Veil of Darkness by Nick Kyme – Advance Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius takes a look at the sequel to Fall of Damnos, Veil of Darkness, and finds many failings.
“A good story at points let down by some very poor choices in both writing and vocal direction.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
This audio drama? It was on the verge of being a work of genius. Many elements slotted right into place, Sicarius was being handled well, a situation like no other was facing the Ultramarines and we were seemingly having subtle looks into the captain’s mind. It looked to be fantastic, which is why it is so baffling that Veil of Darkness crashed and burned as hard as it did.
Set weeks following the events on Damnos, the tale follows the effects of the was on Sicarius’ brain. Both his encounter with the hierarch of the xenos automata and extended time healing from his wounds have left him haunted by memories of their loss. However, even as he is called before Chapter Master Calgar to answer for his actions, visions of the unliving stalk his every step…
The first thing to truly note here is the style of the audio drama and its chief form of delivery: A first person perspective from Sicarius himself as he witnesses the events which follow. Much like Vulkan Lives however, it fails in this respect because of Kyme’s writing style. While his normal style is perfectly adequate for describing scenes, if lacking in a few areas, it simply does not work for a first person perspective. Both far too formal and sticking to unnecessary minor details which only bog down the pacing, it comes across as stilted and has very little personal touch to it. There’s a lot of additional words or sentences which should have been structured differently to allow the story to flow far more naturally, as a result it sounds like a man reading a script rather than someone’s thoughts. Whereas others tend to be identified by the minor inflections and quirks, the way Kyme writes them feels far too impersonal and the style could be given to anyone without any major changes.
The problems with the writing aren’t helped by the performance of Gareth Armstrong. While on the one hand he has the perfect voice for an Ultramarines captain and is one of the best we’ve had since Mark Strong voiced Titus, his voice barely changes while narrating events. During many of the hallucinations and frantic battles to save the final major sequence, he sounds completely calm and in control. Unlike Toby Longworth’s intensity and conviction during sequences in other dramas, Armstrong sounds positively relaxed.
The only reason for the choice of perspective seems to be there is for the same reason we got inside Vulkan’s head during the aforementioned Horus Heresy title: To see their hallucinations and memories which haunt them. In fairness this is handled remarkably well with reality bleeding back into the captain’s memories of Damnos and shows just how clearly the defeat impacted him.
Sicarius as he was presented in The Chapter’s Due and Fall of Damnos was a risk-taker who had never truly faced failure. Even with the partial success of rescuing many of the world’s surviving population, the idea of achieving no victory is something which he dreads to the point of believing he will face censure for his failure. His only response to pointing out his loss is to try and cite his number of victories over Agemman. It’s an interesting look into his character and one which is not directly addressed leaving some subtlety, and it’s enough to ignore certain changes such as a new disregard for some of the codex’s teachings.
The actual action, when we get to it, is fairly well written and while brief it’s easily the high-point within the audio drama. As well as being fast paced and descriptive it’s the point where Armstrong really sounds like he is putting effort into describing events as they come to a conclusion.
Unfortunately for us all this is relentlessly undermined by the necrons themselves.
As a brief aside for a moment, I’ve always argued that moving away from a silent immortal legion of cthulian horrors to Egyptian cyber toffs was a major mistake. It gave them voices which they used with long, overdone villain monologues, extremely generic Saturday morning cartoon antagonist statements and any addition to their lore to give them character was uninspired at best. Stupidly insulting to the reader’s intelligence at worst. Veil of Darkness, unfortunately, proves to be the biggest argument towards this point.
The audio drama is always at its best when the necrons are not present or seen in the story. The only time they really come close to invoking actual fear or interest is when we see the aftermath of their work or suggestions of their presence among the space marines. When they actually show up, far too much focus is put into the ancient Egyptian iconography to the point of effectively giving the “vizier” a fake pharaoh goatee to show he is evil and similar things. This is made even worse with the choice of voices. There’s no easy way to put this: Every single necron within the drama sounds like Robby the Robot with a synthesiser relentlessly spewing Ming the Merciless lines. What’s worse is that Sicarius’ hallucinations allow to them speak more, turning serious and very interesting moments into almost parodies of what they are trying to be. The lines were obviously intended to invoke fear or interest in the villains with their statements of “I AM DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!” yet it never fails to induce laughter.
The final nail in the coffin is the ending. As well as a finale to Sicarius’ personal fears which seems more interested in getting that plotline out of the way than resolving anything, the conclusion breaks some very basic rules of writing. Not only is it one step away from declaring “It was all a dream!” but the actual ending apparently gives Sicarius hitherto unmentioned psychic powers. Ones which could have easily been passed off one way or another, yet in the way they are presented they are simply stupid. Combined with other questionable moments such as Sicarius’ armour shrugging off necron gauss beams and a surprisingly Mechanicus minded Techmarine who shows little caution for retrieved necron scrap, it torpedoes a promising story.
I want to be able to recommend this audio, I really do, as it openly explores elements other dramas either pass over or fail to handle anywhere near as well. Yet the bad elements never fail to find a way to overshadow the good and the ending manages to utterly destroy any goodwill there might have been for the tale. Fans of Fall of Damnos might be able to have some fun with this one, but it’s unlikely. Re-read the book this follows on from if you want a good story with Nick Kyme and Sicarius, just avoid this one.