Publisher: Black Library
Genre: SF Crime
Publication Date: 2021
It is well known that there are no good men in Varangantua, for the sprawling crime-ridden city consumes all. But what of the women of Varangantua? Are they as dangerous as the men, or even more so . . ?
Warhammer has a bit of a reputation as a boys’ club, and it’s a reputation that isn’t wholly unfair. In the background alone, wargaming and science fiction have generally been male-oriented for a very long time. For Warhammer specifically, just take a look at the models. Though there were female space marines back in the day, marketing and lore rewrites have rendered them as macho and manly as you can find. The Imperium is fuelled by testosterone as much as xenophobia. Orks are technically non-binary (being a form of mushroom, according to some lore), but are always referred to as boyz. If an Eldar is a woman, it’s likely they’re clad in some form of bikini armour, and even solely female Sisters of Battle are not free from sexualisation, bearing as they do more than a hint of BDSM fantasies.
The assumption that Warhammer must be for men and boys has a basis in reality, but there is a lot of work being done to shift that perception. Yes, part of of this shift is a marketing drive, but it’s also a step towards a more inclusive franchise. And for the past few years, Black Library has been at the forefront of this charge. We’re seeing more female protagonists, be it Dan Abnett’s Bequin, Chettamadey from Mike Brooks’ Rites of Passage, or Justin D Hill’s Minka Lesk. Behind the page it’s a similar story. In recent years, Black Library’s ranks of authors have swelled with new voices, and Rachel Harrison and Danie Ware are two of the brightest new stars in the grim, dark future galaxy.
Against this backdrop, Sanction & Sin marks an important milestone for Black Library. Sisters of Battle aside, this is the first book (so far as I am aware) that explicitly puts women front and centre. It’s a pleasingly logical expansion of the increasing variety offered by Warhammer Crime’s anthologies. First it was men writing about law enforcement, then it was men writing about criminals, and now it’s men and women writing about both sides of the conflict, and those caught in the middle. There are still more men than women writing for this anthology, but every protagonist is female, and that is a step of almost equal significance.
The importance of representation aside, this is easily my favourite of the three anthologies so far, and a fitting reward for sticking with shorter fiction despite my hunger for more novels. Danie Ware’s ‘Bracelet of Bones,’ J S Collyer’s ‘Blood Ballot,’ and Darius Hinks’ ‘Loose Ends’ stand out as the best of them, but it’s a stiff competition. There’s not a bad story in the batch, even if some were simply good rather than great. What these stories do well is cover the breadth and (more importantly) the depth of Varnagantua. Here we see everyone from Dredge-dwellers to the powerful families who manipulate the city. We see assassins, enforcers, and people just trying to get by unharmed. Not all are successful, of course, because if any setting is ripe for tales of tragedy and unfulfilled hopes, it’s Warhammer 40,000. But that’s what makes this book so much fun. The world is bitter and jaded, a shadow of its aspirations, but it’s written with a sense of fun, where the only bitterness comes in the form of irony.
With Sanction & Sin, Warhammer Crime continues to go from strength to strength, and while I desperately want more novels and audio dramas, these anthologies are a great place for any prospective reader to start.