Released back in 2012, CZ Dunn’s Bloodspire was the very first Space Marine Battles audio drama that Black Library published, two years after the series began with the novel Rynn’s World. Based on a short paragraph in an old codex, it follows the Blood Angels’ assault on the hive world of Axonar; stymied by the hives’ defences, they turn to less conventional methods in order to gain entry and quell the insurrection, using scouts to infiltrate ahead of a massed drop assault.
It’s not much to work from, but Dunn manages to stretch events out over a 30 minute audio, introducing a range of Blood Angel characters including a young Erasmus Tycho. Sadly though, stretched is exactly what this feels like. Almost half the story is taken up with a single scene, events progressing at a stately pace as the Blood Angels take a blunt, head-on approach before being repulsed and forced to use the sort of tactics you might assume they would have chosen initially. Things pick back up when the action cuts to the scouts, scaling the surface of the hive, but by then the rest of the story feels rushed, crammed in to too short a time.
It’s a problem of pacing really; a bit of judicious editing might have freed up more time to be spent on the more interesting, exciting scenes, and resulted in a better-paced story as a result. It’s not the only problem either, with some stilted, forced dialogue that even the excellent voice cast can’t do much with. Despite this, there are some good moments where both pacing and dialogue come back into focus; the scouts’ vertiginous climb is interrupted by a quiet, patient kill, and in spite of a decidedly strange accent Tycho gets most of the story’s best lines. There’s also a clever nod to the role of Space Marines as propagandists, that works well with the secessionist theme of the story.
It’s quite clear that this is an early attempt at a Space Marine Battles audio; later releases are better-paced, more sophisticated. It’s still an easy, entertaining use of half an hour, and Sean Barrett’s narration is as measured and powerful as ever. With a little more work it could have been much more than it is, but in the end this is still plenty of fun, and worth listening for the completists or Blood Angels fans.