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Shadowhawk reviews the second audio drama from Steve Lyons, part of the unofficial Crimson Fists series.
“You want a proper horror story set in 40k? Look no further than this gut-wrenching audio drama from Steve Lyons who definitely has a strong grip on how to combine the two together.” ~ The Founding Fields
Garro: Oath of Moment, Garro: Legion of One, Raven’s Flight, Fireborn and now number 5, The Madness Within. If I had to pick my top two from these five audio dramas, it would be Raven’s Flight followed by The Madness Within. Why? Because it is just that good. Plain and simple.
This is my first experience with Steve’s work and simply put, he is awesome. The Madness Within is an audio drama that takes the grimdark of the 40k setting and meshes it perfectly with a horror story, giving us a product that is much bigger than the sum of its parts. It has Space Marines, Daemons, dramatic tension, infighting, fear, anxiety and that crucial horror element.
Horror and 40k are something that few authors within Black Library have gone for. From what I have read, which isn’t much compared to a lot of the other people who have been with the setting for far longer, only Sarah Cawkwell has gone that route and delivered admirably. I am currently reading through her Space Marine Battles novella Accursed Eternity and it a story that will definitely spook you and give you after-images of zombies and ghosts as you read it.
I have been reliably told that this is something Steve Lyons excels at with some of his previous novels for Black Library, such as Dead Man Walking. I hope to give that one a read soon and see for myself.
Well, back to this audio drama. From the start the plot hooks you right in because Steve starts off with an intense yet short action scene, introduces his characters and then launches right away into his larger narrative. To compile the plot in simple terms, it is the story of a squad of Crimson Fists who arrived on one of their chapter’s recruiting worlds some three years ago to find new recruits to replenish the chapter’s severely depleted ranks since the battle for their own homeworld saw the Crimson Fists nearly destroyed by a freak accident.
But its no easy task for Sergeant Estabaan’s squad because they have already suffered serious setbacks. A daemon has somehow manifested in the squad’s sanctuary-keep and has already killed more than half the squad. Only three men now remain: the Sergeant himself, Brother Cordoba and Librarian Suarez who is the natural suspect for the daemon’s manifestation.
I have to say that The Madness Within totally blew me away. Steve’s near-perfect writing is brought to life by the totally-perfect reading of John Banks. Having listened to only Toby Longworth so far, John made for a great change and it is one I definitely enjoyed a great deal. And if it is one thing that John is really good at, it is getting those sneering, mocking and almost petulant tones right. They alone are worth the price of the audio drama.
Weirdly, John Banks’s voice reminds me of Julian Sands who himself has done a fair amount of horror films in his times. I only remember him from his brief appearances on the Smallville TV series as a young Jor-El and his villainous Snakehead in Jackie Chan’s The Medallion. John’s voice totally puts me in mind of Julian’s face and I can actually imagine that it is the former who is doing the reading. Without any offense to John, I actually liked this.
Overall, the story, with all its twists and turns, is something I think was conveyed well in such a short format, being roughly 70 minutes from start to finish. It could have benefited from a bigger treatment of course, that goes without saying, but it wasn’t needed because the only thing that could have been added was the back-story that the characters themselves give us in small, tantalizing morsels through the running. Which would have actually detracted from the story proper.
As the story progresses, everything in it is amped up to eleven, whether it is the story itself, or the sound effects or the atmosphere that both the writing and the reading create. And when you get towards the climax and get that big twist, you are left slack-jawed. This twist isn’t something I saw coming and when it did come, I was bowled over. Even the ending, which while somewhat confusing, is going to leave you guessing. I dearly hope that Steve gets to write a sequel for this.
My only gripe with the audio drama is that at times it did feel like it was slowing down in pace, almost painfully so, but both John and Steve together quickly raise the excitement level to keep you listening along. Just as with Raven’s Flight, I had absolutely no problem in finishing the whole audio drama in a single sitting, even listening to it twice on the same day!
Even the sound affects, while a little odd at times, were well-matched with the actual goings-on of the plot and I think they are some of the best yet in any of the audio dramas. There is almost a surreal quality to them that works well hand-in-hand with the story itself.
It is definitely one of Black Library’s best audio dramas and I definitely look forward to reading and listening more of Steve’s work.
I would definitely recommend this to anyone and everyone without any distinction. Whether you are a horror fan looking for something different or a Black Library oldie looking for more or anywhere in between and beyond, this is for you. It is a very approachable story that, I think, gives a nice little intro to the larger setting and will definitely keep you hooked throughout.
I rate the audio drama at 8.5/10. It is almost as good as Raven’s Flight and the other audio dramas I have read but it not quite there. That might just be my inherent lack of interest in anything of the horror genre and with the Crimson Fists not being one of the chapters I am interested in either but that’s that. I’m sure people who enjoy both 40k and horror can offer a better evaluation but going with my own interests, I stick with this and I repeat that I truly enjoyed this audio drama.