Publisher: Black Library
Genre: Dystopian SF
Publication Date: 02/04/2020
Zeke of House Cawdor has lost everything in a fire. When it becomes clear that the fire was no accident, and that his loved ones may still be alive, he is left with no choice but to strap on his guns once more. But in Necromunda, the most dangerous enemy may just be his own past . . .
Necromunda exists as an odd subsetting within the larger Warhammer 40,000 universe. A single Dredd-style megopolis, offering a different perspective to the superhuman soldiers and planet-threatening wars that Black Library usually deals with. It’s a city of gangs and murderers, no less gritty than the rest of the grim, dark future, and possibly a little more grounded. I have to say, it’s not my favourite part of the setting, but it has made something of a comeback in the past year or so. Mike Brooks has form when it comes to Necromunda, having contributed to the Underhive anthology and written a short story which ties in his excellent Navigators novel, Rites of Passage, to the festering hive. This pedigree alone was enough to pique my interest in Road to Redemption, and while it’s not on the same level as his previous novel, I’m glad I picked it up.
Road to Redemption is a spaghetti western through and through. You’ve got the gunslinger with a dark past, kidnapped children, villages troubled by raiders, and long treks through hostile terrain. It just happens to take place in a sprawling urban dystopia rather than the wilds of California. The mix of genres works as well here as did in Firefly, and it’s clear that Brooks is having fun with the tropes. Having far less fun, is literally anyone who lives in this novel. Brooks captures the bleakness of the forty-first millennium as few others have, bringing pain and despair to every page. Even when there’s a victory for our protagonists, it comes at a staggering price.
While it is focused on the every-men and women of the Galaxy, Road to Redemption takes time to examine the role of faith in the 40,000 setting. Zeke has faith in the Emperor, and is even seen as a saint by some, a title with rather different conotations that Christianity might suggest, but religion is also a weapon used both by and against him in his quest. For such a short book, there are many valid points made on both sides of the argument. Having it be regular humans rather than Inquisitors or Sisters of Battle making these arguments gives Brooks’ characters for more weight and significance.
With it’s relatively simple plotting and city-spanning narrative, Road to redemption can at times feel more like a travel guide to Necromunda than a story in its own right. There is also a certain repetitive element to the communities Zeke and his allies encounter. While Brooks is one of the authors bringing diversity to the characters of the 40,000 universe, the setting itself remains oddly static. Though I must say, the grinding nature of it all is a perfect analogy for the Imperium itself, so perhaps this was a conscious choice on Brooks’ part.
Though not on a par with the greats of the universe, Road to Redemption is a thrilling and quick read. One that won’t disappoint.