AUDIO REVIEW: Terminal Overkill, by Justin D Hill

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Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • Narrated by Emma Noakes
  • A Standalone Novel
  • Focuses on Necromunda
  • Published by Black Library in 2019
  • A Grimdark Coming-of-Age
  • 9hrs 5mins

When her mother is murdered during a brutal gang war, young Brielle finds herself lost in the Underhive. But if there’s one thing her mother taught her, it’s how to survive. And if there’s one thing Brielle wants, it’s revenge . . .

Up until a few years ago, Black Library put out an impressive range of audio dramas. With a full cast and sound effects, they were a unique format that really put the listener into the heart of the action. they were also my only foray into the audio format. Those audio dramas appear to have been discontinued, which is a real shame, but Black Library are still releasing more traditional audiobooks. Having been pulled back into Star Wars by the audio format, I decided to take a punt with a more grimdark offering. And where better to start than with one of only two novels I am yet to read by one of my favourite Black Library authors?

The good news is that Justin D Hill brings the same overwhelming sense of tragedy to the corridors of Necromunda as he does to the battlefields of Cadia. More than any other corner of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Necromunda drives home what it is to be an average citizen in the grim dark future. Here is a city of unimaginable depth and population, where fighting between gangs and noble houses are constant, and inseparable. Now, this is a microcosm of the larger Warhammer setting in more than one way. On the one hand, it is the dark fate that could befall any planet left to rot by imperial excesses. On the other, it has small scale warfare because the game it simulates is more squad-based than the massed battles of Warhammer 40,000 in general. Either way, it’s fertile breeding ground for conflict. And conflict drives many of the best stories.

In spite of all this setup – the opening act spends some time introducing various characters and factions – Brielle’s journey through the Underhive is largely a solitary one. Most of the novel is a travelogue of sorts. Each act chronicling her arrival in a new region of the great city. Of course, each one has its own threats and enemies. This gives the book a curiously episodic feel. Brielle’s first contact with the Underhive, and a man named Dahong, is possibly some of the most stomach-churningly depressing materiel ever put to Black Library paper. It’s a rough section for both Brielle and the listener, but it’s an interesting choice to have the protagonist’s lowest ebb come about so early in the story. From here, Brielle becomes more active, seeking out Goliaths, spider cultists, and of course, the man who killed her mother.

I’m a traditionalist whop prefers old fashioned print to audio, so when I listen to an audiobook, I want something I can’t get from ink on a page. Terminal Overkill is a purely narrative audiobook, with no sound effects of music, both of which I admit I was hoping for. But there are parts of the text that work better in audio than on paper. Moments where Brielle addresses the listener directly. ‘Look here. This is where I was wounded.‘ Bringing the listener into the story is a great way of making audiobooks more engaging.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the narrator herself. Any audiobook is made or broken by the narrator. This is even more true in first-person narratives. Put simply, Emma Noakes is a great performer, bringing Brielle to life in a way no voice in my head ever could. The various creatures and characters of Necromunda each have their own twisted voice too, but it’s Brielle’s that carries you through it all. As I listened, I was surprised by how much time the book covers, but Noakes is equally at home with the broken and jaded Brielle of the later acts as she is with the infant seen in flashbacks.

I still have reservations about the audiobook form (the lack of control over the pacing is foremost among them), but Terminal Overkill is a strong slice of darkness from a city on the edge of chaos.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also like:
Road to Redemption, by Mike Brooks
The Bookkeeper’s Skull, by Justin D Hill
Cage of Souls, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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