The Warhammer Crime Case Files

After Chris Wraight kicked off the Warhammer Crime book line with BloodlinesNo Good Men comes along to give us a cross-section of looks at the crime genre-oriented fiction line’s setting, the hive-city of Varangantua in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. No Good Men is a title which invites the question “What about the women?”; they are here, and they are in significant supporting roles, but as we’re going to see they don’t exactly get much of an opportunity to take the lead role in a story.

Aberrant by Chris Wraight is another Agusto Zidarov story; set before Bloodlines (since his daughter has only just headed off to the schola here), it finds Zidarov asked by the Ecclesiarchy to track down some suspected mutants. Of all the three things the Imperium hates most – mutants, unsanctioned psykers, and xenos – mutants are the ones which are best-known in Varangantua; psykers are very rare, and the world is far enough away from most conflict zones that its inhabits question whether xenos even exist, but mutation appears everywhere in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and Imperial propaganda has primed Zidarov – and more or less everyone he speaks to in this story – to fear and despise the mutants.

This time around, the mutants Zidarov is tracking down – who are being used as slave labour – all have rather similar characteristics. It is remotely possible that they are Eldar of some variety (perhaps tricked into slavery by a Rogue Trader), though it feels more likely that they are a stable divergent strain of humanity like ogryns, squats, ratlings and other sanctioned abhumans – the sheer numbers of slaves, for one thing, suggests that we’re talking about more than a few renegade lone Eldar picked up here and there. Either way, the consistency of their features means that their mutations are not a sign of the favour of the Chaos Gods, making their persecution even less justifiable from an out-of-universe perspective. Heck, even Chaos mutations don’t necessarily mean someone is collaborating with Chaos – but in the setting the Imperium conflates correlation with causation.

(I guess they could be Genestealers – they have a unit called “Aberrants”, after all – in which case Zidarov has doomed his world through this call. I tend to think not. The consistency of the mutant features would not show up in a mass of Genestealers unless you happened to get a crop all from the same generation, and even then there’s significant variation within generations – the Aberrant units among Genestealers certainly would look far more monstrous than these mutants. On balance, I suspect Black Library would have opted against having the Warhammer Crime setting implicitly doomed by a Tyranid invasion as a result of decisions made in one of the first stories; if nothing else, Tyranid invasions are poor backdrops for the sort of crime story the line is meant to be about.)

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Mini-Review: Shambling Towards the Word Count

Nick Kyme’s Sepulturum, another entry in the Warhammer Horror series, reads less like a fully-developed novel and more like a novella which didn’t make the cut for The Wicked and the Damned and then got padded out to novel length thanks to side-stories with minor characters with little bearing on the main plot, thick margins, wide line spacing, and a short page count. Nick Kyme and Black Library really seem to have sweated to stretch this material out over 200 pages so they could sell it as a novel, but not done that much in the way of polishing beyond that.

It’s a shame, because the baseline concept – ie what I presume was the premise of a shorter piece that has been padded out to this length – is pretty good. Morgravia Sanctus is an Inquisitor of the Ordo Sepulturum, a minor subset of the Inquisition with the specific role of addressing what they euphemistically call “plagues of unbelief” – zombie apocalypse outbreaks, in other words.

And that’s about all Morgravia knows – her memories having been shattered and largely sealed away from her after an encounter with, she assumes, the targets of one of her investigations. To try and sort her head out, she decides to make contact with the Broker, a mysterious dealer in illicit information and services who happens to be able to put her in touch with an equally shadowy rogue psyker, the Empath, who might be able to do the job. But, of course, it will take the Broker a lot of convincing before she gives an Inquisitor the Empath’s details – and when a zombie plague (28 Days Later variant, specifically) breaks out in the hive city, the Broker and Morgravia’s negotiations become much more complicated…

That’s not a terrible premise for a story, but as I say it’s weighed down by a lot of side stories about characters we don’t especially care about and who don’t turn out to be enormously important to the central matter. Part of me wonders whether it was even originally intended as a Warhammer Horror piece, because it’s very much on the action movie side of the zombie apocalypse spectrum, and the more a Warhammer 40,000 story leans on action the more it feels like vanilla 40K rather than Warhammer Horror. I got about 100 pages in, got bored, flipped ahead to work out what was going on with the Inquisitor’s memories, wasn’t especially excited about it, and gave up.

Invocations Or Impertinances?

Invocations is the second in the series of short story collections in the Warhammer Horror series which were kicked off by the preceding Maledictions. As with Maledictions, what you get here is a brace of stories, some in the Age of Sigmar setting, some in the universe of Warhammer 40,000, but this time around there’s a notable attempt to include more Age of Sigmar content: whereas in Maledictions only 4 of the 11 stories were based on that setting, here 7 of the 12 stories are based on it.

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