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Bellarius takes a look at the return of an old favourite with Bloodquest: Prisoners of the Eye of Terror by Ben Counter and published by Black Library.
“An enjoyably explosive but very flawed return to a classic Black Library tale.” – The Founding Fields
Back in the mists of the early primordial time that was 1999 to before the tau had turned up and the space stunties had only just disappeared there was a comic called Bloodquest. One of several published within Black Library’s Inferno! magazine alongside Titan it covered the quest by disgraced Blood Angels hunting a lost relic. The comic showed heroes fighting against insurmountable odds and dared to flesh out aspects such as the organised daemon worlds within the Eye of Terror not under the direct control of the traitor legions. Better yet it managed to do this without completely botching either.
Despite a rocky start it eventually built up a fandom strong enough to last three books across four years and be reprinted twice. Apparently someone in Black Library liked it enough to issue this audiobook, harkening back to the glory days of the comic and serving as a side-story to the series. Taking place just after the halfway point within the second book, the three remaining astartes following captain Leonatus encounter the last thing they expected to see on the world of Eidolon: potential allies. Unfortunately despite much promise the story just ends up being a missed opportunity.
The problem is the time in which it is set, towards the end of the original quest. By this point the story was quickly accelerating towards a conclusion and in the process of wrapping up two individual character arcs, so having an additional story included here feels misplaced. As an expansion this could have been used to be set earlier and characterise those largely overlooked like Palemon and Tranio and give more weight to their later deaths. The characters present are certainly written consistently with what was seen in the comic but it still feels like there should have been so much more to this. Serving a role similar to some of the Horus Heresy audios, giving information not necessary to the core of the story but enjoyably fleshing out what was started with the novels.
Thankfully there some good here when Ben Counter manages to fall back on what he’s good at: Chaos. While he is never allowed to run wild with his ideas as he did with Daemon World and Dark Mechanicus there are glimpses of fascinatingly disturbing details in the locales. Most notably the chief setting of the book: an obsidian prison described as having grown open and decayed like a skeleton. It’s just a shame some are let down by the delivery of this information one time too many.
Knowing when and when not to use a narrator can be crucial to making or breaking an audio story, using the characters rather than the narrator to explain things. Something which took James Swallow multiple efforts to learn. Unfortunately it seems like Ben Counter learned from this mistake and started making all the new ones: Using the characters when the narrator was needed. It doesn’t matter that they have a genuinely great cast of actors to voice everyone when you’re being distracted by just how ham-fisted the exposition is. When the group first sees the prison and the flag of an ally they are oath-bound to it’s delivered purely through dialogue. Resulting in those “Don’t you love talking about things we already know?” conversations. This is hardly helped by the sub-par sound effects and music. While neither the Big Finish or Heavy Entertainment are known for great SFX, those present in this tale seemed especially cheap. Rather than heavy footfalls the movements of the astartes are done through repetitive electronic whirrs and the music sounds more like something from Soul Reaver than a modern audiobook.
If there is a saving grace in this it’s that Counter manages to put a good spin on a very obvious plot twist. As well as being built up to the point where you almost begin to doubt the twist will happen the reasoning behind the action is surprisingly sympathetic. One which would have made for a good story in a stand-alone setting. Probably with a more notoriously arrogant chapter rather than the Blood Angels, and it is curious to wonder why Counter decided to include it in this rather than a separate tale.
For all these criticisms Bloodquest: Prisoners of the Eye of Terror is still worth buying if you have fond enough memories of the comic. It’s like Path of the Warrior, extremely flawed with a few gems to offer if you’re willing to stomach its many problems but you’re probably better off finding another story. Still, at the very least these were proper Blood Angels and clearly sons of Sanguinius. Not jokes shrieking constantly about how they’re dying out, shooting bloodstrike missiles as they fly in with bloodships out of their bloodfortress in the name of the bloodfather to make bloodpacts with necrons.