The opening instalment of John French’s Agent of the Throne audio drama series, which ties into the wider Horusian Wars arc, Blood and Lies sees Ianthe (first seen in the short story The Purity of Ignorance) recounting the tale of her first solo mission for Inquisitor Covenant. Dispatched to Mithras to deal with a troublesome cult before it becomes too much of a problem, only to find a deeper darkness lurking beneath, she has to use of all the tools – human and otherwise – at her disposal in order to fulfil her oaths and complete her mission.
Brilliantly voiced by Colleen Prendergast, Ianthe is a hard-nosed, straight-talking veteran who we hear at two stages of her career. During the mission segments she’s young, fresh and determined, full of drive and energy, all commanding tones and quick thinking. Interspersed throughout the story, though, are quiet, reflective moments where an older, more world-weary Ianthe adds commentary and context to the main tale – it’s beautifully done, with subtle SFX hinting at a quiet bar perhaps, as Ianthe measures her words between the quiet clink of ice in a glass and the soft crackle as she draws on a lho stick. These quiet noirish scenes, as well as being fascinatingly close and vivid, provide breathing room for the main story and serve to pace things out nicely.
The main narrative, then, sees Ianthe and Artabanus (voiced by Cliff Chapman), a ‘cyber-devotee’ who’s another of Covenant’s agents, trying to track down the cult in the midst of city-wide riots and local enforcer purges. French keeps the cast list small, introducing a handful of other characters – variously voiced by Annie Aldington, Steven Conlin and Toby Longworth – one of whom, Steve Conlin’s truth broker Elias Cull, joins Ianthe’s mission. The cast all do sterling work as ever, keeping their performances grounded and believable; Chapman once again (after Dark Compliance) delivers an excellent base for the SFX to manipulate his voice into the dry mechanical tones of Artabanus, while Conlin gradually layers tension and fear into Cull as events progress and the cynical truth broker finds himself increasingly out of his depth.
French has been clear that the intent is for Agent of the Throne to be an ongoing audio series, but it’s good to see that Blood and Lies is a standalone piece that tells a dark, thrilling story in its own right. Whether or not the whole series will use the same structure, with Ianthe looking back over her career, it works brilliantly here both as a narrative tool and as a character-building device. With a key theme here of the dangers of knowledge, especially around Cull, whether you’ve read The Purity of Ignorance or not you should come away from this audio drama with a very clear picture of Ianthe, what she’s been through and how she relates to Covenant. If all you’re after is a thrilling, exciting story then you should absolutely enjoy this, but if you’re interested in the Inquisition and fancy a look at a ‘peripheral mission’, not quite important enough for a full inquisitor but dangerous enough that it needs an Inquisitorial presence, this really hits the spot.