Eye of Vengeance by Graham McNeill – Audio Drama Advance Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews Graham McNeill’s first Ultramarines audio drama, in which he tackles the experienced veteran Scout-Sergeant Torias Telion, a living legend of the chapter.
“Battles are not always fought head-to-head. Sometimes they are fought far from the frontlines and no one knows this better than Torias Telion and Graham McNeill. A superb audio!” ~The Founding Fields
My craze with Black Library’s various audio dramas continued last month with Graham McNeill’s Eye of Vengeance, part of his Ultramarines series, and especially the second trilogy as he tackles a much wider cast of characters than just the battle-brothers of the Fourth Company and their Captain, Uriel Ventris. As far as I can recall, The Ultramarines Omnibus was one of my first purchases after I’d bought The Space Wolves Omnibus and the first Gaunt’s Ghosts omnibus The Founding back in 2007 for my birthday. I was on a sort of omnibus drive at the time so they were all good picks for me. And I have to say that I’ve never regretted buying either of those books. While Bill King and Dan Abnett’s offerings rekindled my interest in all things Black Library, it was Graham’s offering that really made me push on and explore more. And I’ve been a fan since.
Eye of Vengeance is one of those few stories that deal with Space Marine Scouts, the neophytes of the chapters who must spend years under the tutelage of their sergeants before they are considered fit to to earn their black carapace and their power armour. I’ve listened to George Mann’s Helion Rain previously, an audio drama with its divided between a Raven Guard Scout squad and a Raven Guard Captain as they fight to defend a world from the ravages of the Tyranids. I wasn’t really impressed with it, either by the writing or with the voice-work. Glad to say that Eye of Vengeance is a huge improvement over it on all accouts and that it hits all the right notes for me when compared to Helion Rain.
Torias Telion, a veteran Scout-Sergeant of the Ultramarines who has served under no less than three Chapter Masters and has trained many of the chapter’s current crop of officers, was introduced with the last Codex: Space Marines. He is certainly an interesting sort of character, having seen several centuries of service but not yet jaded by it, an expert marksman to the degree that he is often seconded to other chapters for cross-training and so on. Graham definitely managed to capture that essence of his character, and the voice-work for him by Rupert Degas magnifies that and brings it to audio superbly.
His voice was certainly not as I’d expected, which would be a minor complaint that I would also level against the voice-work for Chaplain Cassius (voiced by Saul Reichlin) when he makes an appearance earlier on in the audio drama, but it didn’t really bother me. Having those heavy, gruff, or deep bass voices for all such veteran Space Marines would have taken away from the “realism” of the audio so I think it was a good decision by the voice-actors to do as they did. It made both Telion and Cassius stand out, and that’s a good thing.
Cassius’ cameo was, to say the least, a great surprise because I really didn’t expect him to show up. His easy camaraderie with Telion, what little there is of it, and his soft censure of the Sergeant’s sometimes irreverent actions made for a really nice touch. Especially more so when Graham draws some strong parallels between Telion and Uriel where their interpretations of the wisdom of the Codex Astartes is considered. I have a slight problem with that portrayal though, borne out by a certain comment from Marneus Calgar in the short story Consequences, about how some of the Ultramarines view the Codex because that really is the shtick of the chapter. They are staunch adherents of the philosophies penned by their Primarch and to deviate from them is heresy, as events concerning Uriel and his banishment from the chapter prove. To have another such high-ranking officer of the chapter treat those philosophies as just guidelines was a little disconcerting.
But, there is a trick to it nevertheless, and that trick is how well the author pulls it off in the narrative. Telion’s rank, his service record and his status as a former mentor to many of the Ultramarines officers gives him a certain latitude but he himself recognises the dangers of what he sometimes preaches to his Scout Squad. Well, not his own Squad but the one he is attached to in Eye of Vengeance.
Overall, I really liked Graham’s characterisation of the various characters: the Captains of the 5th and 6th Companies, Cassius, Telion, Sergeant Kaytan and his Scouts. Being a short story converted to the audio format doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development however, so the narrative is focused closely on Telion and the Scouts with him, but I got the impression of distinct personalities from each of the characters. Even the Scouts. What they really evoked for me was how Gav portrayed his own Scout characters in Purging of Kadillus, a Space Marine Battles novel with Dark Angels and Orks. As a story focused on Scouts, Gav’s longer treatment, and Graham’s shorter treatment work really well in showcasing how good Scouts are as part of an Astartes strike force. Dangerous behind-the-enemy-lines missions are what Scouts are trained to do and Graham’s narrative delivered on that promise.
Of course, taking down Titans and evading a super-heavy tank also helps in the process too!
The world of Quintarn, one of the eight primary worlds of the Ultramar Empire, is given cinematic life in the audio, and I don’t say that lightly. Graham paints a really evocative and picturesque image of the agri-world and gives that Greco-Roman vibe that is at the heart of the Ultramarines’ chapter culture. The Maidens of Nestor, one of the central locations of Quintarn where much of the audio drama’s action takes place, is key in that characterisation. There is a sense of sacrifice, and myth and legend about the place that makes me go, that’s something straight out of Greek mythology. This was quite welcome in the larger context of the Ultramarines work Graham has done because we never really got such an intriguing look into a world. I haven’t read the second trilogy so I can’t comment on how Calth and the other worlds are portrayed but in the first trilogy, this element was largely unexplored.
So I’d say that the audio format worked wonders in that regard.
The pacing of the narrative is also quite good. The beginning has that sense of foreboding and excitement that an adventure is about to begin, the middle has lots of action, introspection, badassery, and then the ending is a sweet, sweet climax. You can liken it to a traditional quest story, since the objective of Telion and his scouts is to infiltrate the enemy lines and strike at the heart of the enemy invasion: Votheer Tark’s central factory where he and his Dark Mechanicus brethren are building Chaos-infected war engines. The excitement and the tension just never let up and as such, while Scouts don’t compare favourably to full battle-brothers, Telion and his men still come off as a highly dangerous and effective strike force.
In general, the voice-work was fairly spot on, barring the slight inconsistency with Telion and Cassius I remarked on earlier. Its not an inconsistency with previous lore, as there hasn’t been a Telion audio/short story before and I haven’t read Gav’s Catechism of Hate, its just an inconsistency with my own expectations of the characters. Certainly nothing I hold against the author however, as he still managed to hook me into listening to the entire audio drama and delivered on an expected tremendous experience. Saul Reichlin and Rupert Degas did a great job with all the characters, and Sean Barrett’s narration really drove the pacing home.
Overall, I think this is among some of Graham’s finest work, definitely right up there with his Beast of Calth short story from Iron Warriors: The Omnibus. And as such, this audio drama comes highly recommended from me. As part of the larger tale of the Ultramarines that Graham tells in the second trilogy of novels, and as a companion to Honsou’s attack on Ultramar, Eye of Vengeance is a great addition to the lore. It definitely has me quite excited for Ultramarines: The Second Omnibus which I will be reading sometime this coming May. Looking forward to it.