Title: No Good Men
Published by: Black Library
Genre: Crime/Science Fiction
Pages: 1st Sept 2020
Source: Personal Collection
Aberrant by Chris Wraight
Exit Wound by Darius Hinks
The View from Olympus by Gareth Hanrahan
Impurities by Graham McNeill
No Use for Good Men by Guy Haley
Cold Cases by Marc Collins
Against the Grain by Nick Kyme
In the grim darkness of the far future, there is a vast city… an urban sprawl of murder and corruption. A den of vice and illicit deeds where the law is failing and justice is fleeting. Glutted merchant-kings turn the wheels of industry, feeding the engine of war on distant worlds while the lowly dream only of survival. As the gilded prosper, hidden behind their fortress walls, the masses must find a place within the underbelly. But regardless of station, whether criminal or law-keeper, one fact remains true – this city is dirty, and no one escapes it without a little sin. For in Varangantua, there are no good men.
I’ve been meaning to read No Good Men since it was first released in Sept 2020; but as with all readers/reviewers Wish List, it didn’t happen until recently! I brought it from the local Games Workshop store. Unlike other anthology reviews, I am going to write a larger over-view, rather than individual short-story reviews.
No Good Men is part of the Warhammer Crime sub-genre of Black Library, with each of the stories following some sort of investigation into the general wrong-doings of varying aspects. There are the usual offerings from novels of a crime theme; missing persons, murder inquiries, and other nefarious tricks of the trade that are to be uncovered by those on the ‘correct’ side of the law. I add with as much emphasis on the title of the book in this statement, as while we’re reading via the perspective of the Warhammer 40k universes Imperium of Mankind and there are, No Good Men. Just varying shades of grey.
In Aberrant by Chris Wraight, we’re reunited with the protagonist, Augusto Zidarov from the Warhammer Crime novel, Bloodlines. I adored the story and setting that Bloodlines establishes, so to revisit the main character and further his exploration of the hive-city of Varangantua and delving into the deepest, darkest aspects of the setting was an absolute winner for me. The first story in the anthology really sets the dark tone for the rest of the book but does so in a familiar manner; with a character that we are already invested in – if Bloodlines has been read to prior to picking up No Good Men obviously.
Another character that has left a lasting impression on me, amongst a collection of decent characters, is Probator Symeon Noctis from Guy Haleys No Use for Good Men. To the point that I ordered a copy of Flesh and Steel, in which the character also features, a few days after finishing No Good Men.
What is impressive about No Good Men is that all the short stories are generically good. They are all well-written, fully complete stories. Each of them resolves in a satisfying way but leaves the reader itching to hear just one more gritty tale of the grim life that Varangantua’s inhabitants endure. None of the individual stories falls short and they’re all enjoyable for their shared theme and subtle differences. However, as a collective, there doesn’t seem to be quite enough variation to keep the reader fully engaged. Each of the stories has a protagonist that feels vaguely similar to the one read about in the previous short story. So while each story works very well as a stand-alone, together they all blend together and become rather unremarkable, which is unfortunate as it doesn’t let the quality of each story shone as it should. The main characters of each of the stories all seem to come from the same mold, aside from Darius Hinks lead in Exit Wound, who offers a vastly different method of solving their ‘problems.’
What No Good Men illustrates is how depraved the Warhammer 40k setting really is. We’re far removed from the heroism of the front line, military battles that the setting has become more well-known for. Instead, we have a more regular human element to the expansive universe; a relatable element to the setting that shows just how futile the individual is against such a vast plethora of problems. No Good Men goes to great lengths to illustrate how little the Imperium really cares about the individual in the settling, seeing itself as one vast machine rather than a collection of separate people. Throughout this anthology, we’re shown how these individuals react to this and strive to lead their own lives; through interpretations of justice in the cases that they are connected to.
No Good Men, while set in the Warhammer 40k Universe, doesn’t always feel like it fits as neatly into that vast setting as it should. There are elements of other science-fiction that creep in at the edges, giving Varangantua a life of it’s own. While it does draw on some of the settings more basic signifiers; the naming of weaponry, the discussion of some fundamental ‘Warhammer Universe’ aspects (The Warp, Imperium, etc) that place it firmly within the 40k Universe, I’d also be as bold to say that this book would be a fantastic entry point for any Science Fiction (or other readers) wanting to explore the setting without jumping in at the deep end.
Should the Warhammer Crime series offer another anthology, a little more variation in lead character tropes wouldn’t hurt, but this is a fantastic collection of short stories that all read well as stand-alones that offer a great insight into a select area of the Warhammer Universe. I do hope that there is more to come from this sub-genre of Warhammer novels.