Limited Edition Horus Heresy Audio Boxset by Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill and Ben Counter – Audiobook Review [Bellarius]


Getting his hands on a copy of the limited edition release, Bellarius examines how effective an adaptation it is of the Horus Heresy’s opening trilogy.

“Taking a step backwards for every one made forwards.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

Adapting anything into a new form of media is always a taxing process. Whether it be video games into films, comics into TV series or even short stories into full blown tales of thousands of words, there’s always a high risk of something going wrong. This is unfortunately true with even the closest of media formats with turning text on paper into spoken word stored on a CD.

Let’s be clear before this begins: This isn’t a review of the trilogy of novels (Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames and the Little Horus short story) and their content so much as an analysis of how well it translated to CD. Specifically focusing upon the quality of voice acting, editing, additional sound effects, music and pacing. The latter point is extremely important as this is a trilogy of abridged novels with scenes cut for time. If you want an opinion of the trio of books: Buy them if you are at all interested in the 31st millennium, they’re the best gateway to the series you could ask for in spite of individual flaws.

The first real point to comment upon is the choice of voice actor: Martyn Ellis. Expected to provide voices for more than twenty characters, narration and make each one distinct from one another the Boxset required a person with a broad vocal range.  Thankfully Ellis succeeds in this area, giving many characters their own distinct tone for the most part. With the exception of a few such as Abaddon, Jubal and a few others they have distinctive voices which can be picked out immediately as belonging to a specific character. Loken keeps the low growling tones we heard in Legion of One, with Horus sounding similar, Erebus is ever the slimeball in voice as much as actions and Angron manages to sound harsh and grating. Many of these appear to work best when Ellis has a distinctive overriding emotion to latch onto. The sheer gleeful insanity of Jubal/Samus, the mixture of vanity and arrogance of Lucius, Torgaddon’s continual humour; all mix with the characters extremely well and tend of make them the most lifelike.

The main problem with the voice acting is the direction and quality. A large number have tones which either do not fit them or are so overdone it’s almost cartoonish even by the standards of Warhammer. Perhaps the most infamous examples among these are Mortarion and Sanguinius, neither of who manage to suit the characters speaking their lines. While Mortarion is supposed to be a hulking figure, borderline invulnerable to damage and an embodiment of death yet his rasping statements ever convey any of this. The Blood Angels primarch meanwhile sounds old, withered and as far from angelic as it is humanly possible to be. Instead that voice which would have been perfect for Sanguinius is used with an unnamed, never to be seen again character who arrives following the conquest of Murder. These surprisingly poorly handled roles undermines a multitude of good scenes and ultimately it’s surprising the voice director, or even Ellis himself, opted to use them.

The actual narration of events meanwhile is handled competently but with visible flaws. Despite the mixed problems with the roles above, Ellis proves to be an effective narrator by giving the right level of gravitas, emphasis and emotion to action sequences, grand displays or horrifying visions of what is to come. This works especially well when the few music cues within the audiobooks come into play, adding further power behind his words. Unfortunately these are only used sparingly and the descriptions themselves can be overused in places. Unlike many of the audio dramas such as Legion of One and Sword of Truth, there’s little done to take advantage of the audio format with characters directly conversing without narration punctuating comments or being conveyed through sound effects. In many places it’s as if it’s being read directly off of the pages of the novels rather than in script format, and in only a handful of points do we see the story taking real advantage of the medium. It loses that more natural effect many conversations can have or the streamlined nature of events which can make the book more immerse.

The final breaking point, and the area many fans will take the most issue with, is the fact the Boxset is abridged. To fit it together scenes, sub-plots and even characters were removed entirely resulting in a very different kind of story. One with a great many flaws and with some very obvious cover-ups. While the loss of some characters are acceptable such as the Deus Irae crew in Galaxy in Flames, others such as Ignace Karkasy, Maggard, Euphrati Keeler and Petronella Vivar are far more damaging. They cause many crucial scenes to be lost and for the writers adapting the books to be forced to try and replace them in whatever way they can. For example, in the scene where Maggard confronts Qruze, he is replaced by Rassek, a terminator sergeant only briefly seen during the Whisperhead engagement and otherwise missing from the series. When Sindermann accidentally summons a daemon from the Warp when examining scripts, we only hear this as second hand information in the final book. False Gods ended up removing the scene for time and had to cover as a result. This speaks more of bad planning than anything else and in many places it causes a visible drop in the quality of the works.

The only good point in favour of the abridging of the books is that they allow for a much faster pace and clearer focus on the legions. Those who disliked the minor sub-plots on the human characters or slowness due to world building might prefer this edition, at least with Horus Rising if not the other two despite the negative effects on the overall plot.

Ultimately the flaws with the Limited Edition Horus Heresy Audio Boxset are evident throughout  and there is one present for every advantage this adaptation has over the novels. There is definitely good work here, it’s just hidden by a lot of poor choices. Even with the bonus story of Little Horus, this one isn’t recommended. You probably won’t regret having it if you can find it for a cheap enough price, but overall the novels are far cheaper, easier to come by and really just better in overall quality. Stick to them instead unless you can find a copy of this set going for a third of its original price.

Verdict: 5/10


Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
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