Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Matthew Farrer

Published: 2005

Reviewed: 2006-04-15

Publisher: Games Workshop

It's books like this one that keep me from giving up on licensed
series. When I picked it up, I didn't realize it was a roleplaying
spinoff book, let alone one from the Warhammer 40K universe, which I
usually avoid like the plague. I thought that "Necromunda" was a
shared universe of some sort, like Janet Morris' "Heroes in Hell"
series, and it was in that spirit that I decided to give it a chance.

What did I find? A marvelous Western. Never mind the sci-fi stuff,
the lasers, the mutants, the fact that everything's happening in the
deep tunnels of a city so massive its inhabitants don't even encounter
the concept of "outside." This is the story of a frontier town hit by
the combination of drought and civil war.

The narrator is a fairly ordinary man in a position of minor privilege
who gets put on the spot by his circumstances. The book starts with
the catastrophe that sets everything in motion, then skips ahead to
where it really starts to impact the narrator. Events go on like a
freight train out of control, and time and time again the narrator
turns away until he finally takes responsibility and acts. And when
he acts, he is the key figure, yet his own physical action is small
and reasonable for his history and background.

In retrospect, some of the things I liked---the well-developed
ecology, casual references to complex ideas and cultures, and the
structure of social niches---are hallmarks of the universe more than
the author. Mr. Farrer, however, puts them to use judiciously and
without the smugness that often spoils such things. I like stories
that contain lots of tossed off references to a larger universe that
is implied rather than enumerated---it deepens the texture of the
universe, helps my suspension of disbelief, and puts the author in the
position of reporter rather than inventor.

It's a fairly short and easy read, at least as long as you don't mind
some horror in the dark. Mr. Farrer is good at adding nasty texture to
the world, and I found myself several times unable to predict where
the hero would end up, or what sort of nastiness would happen next.
And some of it was pretty disturbing---but not unnecessarily so for
the story. There were a couple of twists towards the end that felt
overhyped to me, but I could easily overlook them or pretend they were
handled more delicately.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone willing to taste the dust
and inhale the stench of the dark at the base of a rotting city. It's
a good Western, and redeems my occasionally flagging faith that good
things can be found in licensed series. I'll be looking around for
more things by Mr. Farrer.