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Shadowhawk reviews two new audio exclusives available directly from Black Library as MP3 downloads, a Deathwatch story by Gav Thorpe as he tackles an iconic hero of the Ordo Xenos, and a new Horus Heresy story by James Swallow which continues the tale of Nathaniel Garro.
“These two audio dramas are a great way to get both your Deathwatch and Horus Heresy fix.” ~The Founding Fields
“Garro is back again with James Swallow at the helm! It doesn’t get any better than that.”
The last time we saw Garro, he was on a mission from Malcador to the blasted ruins of Istvaan III, where Horus Lupercal began his rebellion by purging his forces of all those considered too loyal to the Imperium to be converted to his cause. Garro had returned there long after the fires of that conflict had blown out and this time he was in the company of two new friends, Librarian Tylos Rubio of the Ultramarines and Sergeant Macer Varren of the World Eaters. Things didn’t go exactly as planned for them but they still managed to complete their mission: recover the Astartes known only as Cerberus and bring him back to Terra and to Malcador. Its been a long while ago (a year and a half but who’s counting?) and there have been several Horus Heresy publications since then. James Swallow’s Burden of Duty hits at just the right time to give me and other fans of Nathaniel Garro their much-needed Knight Errant fix.
As the renegade forces of the Warmaster storm across the galaxy, a very different kind of war rages in the shadows of the Imperium – the Knights Errant, chosen of Malcador himself, move quietly in the dark places where others cannot. Battle-captain Nathaniel Garro makes his way to the Imperial Fists’ mighty starfort Phalanx, seeking out another kindred soul for his elite band of warriors.
Being one of the new shorter format audios, Burden of Duty is only ~30 minutes long, but it serves to fill an important part of the larger Horus Heresy narrative while at the same time being an excellent snapshot in the life of Garro. At a guess, this story takes place between the first Garro audio, Oath of Moment, and the upcoming Sword of Truth, which introduces Macer Varren to the Heresy for the first time, chronologically speaking. I could be wrong, but since there are hints of only Rubio being one of Garro’s new men, I think it stands to reason. Anyways, this time around Garro isn’t off to some other world out in the fires of Horus’ rebellion, but the Phalanx itself, the Imperial Fists legion’s flagship in orbit around Terra. His objective: to infiltrate the massive star fortress and talk to one of the legion’s librarians, all of whom have been kept in isolation from the rest of the legion on Dorn’s orders since the Emperor forbade all use of psychic powers at Nikaea. Once again, things never go according to plan for Garro and he has to find a way to fulfill his objective and still stay on Dorn’s good side.
Burden of Duty isn’t as plain amazing as Grey Angel was, but it answered a very important question for me: What did Dorn do with all his librarians following the Edict of Nikaea and what plans does he have for them when Horus’ traitor fleet finally arrives at Terra. The answer to that question is at the heart of this story and that is what drives, more than Garro’s mission for Malcador as it seems at a first glance. No spoilers but just keep in mind that there are always plans within plans within plans where Dorn is concerned. It is very curious that Rogal Dorn has been getting so much attention of late, and that almost everything thing we see of him seeks to delve into the man behind the mask, so to speak. John French explored him in The Last Remembrancer and Crimson Fist. We saw him confront his fears in the recent reprint of Dan Abnett’s The Lightning Tower. He went up against his brother Curze in the recent reprint of The Dark King by Graham McNeill. In the short fiction category, Dorn has stood out far more than any of his brothers. Jim’s audio continues that trend. The focus here isn’t so much on the Primarch as it is on Garro and the Imperial Fists librarian Massak, but Dorn shadows everything these two do, he’s ever-present. In the end, Burden of Duty isn’t so much a Garro audio as it is a Dorn one.
The voice-acting is excellent as always. Toby Longworth, John Banks and Ramon Tikaram return for this short audio after their first outing together in John French’s Grey Angel. Toby reprises his role as as the voice of Nathaniel Garro (plus narrator) and he reminds you why he is the perfect choice to play the stoic former Death Guard captain. There does seem to be a bit of a difference in the voice, but after relistening to Oath of Moment and Legion of One I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly what that difference is. There’s a Russian tang to Garro’s voice in the previous audios that is missing here. A small point though, and it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the character. John Banks as Librarian Massak is equally good, and I find that his slow and somewhat aristocratic tones are a good fit for the character. The Imperial Fists are very much like the Knights of old, with honour and duty among their foremost concerns and John conveys that repeatedly in the audio. Then we have Ramon as Dorn, an impressive performance that is on par with some of Toby and John’s best work for Black Library to date. This is the first time I’m hearing Dorn on audio and for me Ramon performed fantastically. He captures Dorn’s reticence, his frustrations, his dire tones really well. I hope that he stays on as the voice of the Seventh Primarch for many more audios to come.
Overall, Burden of Duty is an excellent addition to the ever-growing Heresy lore and its nice to see Garro back in action once again, even though Malcador’s objectives are just as nebulous as always and all the cloak-and-dagger stuff that Garro performs on his orders this time around seems unnecessary at first glance. Its definitely not a straightforward story, unlike the Space Marine Battles audio dramas we have seen so far, being very much akin to Grey Angel in how thoughtful and nuanced it is.
“I am Warmaster in all but name.” ~Nathaniel Garro
“A classic Deathwatch tale with an iconic and classic character, Mission: Purge takes bold chances.“
In Mission: Purge Gav tackles the Deathwatch for the first time, to the best of my knowledge, and its certainly an interesting outlook on the secretive militant arm of the Ordo Xenos, the branch of the Inquisition most concerned with combating and studying the threat of all manners of aliens across the galaxy. The Deathwatch has been getting a fair bit of attention of late, with the two recent short stories by Steve Parker (both excellent) and a novel coming out next from him as well, plus the newly released anthology Xenos Hunters. The Deathwatch isn’t one of my favourite chapters by any means, but I do have to say that they are definitely one of the coolest in the lore. They are very much special ops folk in an organisation that relies on that very concept and are formed from warriors who train endlessly for such operations. And they get all kinds of cool gizmos and gadgets and special intels that most other Space Marine chapters don’t. Its a good mix of things.
The name of Artemis is spoken only with reverence among the thousand chapters of the Space Marines, such is the fervour with which he dispatches his xenos foes. Stalwart and inviolate, the veteran Captain is about to face his sternest test yet as what appears to be routine mission for him and his kill team quickly turns into a battle for survival against one of the most devious and insidious foes ranged against the Imperium of Mankind. Will the most famous Space Marine ever to be drawn into the ranks of the elite alien hunters prevail or will Mission: Purge become his epitaph?
In this audio, Gav has one of the Deathwatch’s most celebrated senior officers, Brother-Captain Artemis, lead a boarding mission against a Rogue Trader vessel suspected of carrying Genestealer broods. It hearkens back to the days of Space Hulk in which a team of Blood Angels Terminators go up against a similar enemy and thus, the nostalgia value is quite high here. However, in and of itself, the script isn’t all that engaging, its very much by the numbers. Gav Thorpe is no stranger to audios, having previously penned greats such as Time of Legends: Aenarion and Horus Heresy: The Raven’s Flight, but Mission: Purge just fails to achieve anything close to the same epic feel of these two. Compounding that is the fact that the voice-acting isn’t all that great either.
The audio drama has a fast pace and the characterisation is decent, but the main narrative failed to evoke much of a response from me, until the last ten minutes, which feature Brother Urbino’s last stand and sacrifice. Urbino is a bold new addition to the BL side of Warhammer 40k lore as he is a Blackshield, one of those rare Space Marines who have seemingly forsaken their chapter (or have been exiled from) and join the Deathwatch as a sort of penance. Unless I’m mistaken, they were introduced for the first time in the Deathwatch RPG books from Fantasy Flight Games, which has the license to make tabletop RPGs based on both of Games Workshops’ IPs. Urbino’s interaction with his brothers is one of the better points of the audio and I wish that we had been able to see more him. Gav gives somewhat equal attention to all of his four Deathwatch characters, instead of focusing on just one or two of them, and its a good effort, but given that the story is marketed as being very much about Artemis, it just doesn’t click together as much. Plus, we never see Artemis actually make a grand, epically heroic gesture. He is portrayed as just another supremely competent Space Marine officer rather than the legend that he actually is in the lore.
The voice-acting, by Clive Wood and Tim Tralor, is hit-and-miss as well. The voices of Rogue Trader Vanor Kempt Issery and Brother Levastus of the White Consuls are largely interchangeable with little to differentiate between them, which jarred when they were both in a scene together. The scottish accent on the Space Wolf, Haryk Thunderfang, was amusing at first but the Sean Connery-ish drawl serves to distract more often that impress. Artemis’ own voice was far superior, very clipped and formal, business-like as I thought it’d be for him, so that’s a plus on that regard.
Mission: Purge is a decent enough audio but its not Gav Thorpe’s best work. The setting and the two factions involved were both interesting, thanks largely in part to the excellent action sequences, but the story itself never actually takes chances. It is fairly linear and predictable, with little in the way of tension until Urbino’s moment of sacrifice hits.
“Such a whit, Brother Thunderfang, how the days on Fenris must drag for your brothers devoid of your company. I fear my absence passes without regret.” ~Brother Urbino