Having tackled the character of Horus in a short Horus Heresy audio drama before – the appropriately named Warmaster – John French takes a longer, darker look in Dark Compliance. A simple but effective portmanteau, it sees the ruler of one planetary system – defiant in the face of Horus’ demands – regaled with the horrifying tale of another system’s demise…over a single day. A statement of Horus’ intent as much as his military power, the story of Accazzar-Beta’s destruction, as told by Sons of Horus emissary Argonis, demonstrates the fate awaiting those who defy the Warmaster. As threats go, it’s pretty compelling.
It’s an elegant story that shows us Horus at this point of the Heresy, post-Tallarn but before the final push to Terra, and answers an interesting question – how does Horus ensure the compliance of so many once-loyal systems without having to fight to re-conquer them? It’s a reminder that he’s a cunning, ruthless strategist able to always choose the right tool for the job, and understand what it takes to get the job done. He’s willing to sacrifice his forces in order to attain the victory he needs but there’s always a bigger picture, which here is the idea that attaining a crushing victory in one battle will allow him to avoid even having to fight others.
This informs the whole story, which looks at the grand strategic elements of the battle for Accazzar-Beta as much as the on-the-ground action. There’s a hint of Horus’ fatherly, instructional side as he pushes Argonis to understand what’s happening, but it’s overshadowed by the growing darkness that surrounds him. By the time he unleashes a certain tool, it’s clear that this is Horus approaching the pinnacle of his powers. He’s voiced (once again by Ramon Tikaram) in a largely soft and cultured manner, far removed from the usual gritty, growling diction of the Astartes (certainly Jonathan Keeble’s Argonis), with just the occasional flash of sneering, disdainful power showing through.
It’s satisfying to hear, and not just read, Horus’ intentions and the culmination of his plans, all of which are given life by the ever-excellent production standards. The voice cast are wonderful as always, but Howard Carter’s sound design is particularly impressive, from adding creepy artificial inflections to Mechanicum voices to providing atmosphere and ambience for each location. The absolute standout, however, is the sheer muscle-clenching ferocity provided to the arrival of one particular famous name – moments like that are what really set audio dramas apart, delivering something impossible to convey in the same way via other mediums.
Does this story move the timeline of the Heresy forward, or highlight something absolutely essential in the grand scheme of things? No, not at all. Is that question, of how Horus achieves compliance, actually a really interesting – and, yes, important – one when you look at the Heresy as a whole? Absolutely. This isn’t your standard Heresy story, even by audio standards, but if you’re after a smart and unusual look at something a little different to usual, it’s a very, very interesting story.