Book Review: Back from the Dead by Nick Kyme

In my mind, Necromunda is a dark and dirty, concrete dystopia. It’s where too many people are forced to exist in too smaller a space. Broken pipes spewing toxic sewage and exposed cabling jerry-wired beyond capacity. Where buildings collapse without warning and gang law turns a blind eye to murder, crime and suffering.

This is the world I want the Tales from the Underhive collection of Necromunda stories to paint; the background I demand each story play out within. It took four stories to reach that requirement, Andy Chambers finally stepping up to the mark with Survival Instinct and thankfully, Nick Kyme has continued to stalk those hallowed and dangerous streets, with Back From The Dead.

The setting is dirty and industrial. The world brought to life with the ramshackle, survival of the fittest mentality that I so crave and demand but sadly, while the world is right, the story is not. It’s interesting and engrossing, but it feels too removed from the gangs and the basic idea of the actual game to carry the connection. Necromunda is about gang warfare, expanded out to introduce ever more dangerous and destructive foes, but the gangs play no real part in Back From The Dead – they are purely window dressing, used only to warrant the title.

It doesn’t help, either, that Kyme never expands the characters out, the narrative story more important than any depth and description. This meant that I found it hard to picture the characters in my mind. I’d still struggle, even now, to give you a proper description of the main protagonists. Throughout the book they are just names on the page, I never developed their personality, I never felt like I looked into the whites of their eyes, or really understood their motivation. Actions happen, but explanations do not.

By being so focused on the story, on keeping to a singular path without being prepared to meander very far into the questions beyond its specific gaze, the story loses momentum as it goes, and if anything, really starts to fizzle out. The ending, in fact, becomes nothing more than a very pleasant rounding up and tying off of threads. It’s all just too neat and too precise. The ending is too clean, too safe, too relaxed to be fulfilling.

This slowing of pace as the story progressed meant my mind would wander, easily. The lack of depth, or even acknowledgement thereof, meant I never managed to become fully engrossed in the tale. While Kyme writes in a way that constantly feels in motion, it’s a walk rather than a run, and while the language he uses that isn’t taxing, or in need of huge amounts of brain power to apprehend, you are always longing for more, for a richness that never comes. The story needed to feel like it had a meat,  a strength, beyond its surface to keep you turning pages, to force you to want to keep reading, but it never does.

Even worse than the overall shallowness is that the story plays around the central idea of a plague of zombies. This is true to the game, plague zombies do exist in the Necromundan Underhive, but sadly the structure of the tale, rather than igniting memories of table-top battles, simply brings forward memories of Shaun of the Dead. Thankfully, Kyme stopped short of having the main characters throw vinyl records, but he doesn’t handle the similarities with enough care to stop you from making the mental comparison in the first place – especially when he has the characters fight a swarming horde from inside a pub!

I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone wanting to read it, but I need to say that I felt that the story also failed to make enough of its big final reveal. It almost felt like it was revealing that Back from the Dead was designed and written purely to set up future stories. To be a gateway into other novels that would provide the depth and answers that are left behind. It created such a shift in the tone of the book that it almost left a sour taste in my mouth, especially, as the reveal teases such an avenue of tantalising possibilities and potential, it’s simply not fair.

Don’t get me wrong, however, it’s not all doom and gloom, Back from the Dead is OK. It’s an enjoyable read, and it existed in the dystopian world of Necromunda my mind imagines, but it’s too frustrating. It could have been so much more, it should have been so much more, but the story is just too weak to support the idea it’s trying to present.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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