Publisher: Black Library
Genre: SF Crime
Publication Date: 2021
Return once more to Varangantua, a city rife with crime and corruption. A city where the enforcers of the law are as dangerous as those who break it, and the tangled web of crime can ensnare even the most careful of souls . . .
Like the first Warhammer Crime anthology No Good Men, the follow-up Broken City presents a variety of short stories from old and established writers alike. However, while the first offering focused exclusively on law enforcement (and now has three investigator-centric novels spun off from it), Broken City is a more varied collection of shorts, and is the stronger for it.
Chris Wraight’s ‘Sanctioner’ is the only reprint in this anthology, and the one that most closely adheres to the established rules. It’s a story of crime and punishment, and as the shortest story of the lot offers a quick and punchy look at Varangantua. The other shorts are all decent, but only one really stood out to me, and that is ‘No Third Chances’ by newcomer Noah Nguyen. Though it doesn’t push any limits in terms of content, Nguyen’s writing immediately caught my attention. Hopefully Nguyen will follow in the footsteps of many other Black Library short fiction authors and soon make the transition to full-length novels.
Alongside the six short stories contained herein is a substantially longer piece of fiction. Black Library have had a strong recent run of novellas in their catchily titled ‘Novella Series,’ and in Broken City we get another brilliant offering in the form of Robert Rath’s ‘Bleedout.’ There are two things that make this the best story in the collection, the first of which is Rath’s writing. I enjoyed this shorter offering substantially more than I did The Infinite and the Divine, and Rath’s bulletpoint-short chapters and tight prose ratchet up the tension page after page in one of the most thrilling stories Black Library have put out to date.
The second aspect of ‘Bleedout’ that sets it apart is the focus. Yes, it’s about crime, as you’d expect from the Warhammer Crime range, but the protagonist is a medic. As a wise man once said ‘they have ambulances in wars,’ yet their are vanishingly few medics, doctors, and nurses is science fiction. Outside of Star Trek, I can only think of a handful, and none of those are original to literature. It’s a gap in my reading experience I’d really like to fill, and ‘Bleedout’ is a teaser of what medical science fiction could offer. Admittedly, the actual medical side is largely secondary to the criminal side of things, but in a climate like this, I’ll take what I can get.
What Broken City shows is the benefit of opening up the Warhammer Crime range. Within the narrative, there are now stories that are not just about grizzled detectives trying to get their man, or about the man who decidedly doesn’t want to be got. Outside the narrative, the influx of new writers is the lifeblood of any setting, and the new voices speaking for Warhammer Crime are loud and proud about the new things they can bring to the game. Variety is the spice of life, after all, and Varangantua just got a bit more spicy.
Broken City starts to push the boundaries of what the Warhammer Crime range can be, and shows that there’s still a lot of exploration to be done in the years ahead.