The idea behind Black Library’s series of Space Marine Battles novels and audios is that they showcase some of the most famous actions featuring the Imperium’s finest, but while Space Marines are fundamentally cool, there’s often a risk of these stories being a little…well, a little silly. Step forward Mortarion’s Heart, the story of a single Grey Knight battling a daemon primarch and (SPOILERS) emerging victorious. It’s all well and good having things like this as colour text for a codex, but as a full story there’s a definite whiff of the preposterous. So how does LJ Goulding do as he tackles this particular tale?
Actually, he does phenomenally well. Expanding upon the bare bones laid down in 40k lore he builds a solid story around the basic run of events, developing the idea well past the original paragraph of colour text with a full cast of characters and an impressive sense of scale. Over the course of its 75 minute length, he creates a story that has depth, justification and character, from the opposing natures of Kaldor Draigo and Mortarion, to the impact on the Grey Knights of the loss of their greatest, most beloved hero.
One of the important areas he addresses is the question of how these events came to be, the explanation for which is wonderfully appropriate to the 40k setting and is a great reminder of just how brutal life is for the general population of the Imperium. In the grim darkness of the far future, sometimes the sacrifice of millions is required to bring a single, dreadful enemy to justice. At the same time, the actions of a single person can have incredibly powerful consequences. By fleshing out the fundamental logic (such as it is) of the story, he’s managed to elevate it above what was basically an excuse for two cool characters to fight, and into a rational, setting-appropriate and brilliantly epic tale.
Once again the audio format shows just how powerful it can be when done well, with typically strong performances from a largely familiar cast and a soundscape that ranges from atmospheric and evocative to disgustingly gruesome. The action is immediate and visceral, not least when Mortarion himself gets involved, but it’s the immersive, powerful work by the voice cast that imbues the story with such strength. Combined with the classic 40k balance of heroic desperation and grim darkness in Goulding’s writing, it all adds up to the sort of story that exemplifies all that’s best about 40k. From the potentially ludicrous to the grin-inducingly epic. Great stuff.