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Bellarius takes a look into the Horus Heresy audio drama The Sigillite by Chris Wraight.
“An interesting look into the Heresy which shows more than just space marines at war.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Between this and the first two episodes of Scars, Chris Wraight seems to be approaching the Horus Heresy with the intention into expanding into yet unseen areas. While this is obviously true for many authors involved, they are usually trying to show the varying ideologies or corruption of the legiones astartes or their primarchs. Only a few books have expanded beyond this such as Nemesis and Mechanicum, but Wraight seems heavily focused upon showing everything but what’s expected of the era.
The Sigillite is the foremost example of this, focusing upon the role of Malcador and giving further information upon the Emperor’s mysterious adviser. Called before him in order to answer for the failure in his duties, Imperial officer Hasani Sabbyat begins to understand the Sigillite has a very different role within the Imperium than anyone first suspected.
Set primarily within the Imperial Palace, the meat of the audiobook emphasises upon the exchanges between Sabbyat and Malcador as it gradually builds upon their characters. The introduction starts by emphasising upon what is expected of such figures of authority, then subverting some of what is expected. Sabbyat himself is initially introduced and described as if he were a front line commander leading armies, only to be revealed to serve the Imperium in a very different role. Between their shared commentary upon the continuing fortification of Terra to the reveal of just why Sabbyat failed in his mission, there’s a clear progression in peeling back one deception or falsehood about them at a time.
Despite the blurb emphasising upon revelations behind Malcador’s loyalties and personality, it’s ultimately Sabbyat who we learn more of. Exploring his background through flashbacks of his failed mission and viewing events from his perspective, it becomes clear that Sabbyat is the focus character because the audiobook is exploring something beyond any individual. While what we do learn of Malcador does enhance his character, especially his views upon the Emperor and his loyalty to humanity’s future, Sabbyat’s path resonates far more clearly with the themes present within the story.
The chief problem with this is that while the flashbacks serve to enhance Sabbyat’s character and tell the full story, many elements of them feel gratuitously unnecessary. The tactics and the fighting in the flashbacks feels more like it was included to fill a quota for the number of bodies felled than something truly meaningful. While it does add to Sabbyat’s initial frustrations at their apparent failure, it could have been done in a far less flashy, far more effective way. There’s also some very big questions as to why their objective was in the facility to begin with, who owned the facility Sabbyat’s team was infiltrating and what their stealthy foe was. All of which are never answered or detailed despite the seventy-five minute length of the audio drama.
The drama is also a slow burner, with many of its most interesting elements reserved for the final twenty minutes or so once Malcador shows his face to Sabbyat. The content prior to this is interesting and keeps a fair number of beats to events to keep things interesting, but its length and apparent slowness in exploring what the blurb advertises might frustrate some listeners. That said, the payoff is most definitely worth the wait with the final revelations showing a new side to the war. It’s one mentioned previously in a few places to some degree, but not detailed to the same extent as here or truly analysed. Furthermore, it gives some interesting insights into just why the Imperial Palace was built upon its specific location and what might lurk deep beneath it. Brief glimpses are also given to the battle raging against the daemons within the Imperial Throne room, which is one of the audio drama’s most effective scenes, but it is only briefly covered. Used more to emphasise upon the idea that there things down there which few speak or know of.
Ultimately the voice acting here is among the better audio dramas, with Toby Longworth making another appearance as Malcador and giving as strong a performance here as he did in the Lightning Tower. A definite improvement over the bizarre Welsh/Irish/African dialect he was given in Oath of Moment. Ramon Tikaram plays Sabbyat and proves a good match to Longworth, proving a good vocal range with what he is given but retains an edge which makes him sound far more like a soldier. Finally Tim Treloar serves as the narrator and does so very effectively, with the right emphasis given to each events as they unfold. Also a level of conviction to the more horrifying displays the drama occasionally reveals, which conveys the emotion behind them very effectively.
While it certainly suffers from a few issues, The Sigillite is a very different style of audio drama which serves as a very effective side story to the Heresy. While not recommended to those most interested in the legions or the battles among the stars, those wanting to see a new side to events and something new within the setting should definitely get this one.