As the Echoes of War fade (see what I did there?!), the Space Marines hang up their armour and the dreadnoughts are shuffled back into their long slumbers, it feels worth recapping on a week of excellent audio dramas from Black Library. For me, this collection came at a perfect time; the week before I had been digging around on my PC and found Hunter’s Moon and Thief of Revelations, neither of which I had previously listened to. Having devoured those in short order, it was with a sense of delightful serendipity that I saw Echoes of War listed on the Black Library website, and I didn’t need much persuading to get involved.
Previously my experience of listening to audio books and audio dramas had largely been restricted to having them on while painting, the audio playing out in my mind’s eye while my hands are occupied with brush and paint. This time however, I took Hunter’s Moon with me on my iPod as I went out for a walk around SE London, and in the cold and the rain I realised just how good it is to listen while out and about. Most of the time when on a walk I find I’m not really thinking much, my mind wandering while my feet take me where they will, so in a similar way to when painting the audio keeps me company and unfolds in my head while I walk. Time passes differently as my mind is very much on the story taking place behind my eyes, and the events come to vivid life in my imagination. While listening to a tale of Ahriman bargaining with the first daemon prince of Chaos while ambling around a park in the bright sunlight somehow felt not quite right, a long walk at night in the rain with Bjorn the Fell Handed keeping me company was far more appropriate to the general Black Library feel!
As fans of Black Library will know, they have been putting out audio dramas for a few years now, and while I’m something of a late adopter I can comfortably say that these days I’m a convert to this medium. At first I was resistant, not thinking that I would get on with the sound effects and the music, but once I was able to leave my preconceptions behind and accepted a few key truths (such as sound effects aren’t going to follow their written descriptions to the letter, and voices/accents are just one person’s interpretation) I found that I could very much enjoy stories told in this way. As the standard of production has increased alongside both the standard and the bravery of storytelling, in my opinion audio dramas are now of at least the same quality as stories released in the written mediums, and in some cases can even be superior, specifically when the story, the storytelling and the production values come into perfect synchronicity.
Truth be told, most of the audio dramas I’ve listened to have been in the Horus Heresy series, and I pretty much started listening to those for the sake of completion, as I wanted to consume every little scrap of story being released as part of the whole Heresy arc. All of the Echoes of War audios however are very much rooted in the 40k period – even the Bjorn story which takes place long before the 41st millennium and is the closest in feel to the Heresy stories, is most relevant to the contemporary 40k timeline. For me personally, with a few notable exceptions (Dan Abnett’s Inquisitor books, Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Chaos books and John French’s Ahriman) the Heresy novels and short stories tend to be the most compelling of Black Library’s releases, but what was interesting listening to these five audios is how much closer in tone they felt to the Heresy style as opposed to the more ‘traditional’ (for lack of a better word) 40k books. I mentioned in the reviews how I feel that audios allow authors to deal with slightly different stories to usual, and here I feel like each of the authors has really enjoyed getting stuck into something a little different. That somewhat more introspective, less immediate feel has given each of these an added layer of interest to me, and I’m really pleased that Black Library has chosen to go down this route. It’s testament not only to Black Library’s desire to push the boundaries but also to the skill and mindset of these authors.
It’s also worth pointing out here that a large part of what makes or breaks an audio drama is the quality of the voice cast. Black Library were previously producing their audio dramas in conjunction with a company called Heavy Entertainment, but these days they’re listed as being produced in house. Regardless of the production company however, there seems to be a core group of actors used in the recording of most, if not all, of the audio dramas. For these five, Gareth Armstrong, Jonathan Keeble and Toby Longworth are all present and correct from that core, as well as Robin Bowerman, Ian Brooker and Steve Conlin. Between them they put in a succession of fantastic performances, ranging from the subtle to the wonderfully over the top, bringing the author’s characters and dialogue to vibrant, exciting, and often rather disgusting life. Sadly I’m not familiar enough with each actor to be able to pick out who voices which parts, but if I was I would certainly highlight the actors who voice the brilliant Thousand Sons sorcerers, all sinister tones and twisty schemes, as well as the magnificent performance in voicing the daemon Be’lakor.
Suffice to say, these days I’m a big fan of audio dramas, and I can’t recommend the Echoes of War collection enough. I’m delighted with the response my reviews have had, both in terms of the authors who have been kind enough to retweet the links and also the number of people who have been visiting this blog to read them. As with all of my reviews, when talking about these five audio dramas I’ve tried to keep away from giving too much detail or any spoilers, as I personally prefer reviews to talk to me about the overall themes or standard of writing, as opposed to explaining what happens. I’ll recap on each of the audios below but once again I’ll try to steer clear from spoilers and so on.
Day One : Parting of the Ways by Chris Wraight
As Bjorn the Fell Handed fights his final battle he looks back at some of the defining moments in his life up to that point. We see Russ taking his leave of the chapter, and the impact that had on both Bjorn and the Space Wolves overall.
Day Two : The Glorious Tomb by Guy Haley
A Black Templar entombed within the shell of a dreadnought wakes from his artificial slumber, ready to fight with his brothers in defence of Armageddon against the greenskin menace. We experience battle as a dreadnought does, one step removed.
Day Three : Accept No Failure by Gav Thorpe
Captain Belial of the Dark Angels returns to a world where once he fought the ork warlord Ghazghkull and failed to end the monster’s threat. Keen to make amends for his past failure, he recommends the ultimate sanction even while his loyalties are torn between the hated orks and his chapter’s darkest secret.
Day Four : Ahriman : The First Prince by John French
When his daemonic pact finally catches up with him, Ctesias of the Thousand Sons finds his brother Ahriman willing to bargain for his life with the ancient entity Be’lakor. Ahriman’s pride and self belief are challenged as he matches his wits against this most powerful and manipulative of daemons.
Day Five : True Name by David Annandale
Still recovering from banishing a powerful daemon of Nurgle, Grey Knight Epistolary Gared finds himself under an insidious attack, and with his options limited he must come to understand the nature of the assault in order to save his soul and those of his brother Grey Knights.
I don’t normally do this, but here’s the link to the Echoes of War listing on the Black Library site. If you’re at all interested in audio dramas or even just if you love Space Marines (and who doesn’t?) then I urge you to check these out. Enjoy!