It’s Audio Week 2017 on the Black Library website – two brand new audio dramas serialised over five days beginning Monday 17th April. This would be cause for celebration on its own, but when you add in the fact that these two stories are the very first to be set in the post-Gathering Storm 40k universe…it’s very exciting indeed!
I imagine every 40k fan who’s been following the Gathering Storm has been waiting for some new Black Library fiction to appear, and to flesh out these cool new characters. Well, now we’ve got our first chance to take a look…
The two audio dramas in question are both by Gav Thorpe, and are entitled Eye of Night and Hand of Darkness – one featuring Inquisitor Greyfax and the other featuring Yvraine. It’s also no secret that Roboute Guilliman appears in both of them!
As these are being released in instalments across the week, instead of waiting for the two audios to be available in full I’m going to write up some thoughts on each one as they’re released. To absolutely nobody’s surprise I’ve picked up the subscription offer – 6 for the price of 5 – so I should (hopefully) get access to each story on the morning that it’s released. I’ll add each set of comments to this article and then hopefully write up more of a traditional review of each at a later date. If you’re following these releases each day as well, let me know how you’re finding them in the comments at the bottom!
[WARNING: I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers, but inevitably there are references in some of these sections to the previous parts of each audio…]
You can go straight to my thoughts on each part of each story by clicking on the links below:
- Eye of Night – Part One
- Eye of Night – Part Two
- Eye of Night – Part Three
- Hand of Darkness – Part One
- Hand of Darkness – Part Two
- Hand of Darkness – Part Three
Eye of Night – Part One
We kick off with Monday’s release, part one of Eye of Night. In it, Inquisitor Greyfax is summoned by Guilliman to discuss the Great Rift, a phenomenon previously mentioned only in passing (see below) but clearly of great import. Guilliman has discerned a pattern in this warp storm, and traced it back to events of centuries ago that will be familiar to (seriously) long-running fans of the setting. He tasks Greyfax with a mission to retrieve the artefact known as the Eye of Night, so accompanied by only a single squad of Grey Knights she sets out for the Gothic Sector.
Right from the off it’s clear that this isn’t a throwaway release – Black Library mean business with this audio drama. There’s a total of nine actors in the voice cast, some familiar and others less so, and both the voice work and sound design is instantly impressive. The music, the atmospheric and situational sound effects, the way breathing is magnified but gunfire and explosions dampened by void armour…it’s excellent stuff. Greyfax in particular is cast perfectly in Emma Gregory, with a voice that’s suitably chilling and powerful, and instantly appropriate. When she lets rip with her psychic abilities towards the end she’s utterly terrifying, but even in her normal manner she’s cold, haughty and aloof. Spot on.
Narratively there’s plenty to enjoy here too, with the first few minutes (of nineteen) taken up with Guilliman and Greyfax’s discussions before the Inquisitor and her Grey Knights escort arrive at what’s left of Savaven and the pace begins to pick up. To say much more would risk spoilers, but suffice to say there’s action, psychic shenanigans, and an imaginative surprise that leaves some big questions behind. It’s an excellent start to the story, that once again demonstrates Gav’s knack for writing audio dramas and Black Library’s ever-improving standards of audio production.
FYI, the Great Rift is mentioned in Rise of the Primarch as “an encroaching darkness, a terrible Warp phenomenon that was manifesting itself across the galaxy from end to end.” In Eye of Night it’s compared to the Ruinstorm…only (worryingly) larger.
Eye of Night – Part Two
In Tuesday’s second part of the story, we rejoin Greyfax and her party as they wade through the swampy waters of a world on the fringe of the Eye of Terror in search of an oracle with the knowledge of the Eye of Night’s whereabouts. Deeply rooted in Chaos, the crone Moriana is not only well defended physically, but also fickle and inherently untrustworthy. Greyfax finds her fundamental principles as an Inquisitor challenged as she has to choose whether to follow her instincts and slay Moriana out of hand, or lay her pride aside and ask for the crone’s assistance.
In comparison with the first part, this feels slower and less vital – narratively there’s less forward motion, with most of the duration spent focusing on a three-way conversation between Greyfax, Moriana, and one of Greyfax’s companions (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here!). It’s an enjoyable scene, emphasised by another fine piece of voice acting, this time from Annie Aldington who imbues Moriana with a deliciously contrary and mischievous air…but it perhaps feels a touch stretched out. It’s interesting to see Greyfax struggle to move past her natural inflexibility, and Moriana is entertainingly batty, but there’s not a lot of mystery in the scene. It’s quite clear what’s going to happen by the end, although there’s a bit of a twist that adds a little extra spike of interest.
This is clearly setting things up for the final third of the story, and so it’s understandable that things would slow down a little for the middle section. Thankfully the production values remain just as high, with some lovely touches of atmospheric SFX really helping bring the different locations to life. The standard of audio really is excellent, from Gareth Armstrong’s always enjoyable narration to the characterful distinctions between normal speech, vox conversations and psychic communication, while Gav’s writing allows the audio to contribute to but not overpower the story. The extra little twist of narrative does also suggest that things perhaps aren’t quite what they seem, which leaves us with plenty to look forward to in the final third!
Eye of Night – Part Three
Wednesday’s third and final part of the story sees Greyfax et al, accompanied by an unreliable guide, attempting landfall on a daemon world in the Eye of Terror. Sent by the crone Moriana to lead them to their goal – the Eye of Night – the impish daemon offers as much irritation as aid, but with the world itself seeking to hinder them, and a powerful daemonic foe barring their way, Greyfax knows she needs all the help she can get. The price to pay, though, is a stain on her soul that she might never be able to wipe clean.
After part two slowed things down with for the meeting with Moriana, the pace picks up again here with a little more action and a clear drive to the finish. The giggling, provocative daemon guide, voiced by Matthew Hunt, adds a nice contrast with the ever-stern Greyfax, while the excellent SFX work brings to life the noisy interior of a Thunderhawk, the havoc of battle, and the echoing confusion of a daemonic citadel. Each scene moves along snappily, with the key characters all contributing but Greyfax front and centre, and if events are perhaps a little linear and predictable, they’re no less entertaining for that fact.
There’s not a lot more to say about this part, without giving away important spoilers. Suffice to say it provides a satisfying conclusion to the story, full of excitement and sacrifice. It leaves the listener both satisfied with this story, and also looking forward to the accompanying story – Hand of Darkness – to see what else is happening at the same time. Overall the main highlight is certainly Greyfax, but there’s plenty to enjoy once again.
Hand of Darkness – Part One
The first part of Heart of Darkness sees the focus move to the Aeldari (it’s going to take a while to get used to writing that!) as Yvraine and Eldrad Ulthran speak to the psychic projection Guilliman, and hear of Mortarion’s attack on Ultramar*. Guilliman reveals that Mortarion is being aided by the Hand of Darkness, an artefact gifted to him by Abaddon, and which the Aeldari have long sought to destroy. With the location of the Hand of Darkness revealed as Mortarion’s own Plague Planet, Yvraine seeks out the Guardians of the Black Library to learn how to reach it.
There’s a different feel here compared to Eye of Night – they’re both quest stories, and the main characters both require guidance, but Yvraine and Eldrad go about their task very differently to how Greyfax did. There’s also a different tone to the audio, nicely reflecting the locations and the psychic stylings of the Aeldari. Lastly, while Yvraine is the main protagonist, and is voiced well by Penelope Rawlins, she doesn’t dominate proceedings like Greyfax did. In fact she’s altogether less forceful, portrayed as powerful but somehow frustrated – by the comparatively blunt Guilliman, the slightly smug Eldrad, and the infuriatingly vague Sylandri Veilwalker. It works nicely to distinguish her from Greyfax and this from Eye of Night.
Everything I’ve said already about the standard of audio work applies here, with excellent voice work from the nine-strong cast (especially the slowly changing timbre to Cliff Chapman’s Tigurius) and some genuinely impressive SFX. I really feel with these audios that the atmospherics – mood music and locational SFX – are a huge factor in bringing the stories to life, and I’d recommend you listen on headphones to get the best from them. The transitions between spaces are particularly good here, as we move from reality to psychic construction and back…lovely stuff.
Narratively speaking it’s interesting, albeit fairly straightforward, and sets things up nicely for the two acts to follow. Gav’s clearly having fun with the Aeldari, throwing in cool locations and all sorts of characters and fun toys. All in all it’s really enjoyable to listen to, with a good pace, a nice balance, and even some intriguing hints at what else is going on in the 40k universe at this point.
* Yep, so it looks like the next big part of the 40k story might well be Mortarion and the Death Guard battling within the 500 Worlds. That sounds fun!
Hand of Darkness – Part Two
Part two opens with the first glimpse of the fabled Black Library (to my knowledge) since Ian Watson’s Harlequin, as Yvraine and her companions meet with Ruisafoneth, a White Seer. Cruelly denying us any more than a cursory look around, Gav sends the action away through an ominous portal into a section of the Black Library that has been swallowed by a ‘pocket reality’ and lost forever to Chaos. Yvraine and the Visarch enter at the request of Ruisafoneth, tasked with finding and retrieving the knowledge they seek from the grasp of whatever lies beyond the portal.
While it’s frustrating to not explore the Black Library further, the constraints of this twenty-minute instalment help keep the story moving forward and nicely paced. Where Eye of Night slowed down in its middle section, there’s enough action and momentum here to maintain a sense of forward motion, even though, technically, not that much actually happens. Once again showing how much he enjoys, and indeed understands, the Eldar/Aenari (honestly, I’ve no idea which one to use), the bulk of this part is made up of a strangely enthralling set piece that heavily features fruit and seabirds…it sounds weird, but it works wonderfully!
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there’s something deeply impressive about the way the audio effects in this drama bring it all so beautifully to life. The actors all do sterling work, but it’s the music and the SFX that really lift this, building up an incredible picture of what’s going on that’s almost as clear as if it was shown on a TV screen. At this point, it does rather feel as though Yvraine and co. have a long way still to go in just one more instalment, but on the basis of the previous parts there’s no reason to doubt it’s going to end in a suitably impressive fashion. Probably a suitably gross fashion, considering where they’re going…
Hand of Darkness – Part Three
The final instalment of these audio dramas picks up where part two of Hand of Darkness left off, with Yvraine and the Aeldari embroiled in battle outside the Black Library against Ahriman’s invading army of Thousand Sons and daemons. Some quick thinking on Yvraine’s part sees them free of the melee and on into the Garden of Nurgle, as they attempt to reach Mortarion’s Plague Planet through stealth and subtlety. Suffice to say their journey is not without incident, and the Hand of Darkness is not without a dangerous guardian.
There’s a lot to cover in these twenty minutes, so the pace is pretty rapid from the outset, and there’s not a lot of time for characters to breathe or locations to be explored. That being said, the ever-excellent audio effects add a lot of additional depth to what’s happening, so it doesn’t feel too rushed or under-developed. There are also plenty of juicy moments that bring a smile to the face, from the summoning of the Yncarne to the slowly growing tension as great, grasping clouds of flies descend from the skies above Nurgle’s Garden. That’s not to mention a welcome sense of wry humour in places, well delivered by the cast.
Without giving away specifics, it’s safe to say this provides another enjoyable conclusion, wrapping up a pair of audio dramas that demonstrate both Gav’s solid understanding of the audio medium, and the ever-increasing production values that Black Library are able to muster. Compared to Eye of Night it feels a little more hurried, but at the same time a touch more varied in terms of unusual scenes, so it ends up feeling nicely complementary. Between the two, there’s a lot to enjoy!