Shadowhawk reviews Dan Abnett’s first audio drama for his Inquisition novels, Thorn and Talon, featuring characters from the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies.
“Thorn and Talon is some of Dan’s finest work ever and shows why he really understands the more domestic side of the Warhammer 40,000 setting.” ~ The Founding Fields
Thorn and Talon is one of the newest audio dramas from Black Library, coming straight from the master of the setting himself, Dan Abnett. Does that sound like high praise? Good, it is meant to be. Dan’s entire body of work for Black Library, that I have read at any rate, is some of the best and proves his mastery of the Warhammer 40,000 setting. While some of his novels I have had quite a bit of trouble with, on the whole Dan can always be trusted to put out some great work. And in that respect Thorn and Talon does not disappoint.
The audio drama contains three self-contained stories: Master Imus’s Transgression, Regia Occulta and Thorn wishes Talon. While the first two stories are brand-new, the third one has previously been in print for the What Price Victory anthology and is currently also collected in the Ravenor omnibus.
Of the three, I have to say that Thorn Wishes Talon is absolutely the best. It is a bridging story between the third Eisenhorn novel, Hereticus, and the first Ravenor novel, Ravenor. It has absolutely everything you could wish for between two of the Inquisition’s most celebrated agents in the Scarus sector. Lots of guns, lots of explosions, lots of heroics and a particularly memorable scene involving grizzly-old Eisenhorn himself and a certain “walking dead”. I definitely enjoyed this audio the most since I am quite the fan of both Eisenhorn and Ravenor. Plus the events of this story have been referenced before in Ravenor and Ravenor Returned several times and I always wondered just what had gone down on Malinter.
Now that the question has been answered, I feel quite rewarded. To see all these characters gathered in one place on a mission of such importance is a very rewarding feeling and strangely cathartic because it is the first time that this has happened. I do have to say that this story has absolutely set up Dan’s next Inquisition trilogy quite superbly.
For those not in the know, said trilogy has already been officially announced. It is the long-awaited Bequin trilogy which is being marketed as Eisenhorn versus Ravenor. Quite a chilling prospect mind you. The fact that the first novel in the trilogy, out in November this year, is called Pariah. Make of that what you will.
Master Imus’s Transgression is a fantastic addition as well. It almost beats Thorn Wishes Talon for the top spot but the latter pulls ahead just because it is frikkin Eisenhorn and Ravenor together. This story is set in the days of Eisenhorn as an Interrogator for Inquisitor Hapshant, an apprentice of sorts in Inquisitorial parlance. Following an accountant who hands himself in at the Inquisitorial fortress on Imperial Hesperus “of his own volition”, Master Imus’s Transgression is an extremely atmospheric audio drama. It really puts you in the scenes and you can feel the emotions of Master Imus, our accountant in question.
This particular story shows just why Dan understands the “domestic” side of the Inquisition’s work. The term domestic is not meant as a disparagement of Dan’s work. I use the term to describe the side of the Imperium we rarely get to see: the lives of its people off the battlefields inhabited by the Imperial Guard and the Space Marines. The Inquisition’s work does not always involve high-ranking heretics or alien invasions or the infernal powers of the warp. Most of the Ordos’s work actually involves people caught in the fire and that is what Master Imus’s Transgression is about. Dan tells us how someone inadvertently gets caught in the crossfire of greater events and what their fate can be like.
Superlative work again from Dan.
Regia Occulta is another domestic Inquisition story but quite different in tone and theme to Master Imus’s Transgression. I didn’t like it as much as the others but it pulls no punches in pulling you into the story. This time Eisenhorn is at the start of his career as a titled Inquisitor and has been put in charge of a rather tiresome assignment, going from world to world on a predefined circuit, investigating cases referred to the Inquisitorial authorities by the local militias.
The audio has a very surprising twist in the middle, one that you definitely do not see coming and I appreciate the story all the more for that. Just as with all his other work, Dan has populated Regia Occulta with great and interesting supporting characters. Lana Howie and the Jared County Commissioner are both great characters and quite fun to listen to. Lana’s in-story tale is rather emotional and Dan does a great job of getting the reader to empathise with her.
Regia Occulta is definitely another great example of Dan’s excellent take on the domestic side of the Imperium. It is not as atmospheric as the other two stories but it has its place in the collection and one that anyone can appreciate for the very quality that underscores Dan’s Inquisition novels: they show us a side of the Imperium that we rarely get to see. Black Library should, in my humble opinion, publish more stories like these.
Of course, this is an audio drama collection and no review of such a product would be complete without a commentary on its production value and its voice-overs.
In the first instance, all three stories are wonderfully done. The sights are all complemented well by the sound effects and given the vast differences in the settings between the three stories, Heavy Entertainment has done admirable work in making them all distinct. I can’t really fault any of the sound effects, even after having listened to the audio drama twice! They are very evocative and combined with Dan’s writing which are already doing a great job of pulling you into the story, the sound effects magnify that tenfold.
Unlike most other Black Library audio dramas, Thorn and Talon has quite a big cast of characters and consequently, it has a big cast of voice-actors as well. Without knowing which of them has voiced which character, I congratulate them all on a job well done. Eisenhorn, Ravenor, Lana Howie, Master Imus, Titus Endor, Cherubael, Harlon Nayl, Kara Swole, Carl Thonius, Patience Kys and all particularly stand out for me, especially the two Inquisitors. The only “bad apple” so to speak would be the savant Aemos, one of Eisenhorn’s oldest companions, who sounds way too much like a really silly Yoda. Fortunately, Aemos has very few lines.
Overall, I’d recommend the audio drama quite highly, and give it a rating of 9/10. For fans of Dan’s Inquisition novels, all three stories in the collection are most excellent and enjoyable as well. Definitely one of the ones that you can listen to over and over again without once getting boring.
Thorn and Talon has definitely jumped the ranks to become one of my top four audio dramas from Black Library, joining the great Raven’s Flight, Madness Within and Garro: Legion of One.
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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