Nathaniel Garro by James Swallow – Double Audio Drama Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first two Garro audio dramas by James Swallow, Oath of Moment and Legion of One, part of the Horus Heresy series by Black Library.
“Some of the most well-written and highly enjoyable audio dramas, Oath of Moment and Legion of One are among James Swallows’ best work for Black Library.” ~The Founding Fields
The two Garro audios were the first Black Library audio dramas I ever listened to. It came after a long, long don’t-care attitude because in that time period, I was pretty indifferent to audio dramas. Basically, I was totally fine with missing out on them, mostly because of the price. But I finally gave in last year in August and bought both Oath of Moment and Legion of One in a single go. James Swallow is one of my favourite authors for Black Library and I was expecting them to be quite good therefore. I was more than surprised to find out that these two are really, really good, especially Legion of One.
I listened to Oath of Moment first of course, since it is the first of the Garro audio dramas. The plot focuses on the on-going battle for Calth, where the Word Bearers have launched a surprise attack on the Ultramarines and the latter are reeling and trying to consolidate and repel the unexpected invasion. The setting of the audio drama is very memorable therefore, as it marks the third biggest Astartes versus Astartes conflict in the history of the Imperium up until that point, the first two being the battles on Istvaan III and later, Istvaan V. Jim has definitely succeeded in creating an atmosphere that is just as epic and memorable as the Betrayal on Istvaan and the Dropsite Massacre.
The really short format prevents him from going in-depth of course but then again, that’s why we got Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear which serves beautifully in explaining all that has happened before the events in Oath of Moment.
The pacing of Oath of Moment is pretty good because the audio keeps you involved from the get go with Garro’s arrival to Calth and all the way to the climactic ending. There is action and dialogue and drama and tension aplenty throughout and Jim never really lets you go. The atmosphere that is created by Jim’s words and Toby Longworth’s excellent voice-acting is simply enjoyable. You are really drawn into the narrative.
Oath of Moment also gives us some much-needed backstory on Garro as it concerns this former Battle-Captain of the Death Guard legion after the events of Jim’s Flight of the Eisenstein, which in itself is one of the most enjoyable novels of the Horus Heresy. We are treated to some of his interactions with Malcador the Sigillite, the Emperor’s personal advisor, as well as some of his frustrations at his change in status. Malcador gives him a higher purpose than just going out there and killing traitors and seeing how Garro accepts his new mission is very moving.
Given the title of the audio, it is only appropriate that we would have gotten a sequence where Garro swears an oath of moment and we are not disappointed when that inevitably rolls around. The solemnity of the scene is captured quite nicely although I wish it had been a little more ritualistic. Just that bit more and it would have been a perfect scene.
Garro is not the only leading character in the audio drama however, there is also Tylos Rubio, an Astartes of the Ultramarines legion. Rubio is a very conflicted character and his arc in Oath of Moment is true to the dark spirit of Warhammer 40,000 wherein he can only win by sacrificing everything: his brotherhood, his loyalties, his oaths. Seeing Rubio mature, or rather, take those first steps to maturing is one of the things that Jim has really delivered on. When a character grows in the telling, that is always a good sign.
But, Jim isn’t the only one who excelled here because Toby Longworth was trusted with bringing Jim’s words to life and that he did, admirably so. This was the first audio drama I had ever heard period, and Toby’s was the first voice-over I had been introduced to, so hearing his voice was just fantastic. It was partly Toby’s work that convinced me to go out and get more Black Library audio dramas, so I suppose that is a job well done!
And as it turns out, my next audio drama was Jim’s Garro: Legion of One, the sequel to the above. If anything, Legion of One is far, far more enjoyable than Oath of Moment, which in no small part has to do with the location of the narrative, the surprise character, and Toby’s voice-overs for said character.
I’d simply say that Garro: Legion of One is an audio-drama in which everything just clicks. To date for me, no voice-actor has topped Toby as Cerberus in any of the audio dramas from Black Library. The way that Cerberus’s monologues are written, and the way that Toby brings them over to the audio format is just mind-blowing. You can actually feel as Cerberus feels and you are tightly drawn into his spiraling madness. That is audio drama gold right there.
Legion of One also brings Garro and Rubio back together and pairs them with a new comrade, Macer Varren, formerly of the World Eaters legion. The story has also moved forward, roughly a year as it were and we are told that even bigger events in the Heresy have occured, such as Signus Prime. That’s quite a lot to take in. However, the narrative never suffers from getting a big dose of such introductory details. So far so good.
The pacing of the audio drama is even more fast-paced than that of Oath of Moment, just because of the nature of the planet that Garro and his comrades have arrived on. Giving away the name would be a major spoiler so I will avoid it. Suffice to say, the tension and action is ramped up to 11 compared to Oath of Moment and that helps to create a really atmospheric, immersive experience.
The characterisation of Varren was a surprise for me considering his legion origins. He reminds me a lot of Kharn from False Gods when he first meets the Mournival and of Ehrlen from Galaxy in Flames before his suicidal charge at enemy lines. A very noble and restrained World Eater, but one whose fury and rage bubble just under the surface. Varren is definitely one of my favourite Horus Heresy characters for sure, and given that he is getting his own audio drama later this year, Jim’s Garro: Sword of Truth, I am really excited to get more background on him. And see him in action of course, because if this cover art is any indication, the new Garro audio drama is going to be just plain splendid.
There is certainly a rather dark edge in Legion of One compared to Oath of Moment, more so since Garro’s own past comes back to haunt him and he has to lay some of his personal daemons to rest as well as complete his mission on the planet. There are tensions aplenty in the narrative between the three Astartes and seeing how it all plays out is thrilling and very much has a sitting-on-the-edge-of-the-seat feel to it.
The audio drama also marks a shift in tone for Garro’s story since it is mentioned that this mission is the last one for him and his comrades. From this it can be inferred that Malcador is about to send them back out in the galaxy to start doing some real damage to the traitors and big things are certainly afoot. Given the crooked but still obvious connections between Garro’s Knight Errants and a certain post-Heresy Imperial faction, what happens next will be of great interest to all fans of the audio dramas and the Horus Heresy alike.
The only majorly negative thing I’d say about the two audio dramas is that we don’t get any information about Garro’s companions from the Eisenstein, namely Euphrati Keeler and Iacton Qruze, as well as Garro’s loyal Death Guard battle-brothers. I would have liked to know what their fates have been because they have all been through hell and back and they do deserve some time in the limelight, if only passingly. However, I temper that fact with the hindsight of having read one of the short stories in the Age of Darkness anthology which does give us some information about Qruze. But still, there is a fairly big gap between the Garro audios and that short story in terms of publication dates.
In the end, I cannot recommend either of the audio dramas enough. They are superbly written, superbly voiced and advance the larger narrative of the Horus Heresy in new and interesting ways. They also answer as many questions as they raise and that is just as it should be since the Horus Heresy series is as much about revelations about a forgotten past as much as they are about exposing new “realities”. So yes, if you are a fan of the series, definitely gave them both a try. You will not be disappointed. Just remember that you need to at least read the first four Horus Heresy novels before digging into these because otherwise many of the references and the characters will not make much sense otherwise.
Simply put, go for the complete experience.
Garro: Oath of Moment –8.5/10
Garro: Legion of One – 9.5/10
You can check out an advance review of Garro: Legion of One by Bane of Kings here.