Malediction by C Z Dunn – Audio Drama Advance Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews a brand new Dark Angels audio drama (possibly a first for the chapter?) by new author C Z Dunn.
“Wonderfully written and quite evocative, this is a story that is absolutely true to the secretive nature and mythos of the Dark Angels, the First Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes.” ~The Founding Fields
The Dark Angels are one of the most secretive and enigmatic of all the chapters of the Space Marines, also known as the Adeptus Astartes. While they are one of the staunchest defenders of the Imperium of Man, they harbour the darkest of secrets behind their facade of absolute loyalty. These secrets define the chapter and inform everything that it’s senior cadre does. That has been the charm of the chapter for ages and is something that has been gaining full-steam lately.
Author C Z Dunn, who also masquerades in his free time as New York Times Bestselling editor Christian Dunn, has taken this aspect of the chapter to heart in his latest offering, a story much broader and more direct in its scope than the eShort he did earlier this year, Easy Prey.
Malediction is the story of a retired guardsman, Trooper Regan Antigone, as he is forced to relive the critical moments of the war that happened on the world of Procell nearly two decades and a half ago. Now a celebrated hero of the Imperium for his actions during the defense of the Amadis city, the reality is far different and Antigone hides as much behind a thin veneer of heroism and valor as do the Dark Angels behind theirs. That mirror aspect was a great touch because right off the bat, it establishes that this story is about secrets, half-truths and lies. Just as a Dark Angels story should be when it concerns the Fallen, those Dark Angels who went renegade and traitor during the events of the Horus Heresy, nearly ten thousand years ago.
Regan Antigone is joined by Master Tigraine, a Dark Angels company commander, who also took part in the war to liberate Procell all those years ago and has returned during the quarter-century celebrations to honour the event and his chapter’s role in the war. Tigraine is the hound to Antigone’s rabbit as the farmer seeks to investigate past the latter’s version of the events that ended the war. His entry, and his first few lines of dialogue establish that there are greater secrets at work here and that not everything is as it seems.
Together, these two characters form a feedback loop that turns on itself by the end and makes sure that the listener is treated to one of the best Dark Angels stories ever.
To begin with, I really liked this audio drama. My concerns regarding the voice-acting notwithstanding, this really is a great story because it gives us a vital glimpse into the activities of the Dark Angels and the lengths they will go to preserve their secrets and bring all traitors to justice, no matter how delayed it might be. The author has written a script that recreates the various locations in the listener’s mind. I could see envision how the city of Amadis looks quite clearly because of its unique nature as a massive colony ship that came to rest on Procell thousands of years ago and has grown into its administrative and governmental heart. I could envision the scenes of the trenches outside Amadis that Trooper Antigone and his company of conscript guardsmen are tasked with defending against an army of heretics and mutants. I could imagine very well the decadent atmosphere of the celebrations honouring Antigone and the successful defense of the world. I was taken right into the world and for an audio drama, that was perfect.
The interplay between Antigone and Tigraine was also well-written. Both of them have distinct voices, the former old, tired and dying, the latter inquisitive, judgemental, insistent and authoritative. You can see not just how Tigraine has a way with words as he coaxes the true version of events out of Antigone, but the author as well.
Story-wise, I have a few gripes. The first is that we are never told why Tigraines comes back after so many years, twenty-five in fact, looking for the truth. Actually, it’d be inaccurate to say that we are never told that; it is just never made clear. Tigraine, a company commander no less, is the instrument of his chapter’s will on Procell and that was one thing I never understood. Why him and no one else, such as an Interrogator-Chaplain no less, those who specifically command all hunts for the Fallen? Some enlightenment in the script to that effect would have been nice.
Another is what the particular Fallen shown in the background on the cover, Cypher, is even doing on Procell. He is said to be the senior-most Fallen being hunted by the chapter and why he comes to Procell and does what he does is never explained. That the author has chosen to keep that a mystery and leave it to the listener to divine the facts is something that counts against the script. It’s a loose-end that is never really tied up, and it feeds back into my previous point about Tigraine. If he has been sent on suspicions of Cypher’s presence on Procell, then surely it would have been an urgent enough mission to send an Interrogator-Chaplain to carry out the investigation?
I suppose it could be explained away by Tigraine’s minor familiarity with Antigone during the closing stages of the war, but still. A loose-end that should have been tied up by the end.
Other than that, this was a great script. It is Dark Angels to the core even though only two members of the chapter ever make an appearance, one a dedicated loyalist, the other a traitor of the highest order, at least as far as the chapter is concerned.
Then there’s the fact that the audio drama has no less than four call-backs to the events of the Horus Heresy. They are sort-of easter eggs hidden within the script. The first of them is obvious, Cypher, but the other three will take a sharp mind to figure out. I didn’t catch them on my first listen-through and only when I was told there are some hidden away did I divine which ones they were. They are quite easy to miss. Another great touch that reaffirms why this is a Dark Angels audio drama and not one for any other chapter of Adeptus Astartes.
Voice-acting-wise, the best performances were for the characters of Antigone and his fellow guardsman Murtoch, and even Tigraine. They had the most distinctive voices and were performed really well. What didn’t work was that the voice-actor for Tigraine was repeated for at least two more characters, that I could tell, and that they were all three voiced in almost the same manner. It made distinguishing between them really difficult. Given that there are three voice-actors working on the script, that was disappointing.
And that brings me to the narration by Sean Barrett. I usually like his voice-acting. It is a little bland at times and lacks a certain enthusiasm and… feeling, but this time he has definitely failed to impress. I find myself rather wishing that Black Library was doing more audio drama collaborations with Big Finish. The reason is simple: Toby Longworth is the man for the job, the perfect man. His range of voices is just amazing. He has done amazingly as Primarch Corax, Captain Nathaniel Garro, Librarian Rubio and Cerberus for Black Library. And outside of it, he has done just as well for various Stargate audio dramas and is also the voice for Judge Dredd in all Big Finish productions! Anyways, back to Sean Barrett. His sentence pauses were much more pronounced in this production than in any of the others I’ve heard this year and they often jarred. It threw off the excellent pacing of the script itself and threatened to pull me out of the experience. Not to mention that he lacked the generally alright enthusiasm he’s shown in the past. His voicing was bland, plain and simple. It just didn’t work.
Apart from all that, I’d say that this is a fine addition to the Dark Angels saga and that this is an audio drama to watch out for. It actually made my list of top 6 audio dramas that I’ve listened to this year from January to June. I would definitely recommend this one!