Shadowhawk reviews the second audio drama of the Horus Heresy series, Raven’s Flight by Gav Thorpe, which is the prequel to the upcoming novel Deliverance Lost previously reviewed here by Lord of The Knight.
“Because once you see Corax in action, the Horus Heresy will never be the same again.” – The Founding Fields
I first encountered Gav’s work through Angels of Darkness, a novel that explores the myths and mysteries of the secretive Dark Angels. I was blown away. There has been a fair amount of controversy regarding the novel and one of its main characters, which has only served to heighten its popularity that much more.
The second time I read Gav’s work was in his short story Call of the Lion for the Tales of Heresy anthology. This Horus Heresy story ties in to Angels of Darkness, and only served to fan the controversy of the latter. I was impressed again, but not by the story as much as I was by the way Gav connected the novel and the short story.
He has a certain flair in his 40k/Heresy work which I just love. He can take some really dubious interpretations of the 40k background and then twist and turn it into something familiar yet very unique. So I was rather excited to get Raven’s Flight, an audio drama concerning the Nineteenth Primarch, Corax, and his legion, the Raven Guard. The Raven Guard have always been one of my favourite legions/chapters to read about, even though they haven’t received much in the way of screen time.
And Gav didn’t disappoint.
Where to start really? The audio drama focuses on the immediate aftermath of the Istvaan Dropsite Massacre, the singular event that launched the Heresy proper, and how the Raven Guard and their Primarch are being forced to adapt to treason and betrayal of the highest order. It has its fair share of fast-paced action scenes, moving dialogue, emotional self-reproach and powerful monologues.
Raven’s Flight as a title is so very apt for this audio drama. Corax has just seen tens of thousands of his sons get mercilessly slaughtered. Their supply lines have been cut in the most brutal way possible. The legion has no vehicles or gunships on Istvaan any more. Even Corax’s jump-pack is severely damaged, grounding the Raven himself.
Coming off the high of Jim Swallow’s Garro audio dramas, I thought they couldn’t be topped, especially not Legion of One. And then I listened to Raven’s Flight and I was like “holy shit, this is awesome”. I seriously regret not having given the Heresy audio dramas, or any of Black Library’s audio dramas in general, any serious consideration before. That has now all changed.
Toby Longworth is simply a master of his craft. I have listened to several of his Black Library audio dramas and there is bound to be some overlap between the different voices. Yet, he manages to inject enough uniqueness into the characters that is beyond my understanding.
Three characters take the center-stage in Raven’s Flight: Corax, Commander Branne and Praefectus Marcus Valerius o. Each of these three have their own quirks and mannerisms that are well-performed by Toby. Not to mention that these three are all vastly dissimilar to each other in physical aspect. One of them is a Primarch, a demi-god of battle. The second is a post-human individual who has been raised up from his ordinary life into one of great heroism and valour. The last character is an officer of the Imperial Army, one of the millions of human soldiers swarming all over the galaxy, trying to bring to fruition the Emperor’s vision of a united Human empire.
Corax just bleeds inherent power in every scene he is in. As one of the more martial Primarchs, his scenes can be simply summed up as “Corax is bloody awesome”. He carries a heavy bolter as a bolter for crying out loud! And he uses a special, customized power whip as well, an ironic throwback to the Primarch’s past on Deliverance. Expect to also be treated to a great reveal regarding Corax and his abilities. Used as a plot device, we see not just the action Primarch, but the thinker Primarch. He wonders what has gone wrong in the galaxy to turn his brothers away from the Emperor. We even get some flashbacks of his first meeting with the Emperor.
Branne is the warrior who is forced to stay at home while his gene-father and his battle-brothers fight the greatest battle of the fledgling Imperium’s history. His scenes within the Ravenspire, the legion’s fortress-monastery, and with Valerius are very evocative of his feelings and his restrained power. He has been given a strict order from his Primarch and Commander Branne will never go against his gene-sire even though he would prefer to be fight with the rest of the Legion. It creates some fantastic tension between him and Valerius.
Valerius is sort of the odd one out. He is part of the Imperial Army auxilia attached to the Nineteenth Legion and is the senior officer present on Deliverance. His viewpoint as an ordinary human and his part in the events of the audio drama is quite unique I’d say. His troops have been left behind by Corax because Istvaan is Astartes business. The Imperial Army has no place in it.
The HH series is full of characters like him, who are used to give a human perspective on the Astartes and their Primarchs. But he distinguishes himself well enough because so far, he is the only (major) military man used in that role. If Dan had used Hektor Varvarus in Horus Rising or if Graham had used an officer of the Archite Palatines in Fulgrim in this capacity things would have been different. Legion is of course full of men and women of the Imperial Army but none of them quite have the connection with Alpharius/Omegon that Valerius has with Corax. And that ultimately is what is important when listening to Raven’s Flight.
I am hard-pressed to choose which of these three characters I liked best. And that is precisely because they are all so different from each other, in nature and role, within the audio drama. But I have to say that while the tension between Valerius and Branne was very poignant and moving, it was Corax in action I liked most, especially when he muses to himself about how Horus’ treachery has unfolded and his own role within it.
My only quibble with the audio drama is the format of the story itself. The plot would have benefited in a longer medium, like an extended short story so that Gav could fully explore his characters, his locales, and the tensions between the three main characters. Gav did a great job with the plot but at times it did feel like Branne didn’t get enough development. There is a line from the Commander which I think summed up his character and his feelings very well:
“I killed my first man here, when I was younger than your manservant; throttled him with the strap of his rifle and took his gun. Of course, Corax was with me then.”
That is one of the most evocative pieces of dialogue in the audio drama.
As mentioned, Toby Longworth did wonderful with his voices for the three characters. Although, it must be said, after listening to so many of his audio dramas, it all tends to mix together in the head. But there is something about his voices though: I can almost identify the different voices with some well-known movie characters but I’ll be damned if I remember. The guessing game keeps the audio drama pretty interesting.
As of writing this review, I have listened to Raven’s Flight three times, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. There is no sense of repetitiveness to it that makes me want to put it down. It is just that good.
The immersive experience is fantastic, definitely among the top two Black Library audio dramas so far for me. The other spot being shared by Garro: Legion of One that is.
So would I recommend this audio drama to Heresy fans? Hell yes. Whether or not you like audio dramas, or the Heresy series, or even the Raven Guard, you are missing out big time if you ignore Raven’s Flight. Gav’s writing is great. The characters are all fantastically performed by Toby Longworth. There really is nothing that brings down the audio drama other than just the the medium itself.
Score-wise, I rate Raven’s Flight 9/10. I would definitely like to see another audio drama from Gav. Perhaps he could explore the Raven Guard further, or even pick up some of the neglected legions like the White Scars and the Iron Hands.
If you want more Raven Guard action, there is the short story Faces of Treachery in Age of Darkness which is somewhat of a sequel to the audio drama but also takes place at the same time as the last track or thereabouts and gives you totally another perspective on the Dropsite Massacre. There is also Deliverance Lost, Gav’s first full-length story for the Heresy. George Mann has done the Raven Guard for 40k with his audio drama Helion Rain and has another, Labyrinth of Sorrows in the works. The chapter also makes an appearance in other novels such as The Chapter’s Due from Graham and The Hunt for Voldorius from Andy Hoare.
‘Victorus aut Mortis!’
Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.
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