Chris Dows is developing a fine reputation for writing Imperial Guard, and with his audio drama Titans’ Bane he turns his attention away from Elysians and towards Cadians, with a story focusing on the crew of a Shadowsword super-heavy tank. Having taken a beating by the forces of Nurgle, Lieutenant Quiller and the crew of Titans’ Bane limp back to Imperial lines, desperately trying to repair their wounded tank even as its machine spirit ails. To make matters worse, frictions within the tank threaten to boil over as Quiller attempts to integrate two non-Cadian replacements into her veteran crew.
It’s a clever premise, keeping the story focused on a single tank crew and showing the whole thing from Quiller’s perspective, taking place entirely within Titan’s Bane and restricted to just what the characters can see and experience themselves from where they sit. There’s a bit of narration to begin with, helping us get up to speed on what’s been happening and who the characters are, but that soon fades away to allow the rest of the story to be told with just dialogue, SFX and music. We listen as the crew shift through emotions and reactions to the unfolding events, with an overall sense of determination to not just survive but also find some form of revenge for the loss of Cadia.
This is everything an audio drama should be – a character-driven story that handles almost all of the wider descriptive elements through SFX and music, freeing Dows up to really dig into the characters and their relationships, and build tension both inside and outside of the tank. We don’t get much backstory for them, but between the dialogue and the actors’ performances they really come to life, and the nature of living and fighting within the cramped confines of a tank (even one as big as a Shadowsword) is vividly illustrated. Through all the bickering and infighting, and the culture clash as the Cadians try to deal with their strange new crewmates, a powerful sense of emotion builds up in the claustrophobic interior of Titans’ Bane.
At a little over 45 minutes it’s not the longest of audio dramas, but fear not – it may be small but it’s perfectly formed. There’s just so much to enjoy here, not least the fantastic performances from the cast who deliver Dows’ script with aplomb. There isn’t really a standout performance, simply because they all get plenty to do and do it so well, but obviously as the main protagonist Quiller, voiced by Penelope Rawlins, is at the heart of the whole thing. Unlike some audios, the SFX are relatively subtle and used to build a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere rather than impress through bold statements, but they’re just as effective for that, and once again demonstrate the strength of the script. It really is a powerful, emotional gut-punch of a story; not only does it have probably the best cover yet for a Black Library audio drama…it might just be the best overall audio drama yet.