Josh Reynolds’ first contribution to the Horus Heresy series, Blackshields: The False War is a 72-minute audio drama featuring ex-World Eater Endryd Haar…and lots of arguing. On the prison Forge of Xana-Tisiphone, Archmagos Gilim Raijan waits to make a trade with Horus’ emissary, even as a loyalist fleet battles against the system’s defences in orbit. Meanwhile Haar and his warband of Blackshields, having cast off their legion loyalties and offering fealty to neither Horus or the Emperor, seek only to survive and to find their own path through the war.
While perhaps familiar to some from Forge World’s sixth Horus Heresy book (Retribution), Endryd Haar is essentially a new name for the series; likewise Xana-Tisiphone and its ruling caste, and the events of the Xana Incursion. It’s hard to say much more without giving spoilers, but suffice to say this is an intriguing tale of loyalty and false faces, and an exploration of the grey area between loyalist and traitor. There’s very little in the way of action, the conflict coming primarily from tensions amongst Haar’s warband as certain elements question the mission, Haar’s leadership and their place in the ongoing war. Don’t let that dissuade you, though – this is a fascinating story despite the lack of overt action, essentially a character study of a compelling anti-hero.
This isn’t an origin story so don’t expect reams of exposition, but the details we get are enough to paint a vivid picture of Haar, alongside John Banks’ excellent voice work. This is a man driven to extremes – of violence, of sanity – and willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in order to achieve his goal. He’s not heroic, in fact he’s pretty appalling, and the snippets of his past that are revealed hint at some serious darkness. As the story progresses it becomes clear that there’s plenty of depth as yet unrevealed, but the narrative is strong enough to make up for any as yet unfilled gaps in Haar’s history.
This is the sort of story that’s for people who like to explore the edges of the Heresy, who don’t mind if a story doesn’t directly lead to us taking another step closer to Terra. The Blackshields are unlikely to be part of the main focus for the series, but in Haar we have a distillation of everything that’s interesting about them, and the first stirrings of what promises to be an intriguing arc. It goes without saying that the audio elements are excellent, not just all of the fantastic actors but the sound design too (especially when a really big weapon fires), helping create a typically immersive experience. Since the last Garro audio there hasn’t been a Heresy audio ‘series’…but this might just be the start of something to fill that gap.