Oh look, more Necromunda! What a shocking turn of events! This obsession is continuing to grow, and as such I picked up Justin D. Hill’s Terminal Overkill. I actually went into the book fairly skeptical. I want to make it clear that the cover of this book does it no favors. A lone House Escher girl with a hulking House Goliath brute lurking menacingly behind her? How trite. But I gotta hit the Necromunda fix so I dove in anyway.
Black Library really needs to work on their cover game, because I totally did judge this one by its cover. And boy howdy was I wrong. Justin Hill’s story of a woman’s fall from grace to clawing her way back is not only excellent, it’s immensely fun. Which is exactly what I came for.
When You’re an Escher You’re an Escher
Brielle is not only a daughter of House Escher, she’s the daughter of one of the meanest gang leaders in the Western District. Red Tori, who leads the Wild Hydras, is respected and feared throughout Escher, and renowned for suffering no fools. She raises her twins, Brielle and Reiko (a boy who is not useless!) in the ways of the hive and the gang. It is not a gentle or loving childhood, though it is clear Tori loves her children in her own way. Being raised as the daughter of Red Tori has certain perks for Brielle within the Wild Hydras, and rival Escher gangs, but life is still hard in the hive.
Eventually, tensions with House Goliath come to a head within the story. Fettnir, a particularly cunning and scheming Goliath, has an uncanny ability to thwart his competition. Rival gangs who would oppose him die terribly and with such precision tensions are high and trust at a minimum. One night, a man comes looking to kill Brielle, but instead kills Red Tori. Brielle is able to escape to the underhive, and this is where her journey begins.
How the Mighty Have Fallen
The world of the hive is a diverse, multi-layered thing. Despite haven grown up in the lower, non-spire hive, Brielle is clueless about the underhive. Aside from a few Boy Scouts-esque survival tips on what not to drink, navigating the underhive is entirely new. Not to mention it is here where the dregs of humanity and those with dark secrets to hide make their home. Navigating all of these things proves difficult as Brielle falls in with wrong crowds and must grow-up fast if she wants to return to the Western District.
Justin D. Hill’s descriptions of the underhive are both fantastic and terrifying. Dark, dead-end paths abound and if starvation and disease don’t get you, any number of sump-animals will. Not to mention the giant spiders that cling to every surface. Reading the book I realized I would die immediately simply due to everyone eating mushrooms as a staple food. Or scrape, the description of which has the distinction of being the first thing to make me gag reading a book. Nurgle? Slaanesh? Battlefields? They must all bow down to the description of ancient clumps of cooking fats…and other things.
Brielle’s journey from scared slave to angry fighter ready to return home and reclaim the Wild Hydras is very good and very fun. While she follows the expected arc of “from the bottom to the top,” the people she meets along the way keep the story interesting. There are a lot of bad people in the hive, but there are surprising moments of goodness, too. These people might have questionable morality, but they’re not all bad. Though to be fair, the ones that are bad are really bad.
How the Hivers Do
Where the book really shines for me is just in the descriptions of how the hive works. The House Escher gangs are colorful and bright, and have a very distinct worldview. Some of it is humorous such as worshipping the God Empress, Mother of all Mankind, or being surprised that Reiko can shoot and cuss like a woman. Other things are more shocking and haunting, such as their complete disregard for all forms of life.
The plot has a nice cleverness to it that took me by surprise. I wasn’t surprised by which of the characters had less than pure intentions; when a traitor is revealed, I was not surprised at the identity. But I don’t think I was supposed to be either. What was delightfully surprising was watching Brielle piece together Fettnir’s gift for being so damn good at thwarting the competition. Once she is able to piece this together and answer the burning question “why did someone want to kill me 5 years ago,” her brazenness is infectious.
I love a good revenge tale, and Brielle’s is one of the better I’ve read in awhile. Is it a little like”Dune in a hive?” It’s actually a lot like that and I’m totally good with it because I like Dune. I also really like a spider queen motif, as well, so the rise of the Black Widows and Queen Brielle is something that struck all the right chords with me. By the final page, I was sad it was over. If a sequel is planned, it will be a day-one purchase, no questions asked. Just don’t ask me to explain the cover art.