military SF
  • 326 pages

When Ted Torvin is tithed into the Astra Militarum, he is sent straight into a brutal jungle war against the orks. After his unit takes heavy losses, Torvin is forced to work alongside the Catachan 57th, who may hate him just as much as the orks . . .

First of all, the funniest part of this book is the fact that the main character is a man, living in the grim, dark future of the forty-first millennium, who is called Ted. Don’t ask me why I find that so hilarious, I just do. There’s actually a whole lot of comedy in this book, some of which works for me, and some of which doesn’t. It all came as a surprise though, because I came to Catachan Devil expecting a rather more grim book than the one I got. I must say, the surprise was a pleasant one.

The story takes a few twists as it develops, not in a plot twists way, but in its introduction of protagonists. Because there are three, but one only arrives a third of the way into the book. Ted Torvin (referred to as Torvin throughout) is the fresh-faced recruit finding out that war isn’t what the propaganda makes it out to be. His early chapters are interspersed with extracts from the Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer. I love referring to in-universe texts, and it helps that I happen to own a copy of said primer. If you haven’t read it, you definitely should, as it’s a hilarious piece of Imperial propaganda. Catachan Devil makes the most of this humour, as veterans of the Astra Militarum are quick to dismiss every piece of advice it gives, while Torvin learns of its overly optimistic outlook in his own time.

Coming in a third of the way through the book we have Catachan soldier Aldalon, who is the opposite of Torvin in every regard. As is pointed out by the soldiers themselves, the Catachans may not be all that different from the orks they fight. Aldalon in particular is just as brutal and trigger-happy as the greenskins, even when it comes to his own team. Once Torvin has been used to set the scene, it’s Aldalon who emerges as the real central protagonist of Catachan Devil. I have mixed feelings on this, but while there is a slight uncertainty as to whose story is being told, the book largely makes it work for both men.

And then we come to the orks, and the kommando Nogrok. Now, I have been converted to an Ork fan by the efforts of Mike Brooks and Nate Crowley, but they do exist at the somewhat sillier end of the Warhammer spectrum. Taken on their own, these chapters are great, and quite funny, but the humour does undercut some of the drama when they share the page with the human characters. Silliness is all well and good in isolation, but set against the grit of the Astra Militarum, it does undermine the tension somewhat. The overall feel is close to Starship troopers (the film, not the book), so it’s still very enjoyable, but the two halves don’t quite line up as neatly as I’d like.

Mixed tone aside, Catachan Devil is a great little piece of military SF. In terms of content, it might not stand out, but in execution, it’s very good indeed.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Brutal Kunnin, by Mike Brooks
Steel Tread, by Andy Clark
Baneblade, by Guy Haley

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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