Red and Black by James Swallow – Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings reviews the prequel to Faith and Fire, named Red & Black, and written by James Swallow, a New York Times Bestselling Author. This is published by Black Library, and produced by Beth Chalmers and Lisa Bowerman.
“Red and Black creates a sense of mystery that will keep you listening until the very end.” ~The Founding Fields
The last audiobook that I listened to was Fireborn, by Nick Kyme, which I enjoyed, despite having a mixed opinion on audiobooks. There are some, like the aforementioned Fireborn, which I loved, and there are some, which I thought, could have been better, like Garro: Oath of Moment. As it happens, Oath of Moment was by the same author who wrote this one, and as far as I’m aware, James Swallow writes most of Black Library’s audiobooks, and so I was wondering where he was going to take the reader (or in this case, listener), with this audio drama, focusing on the Sisters of Battle, a rather overlooked faction in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The fact that this is a prequel to Faith and Fire also is important to note, as the contents of this may well decide whether I will read more of the Sisters of Battle.
This particular audiobook follows the adventures of a Celestian, an elite of the Sisters of Battle, sister Miriya, who will already be familiar to those who have read Faith and Fire back when it first came out, before I knew about the Warhammer 40,000 universe. When the world of Hollos is reunited with the Imperium of man, Miriya finds the fate of the planet’s unusual populace resting in her hands. Does Miriya believe that the inhabitants are as loyal to the God-Emperor as they first seem, or is there something more suspicious occurring on the planet?
No matter its faults, Red and Black certainly does has an interesting premise, although it is really dragged down by victim of its format and the inability to expand beyond the running time that has been allowed by Black Library. This audiobook also proves that Toby Longworth is not the only good producer of Black Library’s audio dramas, as both Beth Chalmers and Lisa Bowerman provide strong female narrative that helps the listener really understand the female characters created by Swallow, and that only increases the enjoyable-ness of the audiobook itself.
If you’re a fan of hard-core, ‘bolter-porn’ battles across war-torn planets though, you may not enjoy Red and Black, as there isn’t as much fighting typically found in a full-blown novel. But then again, Red and Black isn’t a full-blown novel, and that’s where it really suffers. Constrained by its length, Swallow is unable to weave a longer tale that would no doubt include all the things that the audiobook missed out on – more action, more time to develop the characters etc.
Miriya is a particularly interesting character for a Sister of Battle. After all, when I played them on the campaign in Dawn of War: Soulstorm, a few years ago, I got the impression that they were all mindless zealots ready to do anything in the name of the Emperor of Man. Miriya though, is slightly different from the way that Relic’s computer game makes out the nuns with guns to be – she has a mind open enough to question things – and in a way, that is the reason why she’s chosen for this mission. Alongside Miriya and her fellow squad Magos Biologis Questo Nolan, is a character sent along to investigate the unusual people of Hollos, provides a different outlook on things from Miriya and her sister’s perspectives of things, but as a whole, isn’t really as developed as he could have been. However, I rather enjoyed Nolan’s voice – which makes a change from the female Sisters of Battle, and the background sound created by the producers helps you feel more immersed in the story that Swallow has created.
Great stuff, and in conclusion, I can safely say that I will be sticking around to read more of the Sisters of Battle. As of this post I am halfway through Faith and Fury, the first novel of the Sisters of Battle series, and I so far like what I see.
The pacing of this audiobook sometimes feels uneven in places, but if you can get around that, you will find Red and Black enjoyable.
You’ll be seeing more from Swallow soon on The Founding Fields.
More Sisters of Battle: Red and Black, Faith & Fury, Hammer & Anvil.
More James Swallow: Garro: Oath of Moment (Audiobook), Garro: Legion of One (Audiobook), The Flight of the Eisenstein, Nemesis, The Blood Angels Omnibus, The Blood Angels Second Omnibus, Heart of Rage (Audiobook).