BOOK REVIEW: Deathwatch, The Omnibus

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Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • Features the novels Deathwatch, Kryptmann’s War, Storm of Damocles, plus short stories
  • Focuses on the Deathwatch
  • Published by Black Library in 2021
  • Grimdark SF
  • 957 pages

There is no greater threat to humanity than the tides of xenos filling the galaxy. And there is no greater defence against the xenos than the Deathwatch. But when a Space Marine joins the Deathwatch, they discover that a life of heroism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be . . .

One of my first introductions to the grim dark future of the forty-first millennium was a one-off game of the roleplaying game Deathwatch. It was a memorable experience, which ended with me being impaled and carried off by a hive tyrant. I played a few more games later on, and the Deathwatch always struck me as a vehicle for Dungeons & Dragons style shenanigans in the setting of Warhammer 40,000. They’re all super-soldiers, but brought together from dozens of different Space Marine Chapters. From a game perspective, it lets you make a variety of characters that all fall under the same militaristic umbrella. In a more linear narrative, it should allow for the same. Should, but doesn’t always.

The problem omnibuses often run into is repetition. In a series, there’s often a summary or recap of the previous book at the start of the new one. In omnibus terms, this means recapping things you’ve only just read. When it’s a more grab bag approach to an omnibus, there is a risk that the stories blend together. And that’s the case with Deathwatch. Each of the three novels here, and indeed the short stores too, follows a similar pattern. A group of Space Marines are pulled together by the Deathwatch to undertake a deadly mission. They bicker a bit, but do their duty and kill the xenos. It’s a good formula for a novel, but for nine hundred pages? It gets a bit old by the last third. Each of the novels comes with a dramatis personae at the start, which is a feature I wish more books would use. In particular, it’s useful here because without a list to refer to, the characters would have become mixed up between books. It seems the Deathwatch take a certain sort of recruit, and it’s not one that makes for a deep and compelling narrative.

Given my general apathy towards Space Marines, you might be wondering why I bought this book. First of all, it was discounted. But there is one story here that I really wanted to read. Justin D Hill is my favourite active Warhammer author, and with Storm of Damocles, I’ve now read (or listened to) all of his full-length offerings from Black Library. I’ll be honest, Storm of Damocles isn’t his best work. Which might be a good thing, because if you peak at your debut, something’s gone awry. What this story does offer is yet more evidence that we need more t’au stories, a sit offers a rare glimpse of these aliens. Furthermore, it contains one of my favourite lines in all of Warhammer. ‘Without war, there was no hope.’ If that doesn’t get to the heart of Warhammer’s brutal and twisted psyche, I don’t know what does. This is the sort of thematic depth I wish Black Library did more with, and it please me no end to see that Hill has continued along this thread with his Cadia novels.

If you want action by the tankload, then Deathwatch is the omnibus you should read. But if you want something a little more involved, you may wish to look elsewhere.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Night Lords: The Omnibus, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Cadia Stands, by Justin D Hill
Shadowbreaker, by Steven Parker

Published by Alex Hormann

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

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