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Looking once more at the Lord of the Space Marines shorts, Bellarius picks out Khârn: The Eightfold Path by Anthony Reynolds for analysis.
“Brief, bloody and insightful, Khârn: The Eightfold Path sets the standard for all future short audio stories.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Unique among the Lords of the Space Marines series thus far as the only audio, Khârn: The Eightfold Path gives a brief glimpse into the legion following the events of the Shadow Crusade. Depicting the thoughts of Khârn and focused more upon his personal corruption thanks to the nails, the short audio drama gives a bit more insight into the character than before and the awareness of what the World Eaters were becoming.
While short in length, the audio drama is effective thanks to the utilisation of its strongest assets and not trying to tell some grandiose tale. As mentioned last time we looked at something from this series, rather than action packed such short tales are usually only successful thanks to being introspective and working as character pieces. While the plot revolves around a gladiatorial match between Khârn and a member of the elite Devourers, the fight in itself is used purely as a method to explore the themes of corruption within the tale. Any details of the combat itself is purely secondary to the examination of the character and his ever growing surrender to the drive of the butcher’s nails. Unlike some other examples it is intertwined into the narrative and used as a tool to hold the reader’s attention as well as, eventually, an example of just how far Khârn has fallen to the influences of Chaos.
As he thinks, Khârn makes it clear of just how dominating a presence the devices are to any who have them. Clawing into his mind, we hear his thoughts attempting to retain a degree of rationality and self control even as they force him to become increasingly aggressive. This works in both conscious and subconscious ways to the being they are preying upon, a theme carried over from Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Betrayer. Denying them kills causes spikes of pain, as it is shown during Khârn’s duel, and they will influence people under their thrall to seek out battle even when they are attempting to purposefully avoid it. While both are themes which have been explored before, they prove to be oddly more effective here, largely thanks to the novel they follow on from for two specific reasons.
Firstly, Betrayer’s story was told with a legion wide focus. While it had distinctive characters and viewpoint figures it utilised to tell a tale, it was only to explore the legion as a whole and examine Angron as a person. Many of the themes involving the nails existed primarily to show his unique relationship with his forces and the influence a primarch could have over his astartes. Here the same themes are told, but examined from a much more singular and personal level, and despite the short length they manage to resonate with strength.
Secondly, the fact it is Khârn we see struggling here brings home just how far along the Eightfold Path they are. Throughout Betrayer he was seen as a steadfast figure, one of those most resistant to the drives and bloodthirst they would bring on. To see him here unable to resist them to the point where he is subconsciously dragged to the gladiatorial ring hits home just how close to their Khorne Berserker selves they really are.
For all this praise however, let it be made clear this story largely succeeds only because it is an audio. While it has the right degree of focus, and while he might be a proven writer, Anthony Reynolds ability to present effective first person viewpoints is lacking. While not the worst ever put on paper, much like Vulkan Lives there is little truly characteristic within the writing to truly single out a personality as strong as Khârn’s. There are no few to no descriptions of the environments, not even of the arena, not enough personal touches or character quirks and the writing is only at its strongest when it comes to the subject of Chaos.
What largely helps avoid this failing is the vocal talents of Chris Fairbank, who gives a great deal of emotion to the words and is free to present the character as he wishes. Many of the inflections and emotion he presents drives the story forwards with great strength and makes him come alive here. As a brief aside, those who have read my reviews of other audio books will know I have been critical of Fairbank’s unusually calm tones in the past as unfitting the character. The thirteen minutes of this audio drama were enough to make me turn that opinion right around and consider him the definitive Khârn. Though, unfortunately even Fairbank’s performance isn’t quite enough to overlook the surprisingly poor quality of the soundtrack here. While it won’t be clear at first, on repeat listenings it does become clear that several of the themes are a far cry of the iconic themes from the other audios.
While short, Khârn: The Eightfold Path proves to be a surprisingly strong short story and a great follow-up to Betrayer. While it definitely benefits from having read the book, those with general knowledge of the legion should do fine and it’s more than worth the asking price for what you get. With good writing and strong voice acting creating a great tale, you should definitely consider getting this one if you want to see more of the soon to be Betrayer.
Oh, and as an added bonus while the emphasis upon the World Eater’s corruption, unlike before they are not presented as a failure of a legion. It’s one which might be decaying from within, but the strength brought on from Khorne’s influence is made very evident in the closing minutes.