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At Black Library Live! 2012 it was announced that they were bringing a new audio drama format to their line up – that of the audio drama short. It was there intention to release at least one audio product a month. The first two have been released and EJ Davies plugs in his trusty noise-isolating headphones and takes a listen.
On Bloodspire: “Nicely paced, well written story, great characters.” ~ The Founding Fields.
On Deathwolf: “A frenetic paced battle, a good lead in to Reparation.” ~ The Founding Fields
To begin – I thought long and hard over the decision of Black Library to release an audio product a month, and whether it was going to be a good thing. Combine that with my rather mixed opinions of the more recent releases of this format and I was somewhat concerned with approaching both of these products. Both are around the half hour duration and performed by Seán Barrett, Rupert Degas, Chris Fairbank, and David Timson – the latter with the addition of Charlotte Page.
Let us begin with Bloodspire by CZ Dunn:
“On the world of Axonar, a squad of Blood Angels Scouts scale the dizzying heights of a mighty hive city as their battle-brothers fight far below. Their objective: to open the way for a daring aerial assault that will crack open the city and ensure victory.”
Axonar: Psyker rich hive spires cede from the Imperium refusing to pay their tithe to the black ships, until the Blood Angels arrive. The action takes place on two main fronts – Captain Metreion of the 3rd Company assaulting the primary hive city but stymied by the hives defences; and Scout Sergeant Cardulla and his squad scaling the heights of the hive city.
The negatives: Occasionally the sound effects completely cease – something you would imagine wouldn’t happen during a battle. The volume of fire does not sound like an entire company of Blood Angels assaulting a primary hive spire, and it certainly doesn’t sound as if the hive spire is firing back. The dialogue between Metreion and Ellion in the wake of the latter’s injury is a little cheesy.
The positives: The story itself is a simple one but well executed. There is enough background to satisfy Blood Angels fans, and to illuminate Blood Angels novices. The characters, although there isn’t a great deal of time to explore them, and given flesh and blood through their actions and their decisions. The cuts between the action are well timed. Seán Barrett actually now sounds engaged with the story.
All in all, it’s entertaining and it’s original. Though I have to ask the question, why the Blood Angels? There is nothing within the piece that meant it has to be the Blood Angels Chapter and you could have easily replaced them with another chapter and the audio drama would still have worked. I mention this for no other reason than during various Q&As on writing it has been said that chapters should be selected for stories because there is no other way it would work. I could be being overly critical I guess, and the fact that this is the first appearance of the Blood Angels – one of the original nine loyalist Space Marine Legions – in the Space Marine Battles series is sufficient justification.
I’d say this is a good listen, with some great features and certainly a good start to the audio short format and almost certainly worth listening to for the final assault. However, I’d say that the denouement felt a little long – like waiting for a movie to finish so you can go pee – and it could have easily finished at 26:07, yet I can also see the development and insight to one of the characters (not mentioned in this review) was desirable to give the piece a place in the 40K timeline, and set up further Blood Angels stories.
Now to Deathwolf by Andy Smillie:
“In the heavens above Luetin Hive, Erik Morkai’s Space Wolves clash with dark eldar raiders, jump-pack clad Blood Claws taking the battle to the aliens’ own infernal airships. But the war will be decided by Morkai himself as he challenges the aliens’ sinister leader to single combat.”
Luetin Hive: source of great mineral wealth for the Dark Eldar weaponsmiths is under attack from the vicious Dark Eldar, beginning with the assault of a squad of Mandrakes yanking the power hub into a warp-rift to disrupt the defences. The Space Wolves chapter – the great company of Erik Morkai – battle the Cult of the Shattered Hand commanded by Archon Vranock, as they hunt and kill the human population, and the 109th Luetin Rifles. We see the battle from Thorolf – leader of a group of Sky Claws, and Erik Morkai himself.
The negatives: Although we can hear the skycraft zipping around, we don’t hear a great deal of return fire from the Dark Eldar (unless I’ve mistaken the chugging las-weaponry for the Luetin rifles.) I’m not a big fan of the accents which sound more like the Brazen Minotaurs than Scandinavian lilts. The music is a little distracting, either by volume or it sounding just a little too ‘early PC games’ for my liking. Absent sounds of Dark Eldar close-combat foe, combat shouts, and weapon sounds. A later encounter when Thorolf crashes to ground is an unwelcome pause in proceedings, and doesn’t seem to serve the story, or the character. The sound effects in the last confrontation are a little off-putting.
The positives: A nice scene where Morkai is blown from one skimmer to another. The pace is frenetic, as you would expect from a battle between Space Wolves and Dark Eldar to be. Cluster Caltrops are given form. The foresight in the first few minutes is paid off at the end.
I was a little disappointed with the piece. In recent publications the Space Wolves previous form as Space-borne Vikings who got drunk and sang sagas got overturned and they were given character, tragedy, and weight. I don’t think Deathwolf has done anything to harm that, but nor does it pay particularly reference the hard work put in by Dan (Abnett), Chris (Wraight), and – to a lesser extent – Aaron (Dembski-Bowden.) The final confrontation lacks any real jeopardy, partially I think due to the lack of characterisation throughout, and the lack of immersion in the story. Moreover, this piece is followed up by the short story Reparation and I feel that Deathwolf serves as a prequel, rather than the first half of a story; serving only to set up the following short story. There was also a sense of ‘why the Space Wolves?’ in this story, but I guess if one of the Space Wolves shows up in Reparation then that is all the justification that’s required.
I’d say it’s a good listen, worthy of the half hour or so of the attention you’ll lavish on it, and is entertaining enough for that.
So, does the format work? These audio shorts come in at around half the length of an audio drama (it’s not exact as most BL audio dramas come in around 75 minutes.) Bloodspire seems certainly more suited to this format than Deathwolf, I’m not sure there was enough happening in Deathwolf to make it worth the time. There have certainly been improvements made from the earliest releases from these performers, and I’m fairly sure that as time goes on the audio short format will be refined, honed, and improved as authors and editors get more used to what works and what doesn’t. I think, perhaps, if the audio short were more novella/novel style (in that the audio short comes in around a third of the audio drama, so around 20-25 minutes) I think it might tighten up the action and focus more on the story and characters.
Cost wise they’re £6.50GBP (that’s £2GBP less than an audio drama) including a full set of wallpapers (so drop another £1.50GBP from the price) – so you’re actually paying £5.00GBP for the piece. That’s over half the cost for something that is less than half the length of the audio drama. I’m not sure that it’s worth that cost, perhaps a £3.50/£4.00GBP price tag would be more appropriate. I’m also not sure every customer is going to want to purchase the wallpapers – and removing them as ‘included’ with the audio short and making them a standalone purchase would make the shorts more attractive to me as a customer.
I’m interested to see how this develops, and the audio shorts that follow. Sure as sure it’s a nice way to earn some extra cash, and a great way to get more content out there, so I hope that content and production quality continues to improve.
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