Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 29 March 2022)
Series: Warhammer 40,000/Astra Militarum – Book Two
Length: 9 hours and 14 minutes
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Another iconic regiment of the Astra Militarum is on full display in the new Warhammer 40,000 novel by talented author Justin Woolley, with the intense and action-packed read Catachan Devil.
2022 is shaping up to be a particularly epic year for Warhammer 40,000 fiction, with a ton of brilliant novels coming out that cover a range of factions and sides of the surprisingly massive and highly compelling extended universe surrounding the famous tabletop games. Some of the best Warhammer books of the year include Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! by Nate Crowley and Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath, which both got five-star ratings from me. However, I have also been really drawn to the impressive novels that examine the basic human troopers of the Imperium of Man. These soldiers, members of the Astra Militarum, better known as the Imperial Guard, come from many different planets, and are forged into unique fighters by the harsh conditions of their worlds. I have had a great time reading some of the recent books about them, such as Steel Tread, Krieg and The Vincula Insurgency, especially as the authors dive deep into the psyches of the regiments and their members to unearth their history, mentality, and their opinions of the deadly wars they are fighting. As such, I was excited when I saw that there was a cool book coming out that followed the legendary Catachan Jungle Fighters, Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley.
Deep in the 41st century, where war and death surrounds the fragile Imperium of Man, many serve the Imperium as soldiers of the Astra Militarum. However, not all Imperial Guard are created equal, as Trooper Torvin of the newly formed Skadi Second Infantry is about to find out. Conscripted to fight in the Emperor’s wars, the poorly trained and terrified Torvin suddenly finds himself on the jungle world of Gondwa VI, expected to go up against the brutal and ever-growing greenskin threat. However, fate is about to place him in the path of a far more dangerous group of fighters.
The lone survivor of his regiment after their vital outpost is overrun and captured by orks, Torvin is accused of cowardice and faces death by firing squad. However, he is given a chance at redemption by joining up with the men chosen to retake his fallen outpost, the legendary and lethal men of the Catachan 57th Jungle Fighters. Led by Colonel Haskell ‘Hell Fist’ Aldalon, the Catachans are masters of stealth and jungle fighting, and the 57th Jungle Fighters have a particular grudge to bear against the orks.
Accompanying a small detachment of Catachan Devils to the fallen fortress, Torvin is in awe of the Catachan’s skill and lethality, while they view him with nothing but disdain. Forced into the fight, Torvin soon discovers that the Catachans are just as likely to turn on him for his incompetence as they are to kill the orks they are hunting. If he wants to survive, Torvin will need to forget his standard training and fight his hardest to gain the respect of the Catachans. However, not even the Catachans are fully prepared for the opponents waiting for them; these orks are aware of their strengths and have taken to emulating their tactics and style. May the best commandos win!
Woolley’s first full Warhammer 40,000 novel was a real hit, and I loved how Catachan Devil provided the reader with a powerful and deeply exciting science fiction tale that also highlights one of the more distinctive factions from the tabletop game. Catachan Devil has a brilliant and deeply compelling story to it that I found myself powering through in only a few days. A standalone Warhammer 40,000 book, Catachan Devil takes the reader into heart of the action quickly by introducing two of the main protagonists in the early goings of the book and showing their arrival on Gondwa VI. These initial chapters primarily focus on the character of Trooper Torvin and show his initial attempts at being an Imperial Guardsman and his unfortunate first encounter with the orks and their fun point-of-view character. Following this, you are introduced to the Catachans and their leader, Colonel Aldalon, who are brought in to clean up the mess made by Torvin’s regiment.
While it was a tad surprising not to see any Catachan characters until a third of the way in, I think it worked, as all the previous events set up the main narrative extremely well, while also showcasing the dearth in skill of the human soldiers at that point. The rest of the book follows at a brilliant pace, taking the various characters on an intense and ultra-exciting adventure. The rest of the story has a great blend of combat, universe building and character development splattered throughout it, as the three central characters all evolve in different ways as they fight against their own issues and their various opponents. Woolley takes Catachan Devil’s narrative in some interesting directions, and I enjoyed the examination of the Catachan mission and the work done to build up a worthy set of adversaries. This all leads up to some brilliant and highly exciting final confrontations between the Catachans and their foes, and I loved the fantastic way that Woolley was able to wrap up the main narrative of this book, as well as the three central character storylines. Everything comes together extremely well, and readers will come away very satisfied, although if they are anything like me, they will be wanting more, even if that is a tad unreasonable. While Catachan Devil does work as a standalone narrative, Woolley does leave some options for a sequel open in the future, which I personally would be quite interested to see. An awesome and highly addictive narrative that was really fun to get through.
I enjoyed the way that Catachan Devil was put together as Woolley wrote it in an enjoyable and captivating way. While this book is primarily designed to highlight a specific regiment of Imperial Guard, something that Woolley does really well, it still contains a brilliant and extremely fun narrative that can be easily enjoyed by anyone familiar with Warhammer 40,000. However, Catachan Devil would serve as a rather good introductory novel for new readers of the franchise. Catachan Devil contains an excellent blend of damaged characters, impressive action sequences and entertaining humour that anyone can have an awesome time with this book, and I personally found myself laughing myself silly at times (there is a fun scene where some orks are trying to lure the Catachans out), while also getting drawn into some powerful character arcs. The entire book is very well paced out, and I particularly enjoyed how Woolley perfectly utilised three central character perspectives to tell a layered and intriguing tale. Seeing three very different perspectives of the events occurring in Catachan Devil adds to the humour and complexity of the tale, and the three unique main characters play off each other extremely well to create an outstanding book. I had such a great time getting through Catachan Devil and it was an exceptional addition to the Warhammer 40,000 canon.
Without a doubt the highlight of this book is the focus on the iconic Imperial Guard regiment, the Catachan Jungle Fighters. The Catachans are a fan-favourite regiment with a distinctive look strongly based on Green Berets in Vietnam (or more likely around Rambo). Portrayed as tough, disrespectful, and extremely deadly warriors whose fighting ability is a result of their upbringing on a jungle Death World, the Catachans have long captured the imagination of the Warhammer fandom, and they have some of the coolest models in the game. Due to their popularity, the Catachans have featured in multiple tie-in novels and comics before, but I felt that Woolley did a particularly good job of examining this iconic faction throughout this book. Indeed, the author really goes out of his way to showcase just how cool and impressive the Catachans are, and the reader gets an intriguing deep dive into their history, mentality and deadly ability in combat.
I felt that the way Woolley set out Catachan Devils really helped to highlight just how skilled and different they are from typical Imperial Guards. Woolley ensures that there is a very fun and compelling comparison between the Catachans and the other Imperial Guards by first showing a normal regiment of troopers getting slaughtered by the orks while relying on their standard training. From there, the Catachans are shown from various perspectives: an insider one from their commander, and two outsider perspectives, including from a poorly trained guardsman, which really helps to highlight the differences between the typical soldiers and these badass Jungle Fighters. Watching the Catachans’ various ambushes, sneak attacks and brutal close combat fights was pretty amazing, and I loved the way that Woolley worked to highlight the practical aspects of their skills and techniques. You learn a lot about the Catachans throughout this book, as all the point-of-view characters learn or reminisce about the things that drive them and the full applications of their skills and training. I definitely came away from Catachan Devil with a new appreciation for this faction, and I loved how well Woolley focused the book on them.
To tell Catachan Devil’s fantastic story, Woolley centred the narrative on three point-of-view characters who each have multiple chapters told from their perspective. These three characters proved to be a winning narrative combination, and you get a powerful and intriguing story as a result. While each of them has their own distinctive personal narrative, their stories come together throughout the book, and it proves very entertaining to see their different takes on the same events. This use of three characters was very effective, especially as you get drawn into their personal stories in some powerful ways.
The first character is Trooper Torvin, a rookie Imperial Guard from the ill-fated and newly formed Skadi Second Infantry. Torvin, who was drafted into the Imperial Guard against his will, is thrust into the deep end on this book and soon finds himself forced to work with the Catachans, even though his inexperience and lack of any jungle training make him a major liability. Woolley makes good use of Torvin throughout Catachan Devil, and he is the primary example used to show the differences between the common solider and the Catachans. There are a ton of great examples scattered throughout the book that showcases the difference between a draftee like Torvin and the Catachans, who are raised from babies to be tough soldiers, from the lack of training, the bad information about opponents, and the way he lugs around a ton of unnecessary gear. I particularly enjoyed the way in which several exerts from The Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer, an in-universe propaganda document, are quoted throughout Torvin’s chapters, often with ridiculous and untrue information that leads the character astray.
While much of Torvin’s story arc is used to highlight the Catachans, Woolley also inserts a compelling and emotionally rich narrative around Torvin as you witness his experiences as a newly minted Imperial Guard. I felt that Woolley did an amazing job capturing the fear and uncertainty that a draftee like Torvin would experience. The hesitation and reluctance that Torvin goes through feels very realistic, and the subsequent reactions from his superiors, most of whom would kill him if they knew what he was feeling, really got me to care for Torvin early on, and it was a great portrayal of a common man in the insane Warhammer 40,000 universe. Naturally, Torvin develops as the book continues, especially once he is with the Catachans, and there are several great scenes as he slowly works to emulate his new comrades and gain their respect. While it is slow going, Torvin eventually finds his courage and comes to terms with the fact that he is going to be an Imperial Guardsman for the rest of his life, and he really develops in a realistic manner. Woolley did some brilliant character work here in Torvin, and I really appreciated how his character arc turned out.
The second major character in Catachan Devil is Colonel Haskell Aldalon, the Catachan commander known as Hell Fist due to the Power Fist he wields. Aldalon is a lifelong soldier who has spent his entire life surviving and fighting in jungle warfare. Portrayed as a gruff and unforgiving figure who fits the mould of the tough, impossibly muscled Catachans extremely well, Aldalon is Torvin’s polar opposite and is an interesting character as a result. While Aldalon doesn’t change much in the book, he is dealing with some deep emotional issues after a big loss in his unit’s last battle. He spends most of Catachan Devil keeping his emotions in check, and he ends up making several mistakes and fighting in a very un-Catachan way, just so he can kill some orks. Aldalon is the most damaged figure in the entire novel, and it proves to be quite moving to witness him come to terms with his grief and despair to regain his old mindset. I really grew attached to this old soldier as the book progressed and his impressive viewpoint added a lot to the quality of the entire narrative.
It is a little ironic that in a book all about the Catachans, one of my favourite characters is an ork. Readers will be blown away by the incredible figure of Nogrok Sneakyguts. Nogrok serves as the book’s primary antagonist and third point of view character and is a rather interesting figure that offers a fantastic alternate perspective on events. Rather than the ultra-violent orks you typically see in Warhammer fiction, Nogrok is something special as he is a Blood Axe Kommando, an ork who has grown enamoured with human ideas of tactics and battle strategy, and who attempts to emulate these ideas in battle. In particular, Nogrok has spent time observing the Catachans in combat and starts to use their ideas of infiltration, camouflage and sneaky kills, rather than the standard ork strategy of running towards the enemy screaming “WAAAAAAGH!” Unfortunately for Nogrok, he is currently under the control of a warboss from another clan who doesn’t believe in tactics and is constantly berating Nogrok for his human ideas and suggestions. I loved how Nogrok spent the entire book idolising the Catachans, and it was impressive to see an antagonistic perspective on them, especially as Nogrok acted more like a demented fanboy than anything else. The comparisons between Nogrok’s opinions about the Catachans and his fellow orks are very entertaining, and it was so much fun seeing the long-suffering character trying and failing to talk sense into his stronger boss. Woolley writes some interesting character development into Nogrok throughout Catachan Devil, and he ends up serving as an outstanding foil to Aldalon, especially as there is some major history between them. Between all of this, and all the hilarious scenes featuring ork society and the hilarious discussions he becomes involved with, Nogrok’s chapters quickly ended up being a favourite of mine, and I loved how Woolley was able to build up the Catachans from this enemy viewpoint in a very funny way.
Like I have with most of the Warhammer 40,000 novels, I listened to Catachan Devil on audiobook, and I felt that this was the superior format to experience it in. Catachan Devil ended up being a pretty exciting and fun audiobook experience, and the format works really well to enhance the action sequences and ensure that listeners can quickly power through its enjoyable narrative. With a run time of over nine hours, this is a relatively easy audiobook to get through, and I managed to polish it off in only a few days. I was particularly impressed with the narration by Joe Shire, who did a remarkable job with Catachan Devil. Not only does he bring all the action and excitement to life with his excellent tone, but he also provides some fantastic voices to the various characters featured within. All the key characters are given distinctive and very fitting voices for their dialogue, and you can really feel the emotion, anguish and bloodlust that the various figures felt. I especially loved the various ork voices that Shire came up with throughout the book, and he captured the hilarious and vicious nature of these extremely fun characters, ensuring that all their jokes are delivered to the listener perfectly. I had so much fun listening to Catachan Devil on audiobook and this format comes highly recommended as the best way to enjoy this epic read.
Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley was an impressive and highly entertaining Warhammer 40,000 novel that I had an incredible time reading. Featuring a fantastic central cast, some awesome humour, compelling action and three outstanding central characters, Catachan Devil really grabbed my attention, and I had a wonderful time getting through it. A guaranteed fun read that will appeal to both established Warhammer fans and general science fiction readers alike.