I’m going to do my best to discuss this without spoilers, so I’ll just say that for the first third I thought it was going to be a by-numbers quest with bits of a Deathwish-esque one-last-mission revenge tale thrown in, but then it gets wonderfully, stunningly dark. Possibly even darker than Terminal: Overkill, and that’s bleak as anything in places. The plot remains the same, after the tonal shift
One of the best, and conversely worst, things about Necromunda as a setting, is that it can cleave so closely to pulpy tropes. When it’s good, you get an insight into how the bleakest living conditions and abject misery can’t always grind down the human spirit, fast-paced stories of gunfights, gangs and outlaws and nice slices on the all-to-rare civilian experience in the Imperium. At its worst, you get tired western and pulp tropes. Thankfully, Road to Redemption falls into the first camp, for all that it has a hoary plot. Without wanting to oversell it, it explores faith, personal & collective responsibility, here mentalities, familial ties and other types of loyalty. It oscillates between bleak and uplifting in the best possible way.
The book features, to varying degrees each of the ‘Classic’ gangs, as well as 2/3 of those from Outlanders. Brooks manages to bring the differences between the houses to life really well through their language- we’ve already had his take on, and explaination for, the Goliath speech patterns in a previous short, but this is the first time, as far as I’m aware, that the linguistic idiosyncrasies of Orlock and Delaware has been featured. Each house has it’s own vocal tics and differences in syntax and this really helps to distinguish and further set them apart- the differences between the houses are, after all, more than their fashions; they have their own distinct cultures and have populations far in excess of many modern nations, so why wouldn’t they have different ways of talking? It’s a crying shame that’s there’s no audiobook for this on the horizon, it would be really fun to listen to in this regard alone.
Brooks has already done some fantastic work around gender and sexuality (in this regard I mean all levels of human attraction. Or not) in his 40k work so far, so it shouldn’t come as much surprise that he returns to these threads here.
I’m going to make a sweeping statement here that if you are the kind of reader who has trouble accepting that in an Imperium of a million words these things only exist within the narrow parameters of early 20th Century Europe you maybe have a paucity of imagination that ought to preclude you from reading speculative fiction.
In Choke Point, Brooks gave us one of the few 40k characters that I can recall to express or indicate physical attraction in a convincing way, appreciating the attractiveness of a particular Scion and comparing him to their parmore. Nothing earth-shattering, but refreshing. Here we again have characters expressing a desire for intimacy and being motivated by inter-personal relationships rather than just ‘duty’ or shared home worlds. Religion, likewise, isn’t a certain immutable concept, rather a faith that is struggled for and not universally shared.
Gender too is presented here beyond a binary and it totally works. The culture of Necromunda is drawn from so many modern tropes but, like so much in 40k is more than that. There are characters who are referred to as they/them. It might take some a while to adjust to while reading, but if you can adjust to promethium, this isn’t much more of a leap...
I THINK THAT IT’S GREAT THAT CHARACTERS IN BLACK LIBRARY BOOKS ARE BECOMING MORE REPRESENTATIVE OF WIDER SOCIETY AND THAT THIS NOT ONLY LEADS TO BETTER STORYTELLING BUT ALSO MAKES MARGINALISED PEOPLE FEEL MORE WELCOME TO EXPLORE THE SETTING, BUT IF YOU DON’T I’D REALLY RATHER NOT HEAR ABOUT IT, thanks.