I recently realized that I’d accumulated a handful of shorter Black Library audio-dramas, and decided it was time to get caught up. One thing that unites them all is the incredible production values: the sound is crystal clear, each performance excellent, and complemented by plentiful sound effects. At times, the latter can feel a bit omnipresent and distracting (in the grim darkness of the 31st millennium, there is rarely, if ever, quiet), but for the main they remain in the background.
Featuring: LJ Goulding, Robbie MacNiven, Josh Reynolds, Ian St. Martin
Josh Reynolds, BLACKSHIELDS: RED FIEF
As the forces of the Warmaster close in on Terra, Endryd Haar leads his warband of renegade Blackshields into battle once more. With his forces battered in the wake of their raid on Xana, Haar finds himself in desperate need of warriors. Answering a distress call from an old friend, Haar seeks out the tithe-world of Duat, intent on plunder.
But when he discovers what is hidden there, Haar is faced with a decision that will determine his fate – and perhaps that of Terra itself.
Performed by Gareth Armstrong, John Banks, Tim Bentinck, Steve Conlin, Matthew Hunt & Toby Longworth
This story opens with a discussion between Haar and Malcador the Sigillite, the former in isolation. Haar, one of the first War Hounds (later to become the World Eaters), he remains proud but also disgusted by the devolution of his Legion. Malcador offers Haar a mission to Xana to recover a specific weapon, in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of Horus, and for Haar the opportunity to once again serve the Emperor. The force travels to Duat, a World Eater recruitment world, and Haar sees resources he must have in order to continue prosecuting his mission/calling.
“We will either claim this world, or pillage it.”
The Blackshields are an interesting faction — they are loyal neither to the Emperor nor Horus. Through the interactions between Haar and his subordinates, we learn of the tensions between the Blackshields, a hint of the emotional stresses they are living with. Drawn from different Legions, they bring their own characters, eccentricities, accents and customs. Haat, for example, despite forsaking his Legion and Primarch, still displays the blunt brutality and lack of sentimentality of the Twelfth.
“Haar studied his warriors. He did not know them all by name. He did not care about their names; only that they followed orders and did so immediately.”
The first part of The Red Fief is made up of a dialogue between Haar and the techmarine Varn — two personalities that clash often, different styles and temperaments grating against each other. The variety provided by the Blackshields’ nature makes for an interesting and diverse cast. Some of them seemed slightly unhinged, though: even the Raven Guard character who features only briefly, came across as almost hysterical, very different from other portrayals of one of Corax’s sons. Likely, this is meant to be indicative of the emotional stress the Blackshields suffer upon breaking with their Legions. There’s a substantial, unusually introspective conversation between Haar and the World Eaters apothecary on Duat. True, half of it is meant to be manipulative, but the two warriors cover quite some ground — including the history of the Legion, their impressions of Angron, and ultimately their loyalties and ideologies. Reynolds does a great job of showing characters acting slightly out of type, which makes them far more interesting and three-dimensional.
Overall, an interesting addition to the growing Horus Heresy fictional universe. Reynolds does a great job of balancing action and character-focus (he has a real gift for this, and it doesn’t surprise me that he has become one of the best, most prolific BL authors). If you’re a fan of the Horus Heresy series, and are looking for a short audio drama to provide a fix, then I’d definitely recommend The Red Fief.
As an aside, whoever voices Haar sometimes sounds like Ciaran Hinds…
Robbie MacNiven, PERTURABO: STONE AND IRON
The 33rd Grand Battalion of the Iron Warriors, newly raised and seeing battle for the first time, have the honour of the primarch himself, Perturabo, leading them.
But the Hammer of Olympia is there for more than just battle – he is evaluating his new officers and deciding their fates. And with a force of Imperial Fists allied to their cause, Perturabo sees the perfect opportunity to teach his new warriors the difference between the stone of the VII Legion and the Iron of his own.
Performed by Tim Bruce, Cliff Chapman, Steve Conlin, Matthew Hunt, Jonathan Keeble & Andrew Wincott
This is an interesting, short audiodrama, and a nice complement to The Hammer of Olympia, Perturabo’s dedicated novel in the Horus Heresy: Primarch series, albeit not set in the same locales, nor on the same planets. Through Captain Ferrix’s eyes, we get a glimpse of Perturabo’s incredible power on the battlefield. The Iron Warriors have been called in to aid the Imperial Fists to clear out an ork infestation that has overrun one of their emplacements. Perturabo is both an unstoppable force and also a calm tactician — in Stone and Iron, we briefly see him bulldozing his way through greenskins, and also discussing (well, lecturing) his sons about strategy.
It is a short intro to the Iron Warriors’ method of war, therefore, and also the internal dynamics in relation to the Primarch. We see the Primarch’s disdain for failure and weakness (and, maybe, his sons…), and his utter lack of tolerance for either. He’s comes across like an aloof teacher or father, patronizing the “new born” battalion he fights with. He’s is cold towards the Imperial Fists, too, exhibiting an analytical coldness that is quite sinister, not to mention detrimental to inter-Legion relations. The end, in particular, is an excellent example of Perturabo’s character and what he thinks of others. His is a towering arrogance, but one backed up by strategic and tactical skill.
Over all, very good narration and performances and a solid story. Perturabo is given a patrician, quite soft voice, which was an interesting decision. (I always imagined him with a deeper voice.) The sound effects were pleasantly not as intrusive as in some of Black Library’s other audiodramas (including A Lesson in Darkness, below).
L.J. Goulding, MALCADOR: FIRST LORD OF THE IMPERIUM
As the Horus Heresy rages and the death toll rises, one more will be added to the numberless dead: Sibel Niasta, personal astropath to the First Lord of the Imperium, Malcador the Sigillite. As her end approaches, Malcador sits vigil by her bedside, and pair discuss their friendship and what it means – how the past and present have shaped Malcador and the Imperium, and what the future holds.
Performed by John Banks, Beth Chalmers, Jenny Funnell, Jonathan Keeble & Toby Longworth.
This was a very good audiodrama. Quite different from many of the BL releases I’ve listened to in a while. Set in the Imperial Palace on Terra, there is no combat. Instead, Malcador visits an ailing Lady Magister, in the last moments of her life. (She sounds a bit Judy Dench-esque.) Malcador is also shown as aging, kept going almost by sheer will and sense of duty. The two speak plainly, confiding in each other before she passes.
It’s an interesting, more intimate story, as Malcador discusses his nature, his personal history (and incredible age), and the nature of his relationship with the Emperor. The story does a great job of expanding our understanding of the Sigillite, and how he sees his role in the Imperium. The end, in particular, was gripping — something Malcador says to the Lady Magister seemed shocking, and even though the story doesn’t end at that point, one is left wondering if he finessed the truth for her or his own sake. (Sorry, that’s really vague, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise and story as a whole.)
Given the setting, there are fewer sound effects to distract the listener from the story and narrative. The performances were great, too. I really enjoyed this, and hope Goulding writes some more (for either audio or prose publication).
Ian St. Martin, KONRAD CURZE: A LESSON IN DARKNESS
Piamen is a tranquil world in the far reaches of the galaxy. Since throwing off the yoke of alien invaders, they have remained free and peaceful… until the coming of the Imperium. When they refuse to join mankind’s star-spanning empire, a force of Legiones Astartes is despatched to bring the planet to compliance.
And when the Night Lords come, darkness falls. Piamen will never be the same…
Performed by John Banks, Beth Chalmers, Matthew Hunt, Jonathan Keeble & Toby Longworth
A pretty good audiodrama. Focusing on an early(ish) campaign of the Night Lords, it’s a look into the terror-infused tactics of Konrad Curze and his Legion. It’s good, but it doesn’t really do much that we haven’t already read/heard from Curze. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it does make the story kind of predictable. Worth a listen, though, if you’re a fan of the Night Lords and the darker side of the Legions. In the story, a Night Lords marine discusses tactics with Curze, retaining some horror at the extremes to which his Primarch is willing to go to accomplish his mission.
“Soon, all we will require to conquer, is the threat of our arrival…. My blood flows through your veins. You feel it, you know the truth I speak…. You are in my Legion now. This is how Night Lords make war…. I am this Legion’s destiny. Its final form. Its end state.”
“So we well all be like you, then, in the end?”
“No. Not all.”
The production for this audiodrama weren’t as polished as the previous three reviewed here. The gravely voice of the narrator was sometimes swamped by the background soundtrack, especially immediately after the title and cast clip (I suppose this could be called opening credit sequence, to borrow from television). The background sound effects are sometimes quite distracting — moaning torture victims, spurting blood, etc., further muddies the sound. The Russian(ish) accent was an interesting choice.
An interesting listen, and definitely recommended for fans of the Night Lords.
Blackshields: The False War is published by Black Library on May 12th, 2018. Stone and Iron, First Lord of the Imperium and A Lesson in Darkness are available individually and also as part of Black Library’s Advent Calendar 2017 bundle (includes a selection of eBooks and audio-dramas).