Necropolis by Dan Abnett – Review [EJ Davies]


EJ Davies, in his quest to cover the wealth of Black Library releases prior to Horus Rising, takes on the might of Ibram Guant and his Ghosts in the third, and final, of The Founding Cycle.

“A fabulous entry into the Black Library canon, and evidence of why legions of fans have taken the Ghosts to their hearts. Truly great stuff.” ~ The Founding Fields.

From our friends at Black Library:

“On the shattered world of Verghast,Gaunt and his Ghosts find themselvesembroiled within an ancient and deadly civilwar as a mighty hive-city is besieged by an unrelenting foe. When treachery from withinbrings the city’s defences crashing down,rivalry and corruption threaten to bring the Tanith Ghosts to the brink of defeat. Imperial Commissar Ibram Gaunt must find new allies and new Ghosts if he is to save Vervunhive from the deadliest threat of all – the dreadlegions of Chaos”

As I announced to my fellow reviewers, and tweeters, that I was starting this book I was greeted with a great chorus (alright, a diatone) of approval and opinions that said it was the best of the Gaunt series.  In a nutshell, I really really hope that this isn’t the best the following books has to offer.

The opening chapters set the world of Vervenhive wonderfully, the political miasma that is the bureaucratic ridiculousness of the hive upper classes, the destitution of the habbers and smeltery workers, and the spine of them all – the soldiery.  As the initial action takes place we see the development of the panic and horror that ensues from an untried, untested, badly managed, poorly resourced, and poorly executed command chain.  It’s like a poorly managed company, or a badly run public service; only in the 40K universe and with actual lives at stake.

It is also telling that this is one of Dan’s early novels.  In evidence we already have the strong character archetypes, the ability to bridge stories between novels tipping a hat, or a single sentence to invoke former plot lines, world building, titanic yet engaging battle scenes, evoking reader sympathies, invention; but there is something lacking from what I have read of his from more recent years – yet I cannot identify what it is.  I’ve made mention before that I am a huge fan of Dan’s work so far, it almost feels in Necropolis that despite appearing comfortable with novel writing, he ad yet to find his stride.

In this novel, more than in First and Only, we see more of a glimse of Gaunt’s personality rather than that of the Ghosts, though we do see more of Milo than before.  We also see how Gaunt deals with commanders of his own level, yet potentially not of his own competence.  It is clear that our ‘hero’ in this novel is Gaunt – our antagonists not actually being the Ferrozoican commanders, but the incompetents in charge of Vervunhive.

There is much Necropolis has in common with Know No Fear - there is an overwhelming focus on fighting, death, shooty-death-kill-in -space; yet the ‘quieter’ scenes (if it were an action movie, they would be the exposition scenes where the plot is laid out in intricate detail for the audience to catch up on the plot) ties together those scenes and gives the novel its spine.

In essence, Necropolis is classic Abnett.  It’s what I as a reader have come to expect from him.  Clear cut characters with strong identities, a strong narrative, balls-to-the-wall fighting, and a few good chuckles on the way.  Yet for all its positives it lacks the flair and panache of later Abnett creations.  Whether that’s me, or the fact that I wasn’t truly immersed in the work, or that this is the second Dan Abnett novel I’ve read in succession, or maybe it’s the fact I read Know No Fear before this one – and anything would have been a let down after that.  I simply don’t know.  My job here is merely to tell you what I thought about it, and as good as Necropolis is, it wasn’t what I had been informed it would be.

So, to return to my earlier comment: “In a nutshell, I really really hope that this isn’t the best the following books has to offer.”  What I mean by this is – some people have regarded this as the best in the Gaunt series so far, and I really hope it isn’t as I was a tad underwhelmed.  I hope there are better novels on the way.  For if this is the best, the rest will disappoint me somewhat.

A great book with some outstanding features, and certainly the best in the Founding cycle.

EJ Davies

EJ Davies: reader, reviewer, writer; and an avid lover of Black LIbrary products since the release of the seminal Horus Rising. EJ is currently working through the massive back catalogue of Black Library titles, and plugging away at his own fiction-based efforts in the vain hope of cracking his way into the author pool.


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