It’s been a busy few days as I’ve been getting back into the swing of things post-Christmas, but something I’ve been doing to stave off those January blues is pressing on with The Beast Arises. I’ve just read books eight and nine in fairly quick succession, so thought I’d do a combined review of the two here today!
The Beast Must Die is quite the war story. We follow the collected space marines of the Last Wall, along with some Ultramarines, Dark Angels, Space Wolves and Blood Angels as they head off to Ullanor with Vulkan, intent on stopping the great Waaagh! by taking out The Beast himself. The Black Templars lead the assault, with the increasingly arrogant High Marshal Bohemond coming to blows with Koorland once again. However, there is an awesome little scene where Vulkan truly puts him in his place, I did enjoy that!
The story is interesting as it seems to give us some very interesting and important clues that I feel we’ve missed up to this point. We follow Beast Krule as he infiltrates the city of Gorkogrod, looking to assassinate The Beast, though his plan goes awry as he sees just how well-protected the warchief is. However, we see that the Orks are almost on a religious crusade against the Imperium, and it seems that their psykers are an incredibly potent threat to the marines, as they manage to kill the Ultramarines chief librarian early on, and wage some pretty horrific casualties across the rest of the book. The novel ends with something like a ritual combat between Vulkan and a massive Ork in highly ornamented battle armour, though it’s never truly made clear if this is indeed The Beast himself.
Oh yes, and we get some truly insane Mechanicus hijinks courtesy of Magos Dominus Zhokuv, who manages to create an ordinatus engine using a starship blaster cannon!
Overall, this was one of the high points of the series for me, and has shown a lot of what I think we should have had earlier on in the series, in order to increase the tension and whatnot. I find it a bit disappointing that we have to wait for book eight before we get anything like the other side of the war, and it has been something that, up to now, has been really boring to me. I mean, we don’t know why the Orks are invading, why their technology is so good considering we keep getting told they’re a stupid race, etc etc. It’s good to get the other side to give the story depth, and that’s finally happening here.
Watchers in Death is the book that I’d been waiting for. I didn’t actually start buying these novels until book five was released, and even then it was very haphazard. This, the ninth book of the series, really convinced me that I should read it, however, as we get the foundation story of the Deathwatch here, which of course is super important for the 40k universe as well! It was no coincidence that this novel came out shortly after Death Masque brought the Deathwatch miniatures to the game!
I thought this book was very similar to The Hunt for Vulkan, which is coincidentally by the same author. After a discussion with Vangorich, Koorland posits the idea of a select kill-team of space marines drawn from across the various chapters to go in on surgical strikes against the Orks, after the debacle on Ullanor has shown that all-out assault won’t work. The High Lords are initially reluctant, thinking that Koorland is out to attempt a coup (without realising that the Imperial Fist could kill them all quite easily by himself). However, the kill team idea is eventually approved when more Orks emerge from the battlemoon that is still in orbit above Terra.
Drawing from the chapters who fought on Ullanor, two kill teams infiltrate the moon, and attempt to use the teleporting technology to move it out of the Sol System. The Mechanicus haven’t managed to perfect the blend of xenos and Imperial technology, however, and the massive stresses induced by the teleporter destroy the moon in orbit. Despite the fact that massive chunks of debris obliterate huge swathes of Terra, there is general rejoicing, and the kill-teams are then deployed on another mission: find the Sisters of Silence.
Yes, that’s right, the Sisters of Silence have apparently survived the Horus Heresy, and Chapter Master Thane leads a kill team with Inquisitors Wienand and Veritus on the hunt! My initial thoughts to this were, “aren’t they based on the Moon?” However, this isn’t mentioned at all, but instead we get a bit of a jaunt around the galaxy as the marines investigate some old ruins that were once a fortress of the Silent Sisterhood, whose domed ceiling happens to have a star-map that shows the location of the next fortress, and so forth. Seemed a bit daft, but there we are.
Turns out they aren’t the only ones after the Silent Sisters, as the Orks, recognising the threat that an army of psychic blanks could pose to their Weirdboyz, are also on the same hunt. Just when I didn’t think the story could get more contrived… I mean, sure, it’s science fiction and all, but why did the Orks wait until the exact same moment the marines go looking for the Sisters? Or do the Orks somehow have the power to predict what the Imperium is up to, and therefore can counter it before it happens? A lot of this series has felt a little too convenient, but this just felt a little too silly.
At any rate – spoiler alert – they find them, and a battle between the marines and the Orks ensues as Wienand bargains with the remaining Sisters of the order. She manages to persuade them that the Imperium is in fact worth fighting for, and the book ends with the Sisters renewing their vows to the Emperor.
All in all, it was an interesting read, though there were some annoying coincidences and such along the way. I was surprised to see the Sisters of Silence actually return, though I suppose it is a long way before we get to 40k, so I’m intrigued to see where this storyline goes. I know we’re still only in the second-founding years but, aside from the handful of Imperial Fists successor chapters, it seems the only other Space Marine chapters in the galaxy are first-founding ones. True, Novamarines have been mentioned once, I think, but we still have Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves and Ultramarines making up the cast. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was exciting when we first got to see something other than Imperial Fists and their successors, but there are literally hundreds of chapters from the second founding alone, surely we could get some variety?! Bah!
I know I’ve been critical of this book already, but I think it’s also worth pointing out that it felt a little rushed, particularly at the end. However, that does feel quite symptomatic of the series in general, really. These books are quite short – Watchers in Death is the second to come in at under 200pp – but there tends to have been a focus more on the battle scenes of the story in the latest few novels, and less on the intrigue and stuff. We get very little of the High Lords any more – and what we do get is really quite simplistic rather than anything else. I’m also feeling a bit annoyed that the Iron Warriors storyline seems to be dying a death. I think there was one chapter given over to it in Watchers in Death, as First Captain Zerberyn of the Fists Exemplar continues to fight alongside Kalkator and the Iron Warriors, disobeying a command from Thane to return to Terra. After the focus given to it in Echoes of the Long War, it seems that the story might be fizzling out – I hope we do get some pay-off before book twelve!
Anyway, this blog has been meandering for far too long now. I think, if you’ve read up to book seven of this series, you’re pretty much committed now, and will be reading to the end no matter how many reviews of the novels you read! I wasn’t entirely overwhelmed by either of these, unfortunately, though there were some really interesting ideas presented in them, which has made me excited and intrigued to see just where this story is going. I’m three-quarters of the way through it now, so I’m going to continue to power through and hopefully get to the end before January is out!