Malediction by CZ Dunn – Audio Drama Review [EJ Davies]

malediction

In the latest audio drama release from Black Library CZ Dunn takes an interesting look at the 40K universe, and the role of story and history.  What better chapter, then, to bring in than the masters of this subject matter than the Dark Angels?  EJ Davies listens in.

“An atmospheric, enjoyable, highly descriptive, slow burning drama.” ~ The Founding Fields.

From Black Library:

“On the world of Amadis, veteran Imperial Guard officer Regan Antigone is being honoured for his role in the planet’s liberation from the forces of Chaos, some twenty-five years earlier. But when his old comrade, Master Tigrane of the Dark Angels Space Marine Chapter, arrives to join the festivities and asks to hear the glorious tale told once more, Antigone falters. With the details of his account cast under close scrutiny and with the judgement of the Imperium hanging over him, will his noble reputation remain intact?”

OK, so the set up is simple – an ancient Imperial Guard officer is to be commended at the quarter-century celebration of the liberation of Amadis, and at a dinner he is asked to recount his tale again.  Only this time, one of the Dark Angels instrumental in the liberation shows up to honour Regan, and listen to the tale again.

Now, the story takes a long time to get going.  We spend much time with Antigone getting to know what’s happened over the last 25 years, and how Procell came to exist in the first place, to get us to the point where the actual story proper takes off.  Antigone is something of a tragic character, his own personal history less than glorious, a leg that no longer functions without the use of a cane, and a consumptive illness that has almost killed him – and the stories of his sons even less so, deepening the tragedy inherent in the character.

The interplay between the two main characters – Antigone and Company Master Tigrane – is interesting.  There is a strain that is evident in the way they speak to one another.  It’s respectful, but you get the sense that there is something is being held back, even to the point where it feels Antigone is decidedly uncomfortable at the events.  The honour that Tigrane bestows on Regan is to recount his tale once more to be recorded in the annals of The Rock, but you feel that this is more than it appears.  The story then loops back through these two twice more before the conclusion.

With the recollection of Regan, we are catapulted into the battle twenty-five years previous.  Trooper Regan, former-ganger Tarik and Murtock – the three survivors of the battle – are battling a chaos cultist horde, starving, hungry, and fatigued.  Each of the character is pretty much an archetype.  The examination of trench warfare is a reasonable one, though what we lack are the sound effects of the other troops in the trench, and so it feels very much like a small drama as opposed to a pause in hostilities.

Scenic and character descriptions are excellent, really projecting the listener into the scenes.  Like the opening, the middle section is a slow reveal.  The weather is awful, the conditions are terrible.  We are left in no uncertain terms that this is something that we wouldn’t want to experience yet it is clear that the war here is of a secondary concern.   The middle section still feels like a preamble.  That is it leading to something rather than developing the story or the characters.  It certainly doesn’t feel like a character driven piece – but more plot driven: ‘Where is Regan now?  How did he get here?  What happens to him after his story?’

The third act is a little telegraphed.  Though, it wasn’t wholly unwelcome and certainly wasn’t jarring in any way.  But listening to Track 11 you can pretty much guess where the story is going from there, and it’s really only in Track 11 that you gain any understanding as to what the Dark Angels were doing on Amadis in the first place.  For this story to work, it had to be the Dark Angels chapter, which is an accusation I’ve levelled at other stories in the past, but there was no option for this one.

Once again, we have Seán Barrett, Saul Reichlin, and Rupert Degas on vocal duties.  Seán continues to improve as a narrator, and the vocal talents again bring the characters to life.  We get a couple of accents (Scottish and Irish) that haven’t often cropped up in Black Library audio dramas before.  The actor playing Tigrane, however, lacks the depth and the gravitas I would expect from a Dark Angel chapter master, and would have preferred a more dangerous, leonine purr – more bass and gravel.  The voice from Amadis command also does not sound like its ‘on it’s arse.’  One instance of shouting something again felt like a studio construct – there surely is a way (reverb, echo, sound effect) to make it sound like someone in a trench shouting at someone else in a trench.

Sound effects are good – crowd scenes sound huge, and the polite applause during the celebratory dinner actually sounds like it would, except for the two tones of applause which sounds like two different crowds.  The music, sadly, still seems a little out of place – a little too synthesised, and a little too substandard – for my taste, often proving something of a distraction from the story taking place.

There were also some irks with the story.  Why is the Dark Angel power armoured?  Ceremonial, probably, but it’s not explained.  Why does Tigrane come back?  Surely this function would have been better served by an acolyte of the Interrogator Chaplains and not a high ranking Chapter Master – True, he has history with Antigone, but still… Why does he stealth around the state rooms?  Perhaps to listen without being observed, yet I think this would have been more dramatic as a head-to-head conversation between the two of them in the middle of the dinner party, a verbal chess game if you will.  I’m not too keen either on the reveal of the name during the latter stages of the drama, I’m not sure a Chapter Master would reveal this to a room full of humans.

Overall, this is a good listen with some great features.  It’s nice to get a Dark Angels story every now and again, and in terms of its atmosphere and its descriptiveness it’s good.  But it felt like a short story that took too long doing what it was supposed to – like a 40 minute TV show spun out to a 120 minute film – or that too little happens for the length of time you’re listening.  It’s a slow burner, to be sure, but I’m not sure the pay offs warrant the time taken.

That said, it’s entertaining though not particularly illuminating.  Worth the money, though.

Malediction is available from good retailers on CD, and from Black Library as an mp3 download.

Share and Enjoy!

Suggested track names:

  1. The Celebratory Parade
  2. The Feast/Amadis/Arrival of the Giant
  3. The Last Quarter Century
  4. The Procell Trenches
  5. Forward 19
  6. The Back-Up Plan
  7. Reporting Back
  8. Bombardment
  9. Regan Takes Command
  10. Further Evidence
  11. The True Story
  12. Saviour of Amadis
  13. Judgement

EJ Davies

EJ Davies: reader, reviewer, writer; and an avid lover of Black LIbrary products since the release of the seminal Horus Rising. EJ is currently working through the massive back catalogue of Black Library titles, and plugging away at his own fiction-based efforts in the vain hope of cracking his way into the author pool.

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