Scions of Elysia – Chris Dows

Scions of Elysia is Chris Dows’ first audio drama for Black Library, and returns to his Elysian Drop Droops characters previously covered in the short stories The Mouth of Chaos and Monolith. This time around the action takes place in the Elysia system itself, as Sergeant Zachariah and what remains of his squad are recalled to aid in a campaign to rid the system of dangerous pirates. Under the erratic leadership of the rash and inexperienced Captain Bandrac, the first mission goes horribly wrong, leaving Zachariah to find a way to salvage some kind of success from the ensuing chaos.

If you’ve not read Zachariah’ previous adventures they’re well worth a read; if you have, this will feel familiar in its depiction of Zachariah. He’s a true veteran, cool under fire and endlessly inventive, and while veteran Adullam gets the lion’s share of the lines, the plot very much revolves around Zachariah. The mission is portrayed in standard third-person perspective, but it’s framed by scenes in which Adullam is being questioned as to his recollections of what took place and how Zachariah acted. This nicely breaks the story up in terms of pacing, and adds an extra element to the plot – we’re not just following an action-packed mission, but watching (well, listening) as a mystery is gradually revealed.

To say more would spoil things, but there’s intrigue and inter-regiment conflict aplenty along with the expected action and excitement. There’s surprisingly little mid-air thrill seeking, although one such sequence does feature one of the most disgusting sound effects yet, but the action is vivid and powerful thanks to Dows’ writing and the (cue broken record) always excellent voice cast and sound design. Steve Conlin especially shines with his on-edge depiction of Bandrac, while Cliff Chapman (Adullam), Stephen Perring (Zachariah) and Jonathan Keeble (Adullam’s interrogator) all deliver their lines with aplomb.

Essentially the story of this one mission, there’s clearly more yet to be told in terms of the bigger picture – one on level the story resolves nicely, but it definitely leaves a lot still to be explained. Anyone expecting large amounts of aerial combat might be a touch disappointed here, but in subverting those expectations it actually delivers something fresh and effective. The conflicts between Zachariah and Bandrac, and Adullam and his interrogator, are particularly interesting, offering insights into the working of the Elysians and the frustrations faced by the rank and file of the Imperial Guard. Taken in concert with the previous short stories, this is a reminder of how much fun these characters are and how well Dows handles these sorts of tales. Here’s hoping we’ll see plenty more in future.

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