Honour to the Dead by Gav Thrope – Audio Drama Review [Bellarius]


With one more Horus Heresy audio drama having hit the shelves, Bellarius takes a look at what worked with Gav Thorpe’s writing and what failed.

“Honour this series by spending your money on something better.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

The real surprise behind Honour to the Dead is more how it managed to fail than its actual failure.

Advertising titan combat on Calth, the blurb on the audio drama’s cover makes it sound more like bolter porn than anything of substance but that’s only half right. There’s certainly very little substance, but the drama almost seems determined to avoid the violence. At every turn, even as the city is torn down, moments of conflict and battle are told just out of sight rather than truly shown.

A group of Ultramarines take out traitorous members of the Imperial Army? It’s told from the viewpoint of a character who can’t see them. A group of titans move to flank a number of enemy war engines as they fight their way to a downed craft? We hear the commands from the Princeps commanding the group and only hear the impact of their efforts in brief statements rather than see the fight itself. In fact the only time we get any remotely lengthy or detailed titan vs titan combat is during the very conclusion. This not only removes the drama’s main selling point but there’s nothing really there to make up for it.

What is seen of the city is barely described or gone into at all, the shape, layout, design or even its state of development might as well be left to guesswork. The only few hints which are given come from the fact titans are able to use the buildings as cover, but little to nothing is actually established. Like far too many stories today, it feels as if the entire first act was simply cut for time so they could try to get to the meat of the action, severely botching their tale as a result. This becomes evidently clear as not only do the characters barely react to the outset of civil war and allied forces turning upon them, but we’re hardly told who they are.

The book follows three groups of characters, two loyal and one traitor, all of who are one dimensional at best. Of the civilian and Ultramarines, the former can only be identified by her overwhelming desire to keep her infant son alive and the latter can be more easily categorised by the weapons they lug into battle than personalities. The loyalist princeps is only defined by the fact his titan is the most recently constructed out of his legion and, unlike his traitor counterpart, he is not a caricature of a raving maniac. Yes, the last guy manages to make Fabius Bile look stable and Skeletor sound like Tim Curry. His engine is also so corrupt that it effectively becomes a walking plot hole as you have to wonder how the hell no one noticed it being very obviously daemonically possessed.

Unfortunately for us the sound effects are the only remotely decent part of this drama and even they have countless problems. While the overall quality and direction is fine, even the aforementioned Chaos loon at least sounds like the actor was putting effort into his role, the stuff they are given to work with does little to help them. Furthermore at many points the sound effects simply sound wrong. Collapsing buildings, music, alarms, bolter fire and the loud whirring clunks of scout titans moving are all excellent but many weapons are hilariously bad. Plasma fire consists of some of the most laughable effects any Black Library product has ever used and Vulcan mega-bolters sound like slow firing light machineguns.

Just as it has no beginning, the audio drama also has no apparent end. By the conclusion nothing has apparently been achieved by any characters involved and the fight is still going on as it draws to a close. The loyalists have the upper hand, but no personal stories have been resolved, the combat isn’t close to being over and the Ultramarines aren’t even at the destination they spent the entire drama running to. It’s as if there was massive editing to the story at the last minute and large chunks were removed of a much longer tale.

What really makes Honour to the Dead hard to listen to however is the odd way in which Gav Thorpe went about writing this. Every single event, even as new revelations occur are written as if they have already happened, as if this were some massive flashback. The excuse to this is supposedly in the introduction, stating this is a historical file, but huge parts of the tale could not possibly be recorded by anyone and it never fails to look odd. It comes down to over an hour of listening to this:

Invigilator’s commander leads the battlegroup. Princeps Senioris Mikal, veteran of many battles, hears the general order to halt. He eases his consciousness deeper into the mind impulse unit of his war engine to survey the scene, his senses moving from sight and sound and touch to thermal optics, frequency audit and tactile resonance. For a moment he feels weak, a man of flesh and bone with a slowly beating heart trying to tame a colossus of metal driven on by the unimaginable energies of a plasma reactor. Invigilator’s crude awareness defies him briefly, almost petulant, before Mikal imposes his will upon the machine spirit.”

If you’re after Legio Titanicus related combat, Dan Abnett’s still the man to go to. The original comic he wrote with Andy Lanning, and Titanicus, are still two of the best titan focused works out there and this audio drama can’t hold a candle to them. Save your money and just go find a copy of one of them instead.

Verdict: 2/10


Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
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