Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 29 February 2020)
Series: Necromunda – Book 11
Length: 14 hours and 43 minutes.
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
After enjoying the exciting novel Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker last year I once again dive into the intricate Warhammer 40K expanded universe with another fantastic tie-in novel. This time however, I check out the awesome pulse pounding Necromunda adventure, Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty by Joshua Reynolds, which reintroduces the iconic and entertaining bounty hunter Kal Jerico.
Warhammer 40K fiction is a particularly fascinating franchise built around Games Workshop’s tabletop war game of the same name, which follows armies, heroes and monsters as they fight for supremacy in a gothic far future. While Warhammer 40K started as models and gaming, it has since evolved into a massive expanded universe, featuring comics, video games, board games, a film, an upcoming television show and a vast collection of tie-in novels written by an impressive group of science fiction authors. This is a really fantastic universe that I have a great deal of love for as I was a major Warhammer nerd when I was younger (heck, I’ll admit it, I’m still a Warhammer nerd). Thanks to an incredible amount of lore, history and character bios that have been created to accompany the various iterations of the tabletop game, this universe has so much potential for great fiction and stories that are a lot of fun to explore.
While my last dive into Warhammer 40K fiction focused on the wider wars of Space Marines versus aliens, this time I am looking at something very different as I check out my first Necromunda novel. Necromunda fiction is based around the spin-off Necromunda game which was launched in the 1990s. Set in the same universe as the rest of Warhammer 40K, this sub-franchise takes place on the industrial planet of Necromunda, a desolate husk of a world devastated by thousands of years of pollution and expansive industrial ambition. The stories take place within and under the Hive Cities, vast multi-layered industrial hubs resembling termite mounds that reach both high into the sky and deep underground, and which are home to untold billions of inhabitants. Broken up with the wealthy on the top spires and the poor on the bottom and below (the Underhive), control and influence of these cities is constantly fought over by powerful clans, families, and gangs, resulting in a huge range of different conflicts, which fuel both the tabletop game and the associated fiction. With Game Workshop’s recent relaunch of the Necromunda game a couple of years ago, several new Necromunda novels have been published, including this novel which focuses on one of the most intriguing characters ever created as part of this game, Kal Jerico.
Kal Jerico, the self-proclaimed greatest bounty hunter in Necromunda, was introduced back in 1998 in the Kal Jerico comic strip, written by Gordon Rennie and drawn by Karl Kopinski, which appeared in the Warhammer Monthly magazine. The Kal Jerico comic ran for 30 comic strips between 1998 and 2004, although the character subsequently appeared in three Kal Jerico novels written by Will McDermott (with Gordon Rennie co-authoring the first novel), Blood Royal, Cardinal Crimson and Lasgun Wedding. I am a bit of a Kal Jerico fan, as I was lucky enough to receive several Warhammer Monthly magazines when I was a kid and I used to really enjoy all the cool and fantastic comics contained within. Out of all the comics, the Kal Jerico ones were always my favourite and I absolutely loved seeing the outrageous and daring adventures of this cocky bounty hunter. My love for this character is the main reason that I decided to check Sinner’s Bounty out, and I was really interested to see a more modern take on the character years after seeing him appear in comic book form.
In the sordid depths of Hive Primus, the biggest hive city on Necromunda, a daring crime has been committed and all hell is about to break loose in the aftermath. The infamous and manic preacher, Desolation Zoon, led a brazen robbery on a guilder tithe-hall, stealing vast quantities of weaponry, credits, imported goods and other mysterious treasures. Now, with his band of fanatical followers, Zoon is heading downhive in an armoured mining hauler, modified with an impressive amount of firepower. However, these zealots are not the only ones heading downhive as they are being followed by every hired gun and killer in Hive Primus, each of whom wants a piece of the massive bounty that has been placed on Zoon’s head.
At the forefront of the rogues, killers and gangers chasing after Zoon is the infamous bounty hunter Kal Jerico. Travelling with his faithful sidekick, Scabbs, the murderous woman he was forced to marry, Yolanda, and his cyber-mastiff, Wotan, Jerico is determined to catch up to Zoon and claim both the money and the accompanying reputation boost. To claim their prize, this unconventional team will need to traverse some of the most dangerous locations in the Underhive and face off against giant monsters, dangerous tunnel creatures and mutant cannibals, as well as all their friendly bounty hunter colleagues.
However, as they get closer to capturing Zoon, Jerico and his cohorts will swiftly discover that is far from the simple bounty mission they thought it was. Many powerful people, both inside and outside of Hive Primus, have a stake in Zoon’s capture, and soon Jerico will face off against some old rivals who are just as likely to settle old grudges as they are to claim Zoon’s bounty. Worst, something dark and dangerous is rising in the deeps of the Underhive, and Kal is about to find himself in the middle of a massive fight that even his unnatural good luck may be able to save him from.
Now, that was a fun novel! Sinner’s Bounty is an awesome read that not only successfully reintroduces a fan-favourite character but which also provides a pulse-pumping science fiction adventure for reader in the mood for an exciting and captivating story. To tell this impressive new Kal Jerico novel, the Black Library has recruited veteran tie-in author Joshua Reynolds to continue the legacy started by authors like Renni and McDermott. Reynolds is a talented author who is well-established in Warhammer fiction, having written a substantial amount of Warhammer 40K and Warhammer fantasy novels over the years, following a wide range of different characters and storylines. I ended up really enjoying Reynold’s Kal Jerico novel and I was deeply impressed with the excellent combination of compelling narrative, great characters, and an iconic setting, all wrapped up with a fantastic sense humour, that helped to turn Sinner’s Bounty into such an exceptional read.
Sinner’s Bounty contains an epic tale of greed, adventure and friendship in the twisting tunnels of the Underhive that provides a ton of action and excitement. Reynolds starts this story off with a bang (well, several bangs, a multitude of bangs if I am going to be honest), setting up first the main plot catalyst in Desolation Zoon and his mission, before introducing Jerico and his partners as they encounter their first obstacle on their hunt. This entertaining first encounter serves as a fantastic introduction to the main protagonists, and Reynolds swiftly hurries them on their way, ensuring that they encounter more of the deadly elements of life in the Underhive, such as their lethal competitors. At the same time, Reynolds starts introducing several additional characters who embark on the same mission of catching up with Jerico and Zoon. These additional side characters introduce some intriguing alternate viewpoints and opinions, especially as each of them have their own agendas and motivations for being there. These alternate viewpoints work extremely well in conjunction with the main narrative around Jerico, and Reynolds starts adding more and more in as the novel progresses, with nearly every supporting character and plot point coming together towards the end of the book. Reynolds writes up a big conclusion with every major character in the same location forced to work together to survive in a scenario that was fantastically reminiscent of The Magnificent Seven. At the same time, every character attempts to betray each other, resulting in some extremely entertaining and fun sequences, with the reader unsure who is going to end up on top and who is going to survive. All of this is wrapped up perfectly, with a clever and fitting conclusion to the main story, while several open story threads set up some additional stories for the future. All of this was deeply captivating, and while I personally got hooked on the cool story within the first few pages, there is so much intense action, clever betrayals and compelling plot points, that most readers will find themselves wanting to see how this awesome book ends as quickly as possible.
While many tie-in novels in the Warhammer 40K range have a somewhat limited audience, often requiring pre-knowledge of game lore, I felt that Sinner’s Bounty was extremely accessible and can be easily enjoyed by anyone interested in a fun science fiction adventure. Reynolds does an exceptional job introducing all the relevant elements of Necromunda throughout the course of Sinner’s Bounty, and the reader is easily able to understand what is happening and why without any issue whatsoever. Indeed, Reynolds makes this book so accessible that I would recommend Sinner’s Bounty as a fantastic introductory novel to anyone interested in seeing what Warhammer 40K fiction is all about, especially the Necromunda subset. At the same time, Reynolds also ensures that Sinner’s Bounty caters for established fans, as there are a ton of references to the Necromunda game, previous Kal Jerico adventures and wider Warhammer 40K lore. Not only do huge amounts of elements from the tabletop game make it into Sinner’s Bounty’s story, but Reynolds skilfully references events that occurred within both the Kal Jerico comics and novels, recapping them for new readers while also making some jokes about the events that occurred. This great blend of references and detail makes Sinner’s Bounty an excellent Warhammer 40K novel for all readers and you are guaranteed to have a good time no matter how familiar you are with Kal Jerico or this fictional universe.
Without a doubt one of the best highlights of this entire novel was the incredible setting of the Underhive of Necromunda. Reynolds goes all out throughout the course of this book to bring this grim, cavernous and incredibly deadly expanded setting to life in all its gory glory, and it is spectacular. The reader gets a real sense of how life in the dark under a massive hive city must be like and the author has included all manner of details about crumbling façade, the unusual life forms and perilous living conditions that its many, many inhabitants must face. Naturally, this turns out to be an outstanding setting for this action-packed storyline, and I had an amazing time seeing which horror or unique landscape would appear next. Reynolds also loads up his novel with a huge amount of additional detail about the various gangs, families, and groups that control Hive Primus and inhabit the Underhive, which proves to be deeply fascinating. The author really goes out of his way to provide a fantastic introduction to several factions that were featured in the tabletop game, allowing readers with limited knowledge of this universe to easily follow who these groups are and how they relate to wider story and world. All of this proved to be extremely fascinating and readers are guaranteed to want to dive back into the depths to see more outstanding adventures here.
Another impressive part of Sinner’s Bounty was the extremely likeable and distinctive characters whose adventure the readers follow during this multi-perspective narrative. Many of these characters were originally introduced in the previous comics and novels and Reynolds does an excellent job revitalising them and fitting them into his fantastic story. The main protagonist of Sinner’s Bounty is the titular Kal Jerico, the Underhive’s most dashing and fashionable bounty hunter. I really enjoyed the excellent version of Jerico that appeared in this novel, and the author has styled him as a particularly bold, resourceful, vain, and exceedingly lucky figure who moves from place to place bringing chaos and destruction. Jerico is a very entertaining character, constantly delivering witticisms and fun one-liners to his compatriots, his enemies and himself, and you cannot help but enjoy seeing everything going wrong around him as he manages to annoy or enrage everyone he comes across. It was particularly fun to see so many other characters get drawn into the events of this book partially out of spite towards Jerico, after being bested by him in previous adventures. Despite his outer edge of pragmatism, greed and selfishness, Sinner’s Bounty shows that Jerico has a bit of a soul when it comes to some of the other people he encounters. Not only is he shown to care about both his companions, despite several discussions where he implies he would sell them for his own benefit, but he also has a deeply ingrained sense of honour that drives him to do the right thing, even if it puts him in greater risk. This makes for a fantastic and enjoyable character and I had a wonderful time seeing him scamper around in the Underhive making enemies and generally pissing everyone off.
In addition to his own vaunted self, Jerico also brought along two of his long-term associates Scabbs and Yolanda, both of whom have been part of the Kal Jerico series since the beginning (Scabbs appeared in Issue #1, while Yolanda was introduced in #2). Both characters are heavily featured in Sinner’s Bounty and proved to be an excellent addition to the story. The most significant inclusion is probably Scabbs, Jerico’s long-time friend and sidekick with a serious skin condition (hence the name Scabbs), who often unwillingly follows Jerico into danger. Scabbs is a fun character who serves as a great counterpoint to Jerico’s insanity, often complaining about the terrible plans and generally looking for a more intelligent way to complete the mission. Scabbs has a rather significant character arc within Sinner’s Bounty which forces him to examine his half-ratskin (a gang/clan in Necromunda) past, especially when he encounters Amenute, a ratskin mystic who is inexplicably drawn to him. This forces Scabbs to re-examine his loyalties to Jerico, and it is intriguing to see this character act rashly as he faces off against powerful gangs to save his new acquaintance.
Next we have Yolanda, the dangerous and unpredictable wild woman who is currently Jerico’s wife (see the previous Kal Jerico novel, Lasgun Wedding). Despite this marital relationship with Jerico, Yolanda is a just as likely to cut her husband’s throat as she is to help him, as she only serves her own best interest or her desires to kill as many people as possible. Yolanda is another great character, especially as the reader is constantly left waiting for her inevitable betrayal of Jerico and Scabbs (I also had a good chuckle at an early joke about a poet trying to describe Yolanda, which does not go well for the poet!). While Yolanda is a tad one-dimensional at times, Reynolds does a good job of trying to explore her inner psyche, showcasing some interesting parallels between her and Jerico, as both fled from a cushy life in the Spire to experience the joys of the Underhive, and there are some hints of some genuine feelings for Jerico, even though the two mockingly reference their sham marriage throughout the book. I had a lot of fun with both these supporting characters and they proved to be an excellent accompaniment to Jerico’s antics.
Aside from these three protagonists, Reynolds has also loaded up Sinner’s Bounty with a raft of side characters, each of whom has their own agenda or plan, most of which revolve around killing Jerico (the guy is very popular). The side characters featured within this book are an intriguing combination of established Necromunda bounty hunters and power brokers (I believe several are playable characters in the tabletop game), and original characters. As a result, the reader gets to follow a range of religious fanatics, outrageous bounty hunters, scheming gangas, deranged mutants (including an entertainingly grandiose queen) and a whole range of other intriguing figures. Thanks to the author’s excellent use of multiple perspectives, the reader gets a useful and suitable introduction to each of these characters, ensuring that they can be easily slotted into the narrative when necessary and cause their little bit of havoc.
Out of all these supporting characters, one of my favourites had to be the Adjurator (a fancy bounty hunter) Baertrum Arturos III, who serves as a major point-of-view character and secondary antagonist for this novel. Baertrum is a slippery and treacherous hunter who is drawn into this chase not just for money but for the opportunity to one-up Jerico, who he has a deadly rivalry with. Baertrum’s scenes are fun to read, especially as he is usually coming up with a new way to betray the other characters, and the reader has a great time hating him throughout the book. I also liked the character of Desolation Zoon, the mad preacher whose brazen heist is the cause of all the events of this book. Reynolds creates a particularly intriguing character in Zoon, showcasing him as a tired old preacher who, after a lifetime of piety and bloodshed, is starting to lose his faith and question his past actions. However, this old dog still has some holy fire in him, and readers are in for a great time seeing him lay into his enemies with sword and blistering verse in equal measure. Zoon has some particularly fantastic exchanges with Jerico in the second half of the novel, and I really enjoyed seeing this compelling figure come to life and be utilised throughout the book. Overall, I thought that each of the characters in this exceptional novel were pretty damn fantastic and I had an exceptional time watching them attempt to survive and betray everyone they encounter.
I chose to grab Sinner’s Bounty on audiobook, which ended up being an amazing way to experience this fantastic and compelling novel. The Sinner’s Bounty audiobook had a decent run time of just under 15 hours, which I managed to get through in about a week with a few extended listening sessions once I really got hooked on its outrageous tale. I had a lot of fun listening to this audiobook and I found that the cool action sequences and gloriously gory setting of the Underhive were particularly awesome in this format. A lot of this is down to the excellent narration of the talented Mark Elstob. Elstob, who has previously narrated a small but interesting collection of audiobooks, has a lot of fun with Sinner’s Bounty as he comes up with some unique voices for this fantastic science fiction adventure. All of the characters are gifted with a fitting and fun voice that really captures the depth of their personality, whether they be a scheming bounty hunter, a former aristocrat or a fantastical preacher, while also modulating to match their emotional state at that time. This makes several of the battle scenes particularly fun, especially when you have characters like Desolation Zoon shouting out religious verse during a fight. I also really appreciated the more nasal or gravelly voices the narrator came up for the various Abhuman or mutated beings featured within the book, and it was great to have some of the more different characters identified differently (I need to give a particular shoutout to one of characters, a mutant pirate captain, to whom Elstob gives a very enjoyable Scottish accent). Overall, this was an outstanding way to enjoy Sinner’s Bounty and I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in this book.
Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty is an outstanding Warhammer 40K novel that reintroduces the epic Kal Jerico back to his adoring public after a lengthy absence. The always impressive Joshua Reynolds has produced another outstanding Warhammer novel, containing an exciting and compelling adventure story, equipped with an incredible setting and some fantastic characters. This results in an addictive and entertaining novel that I had an absolutely awesome time getting through and which made me so very glad that Kal Jerico is back. Here’s hoping that we’ll get some more Kal Jerico novels in the future, especially if they feature more of Reynolds’s epic writing.