Ian Watson’s “Space Marine” Review

2010 cover
Hi guys,

So as you probably guessed from my review of the Inquisition Wars Trilogy a little while ago, I am currently on a bit of a retro GW fluff reading spree and have been reading a fair few of the older Black Library books I can get my hands on. This includes my most recent read, Ian Watson’s “Space Marine” which was released originally in 1993 and then released in 2010 with a snazzy new cover.

Space Marine is an interesting book, following the recruitment and battles of three initiates from Necromunda (yes, the same Necromunda as the game…) as they are recruited into the Imperial Fists. The book gives a great feel for the early Necromunda / Confrontation fluff in the first few chapters, detailing the rivalries between the noble Brat gangs, the techgangs of the middle levels, and the underhive scummers that later became the foundation of the full Necromunda game. It is a pretty interesting look at the way that the broader Imperium interacts with the planetary government too, and just how remote things like the Imperial Guard are for the vast majority of Imperial citizens.


After the recuritment of the three main characters, Yeremi Valence, Biff Tundrish and Lexandro D’Arquebus, the book does a great job at involving you in the process by which teenagers are turned into marines. This is where most of the fluff regarding Marine implants  and genehancement comes from, with quite a lot of rather gory surgical description. It also gives a really interesting look into the psychological changes the Scouts undergo and the way that they are inducted in the way of thinking adopted by the Imperial Fists. I am going to have to admit that prior to reading the book, the Imprial Fists were probably my least favourite Legion (closely followed by the Salamanders), but their whole approach to pain and sacrifice gives them a little more interest.

1993 cover
After the implantation of organs etc is complete, the three characters graduate to being scout marines then full marines and are involved in three main battles. The first is a rather cool assault on a renegade human empire which declared it’s independance from the Imperium and needs to be retaken because it is a vital source of material for the production of power armour. This is the source of the classic story of space marine scouts piloting an Emperor Titan, which although often mocked, actually kind of works in the storyline. The second follows on quite closely from this battle as the Marines hunt down the commander of the renegade planet on it’s moon, fight against a pretty cool comglomeration of Squats and Ambulls, and eventually defeat a daemon of Tzeentch. This experience is a hell of a lot more scary for the Marines in the old fluff than it seems to have become in the new, with it having a lasting impact on the formation of the characters.

The third and last fight introduces the Tyranids and, while the fluff for them has changed significantly since this time, they are still recognisably the same. I shan’t spoiler things, but the fight is rather interesting and provdes a great sense of the Marines encountering something completely foreign to them. Lexandro, of course, goes on to appear in the Inquisition Wars Trilogy himself too…

Overall the book is a bit iffy though, particularly the writing style. Plot-wise and content-wise things are great, but the actual writing is rather repetitive and wanders all over the place. Every wound is described in the same way, with the blood always hardening “like cinnabar”, every opening is described as in some way the same as a sphincter, and the author has a seriously obsessive issue about bodily fluids and faecal matter, with its use recurring again and again and again throughout the book without much real reason. It all gets a bit too much and detracts from the quality of the book.


Basically, if you want a great description of Marine formation, training, and interaction then the book is for you. Enjoy the fight scenes (espcially the titan one!) and skip past all the slightly odd description. 

I would say 6/10, compared to the  Inquisition War’s 8/10.


5 thoughts on “Ian Watson’s “Space Marine” Review

  1. I remember reading this when it first came out, happy to say I still have it on a shelf (along with the Inquisition War trilogy). Keeping in mind my age at the time I loved it. I still think my disappointment with how the background info in the Necromunda game turned out was due to liking this book. I much preferred the Confrontation material to what came later.

    It has been so long since I last read it I can’t really comment on the writing quality, some things have stuck in my head though which I won’t mention due to it spoiling it for others.

    Might have to pick it up and have a read again.

    1. You see that’s interesting, I think I actually prefer the more fully fleshed out fluff of Necromunda to Confrontation. Mind you, they could easily be taken as different hives, or different parts of the same Hive. I still want to get some of the old Brat ganger models…

  2. I still have fond memories of this book from stealing the warhound and all the descriptions of the relics and scribing on bones and stuff. Has that glorious 2nd edition feel.

    1. It does a lovely combination of a really rich background, with some truly wonderfully weird elements, even for the Space Marines.

      One of the things I think has changed has been Space Marines becoming more relatable, more like us, and less strange. Obvious to pick out reasons for this, and it does have some upsides, but I think something has been lost with it too.

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