REVIEW: Deathworlder by Victoria Hayward

A stand-alone novel set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Deathworlder by Victoria Hayward is everything you want from a 40k universe novel. It’s war on an epic scale, the odds are against the protagonists at every step, the action is non-stop and breathtaking, the history is hinted at and insinuated and meaningful without getting in the way, and you care about what happens to the characters very quickly and very deeply.

Cover for Deathworlder by Victoria HaywardMajor Wulf Khan and 905th Night Shrikes are on Lazulai, a dying Imperial planet where thousands of Cadians and Catachans are being fed into the meat grinder of war against the Tyranids … and they are losing. The planet is dying and taking them all with it. The world is being consumed by the Great Devourer, and all hope is lost, until word reaches Imperial forces of a weapon that could turn the tide not just for Lazulai, but for the galaxy.

Khan sacrifices almost everything to lead a small crack squad across the squalid, decomposing landscape, amidst swarms untold thousands strong, to find a lost Machanicus Magos and the ancient weapon he’s been studying. A cunning and brutal leader, Khan takes a heavy flamer trooper, a sniper, her sergeant, a Mechanicus Magos, and the last survivor of a fallen bastion into the Tyranid forests in the hope of finding the ultimate weapon against the swarm.

Hayward has delivered an almost perfect Astra Militarium novel. You want that Tanith First and Only feeling again? Pick this book up. In such a short space of time Hayward gets you neck deep in so many themes of the 40k universe that it’s just a joy to keep turning the pages. My favourite was the author’s focus on the assumptions made about people from other worlds within the Imperium, and the breaking down of barriers. For me, this landed amazingly and added a real humanism to the story–everything from planetism (I’m coining this term), to finding comradeship through shared adversity, to self sacrifice. The character communication which drove this character engagement so easily could have turned into banal footsoldier banter that you read in so many military fantasies, but Deathworlder had depth and meaning, and, in the right moments, true impact due to Hayward’s investment in the characters and their differences.

The world of Lazulai’s decomposing and digesting nature was beautifully and sickeningly written, and the progression of the planet’s landscape and atmosphere as the Tyranid forces began to pull the nutrients of the planet into low orbit so they could move onto the next world was wonderfully imagined. I really enjoyed this aspect, and with other stories like Richard Swan’s Lamenters sort fictions hitting the stands, showcases Black Library’s current theme of human versus overwhelming organic machine that I am just loving at the moment.

Deathworlder by Victoria Hayward is a wonderful read that I absolutely motored through. If there was a list of stand-alone novels you should read if you’re just starting out in Warhammer 40,000, this book should be on it.

Read Deathworlder by Victoria Hayward

Buy this book on Amazon

Share this
Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.

Get a free magazine

Join our mailing list for a free issue, the latest book releases, and grimdark discussions.