The Kauyon by Andy Smillie – Audio Drama Review [Bellarius]


Picking out another audio drama, Bellarius judges the strengths and weaknesses of The Kauyon by Andy Smillie.

“A exceptionally flawed tale which still manages to have the Tau Empire win for all the wrong reasons.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

Of all the forces depicted in Black Library works, few have suffered quite so badly as the Tau Empire. While less prone to losses and massacres than many other factions, no single stories seem to be able to get their identity right. The otherwise great Courage and Honour made many basic mistakes when it came to their society and even some tactics, Shadowsun seemed to have barely researched even basic aspects of their way of war, and even Codex: Farsight Enclaves was obviously written by someone who either thought research was a dirty word or openly hated the tau. Few stories since Fire Warrior have truly nailed every aspect of the race, and The Kauyon unfortunately isn’t about to break that trend. While it certainly has good elements, there are flaws aplenty holding back this tale.

The last lone survivor of a decimated Pathfinder unit detached to slow the advance of Imperial forces across a planet, Kal’va is a broken warrior. Consumed by thoughts of vengeance and ill suited to the role of Pathfinder, he hungers for personal retribution against the killers who have massacred hundreds of tau in open battle. With his initial revenge attempt failing, Kal’va opts to return to the old ways of the patient hunter to achieve victory…

The last time we covered a book attempting to depict the way of the Kauyon was in Shadowsun, where it was badly depicted to say the least. Despite O’Shaserra supposedly being a master of carefully approaching the enemy and patiently drawing them into traps, the book depicted the only tau ways of war as being either blind zerg rushes or holding positions no matter the firepower they faced. Thankfully, this is completely ignored here and instead the Kauyon is correctly depicted as a method of careful planning and lengthy operations before finishing the enemy in a single strike. This is a tactic traditionally used against foes of a vastly superior number and strength, and how it is utilised here does show its effectiveness.

Much like la’Kais, Kal’va being forced to operate on his own and adjust to shifting elements of the battle is a major strength. Despite being a Pathfinder, the audio drama makes it very clear quite early on he is ill-suited to the role, and carries many elements which mark him as a better Fire Warrior. He hungers for revenge and at takes considerable restraint and adaptation to come close to pulling off this task. While it can be argued that this is ill placed for such a story, it does give it some much-needed variety. Showing earlier efforts to assassinate their primary target failing gives some weight to Kal’va’s actions and allows the story to maintain certain beats of action to keep the pacing moving.

While careful preparation and descriptions would work for a novella or short story, they would likely not lead themselves well to the strengths Black Library audios have  favoured in the past. Specifically whatever can be best utilised for sound effects and multiple voice actors. While we have seen both successes and failures in both areas, there has definitely been a steady improvement in the overall quality of sound effects over the last several audio releases. This continued here, and it really does seem as if Black Library is learning from past mistakes, using far better effects of grinding metal to simulate the plate movements of power armour. Similarly the sounds of gunfire, screams and explosions all feel like a definite upgrade over the multitude of past stories we have seen released.

The main battle itself has a good variety of descriptions to it, and rapidly develops in a blow-by-blow basis which keeps up the momentum and is definitely written as an audio drama. There’s no point where it feels as if the descriptions are unnecessarily overly descriptive and the creators behind it knew when to have the effects do the work for them. Furthermore, it does emphasise a number of the Tau Empire’s best traits, from their adaptability to new situations to the utilisation of guile and advanced technology to defeat a superior foe. Unlike, say, Corax’s rampage in Raven’s Flight however, it’s obviously a battle in which one side had every advantage stacked in their favour, but they were far from utterly invincible. At any point the fight could have gone wrong and Kal’va killed by stray weapons fire or a focused counter-assault.

Unfortunately it’s after this point that definite flaws begin to appear within the tale.

While the story does try to beef up the Imperial forces as a major threat, and for once it doesn’t treat astartes as neigh unstoppable monsters, Kal’va’s victory over the Imperials does not feel deserved. Rather than respecting both sides properly, there are multiple times when it seems as if the space marines and Cadian Imperial Guard are being made a mockery of.

Almost instantly after they are attacked the Cadians, some of the most disciplined and well trained forces in the Imperium, instantly lose all focus and begin blindly panicking. Were this another Imperial force this might have been understandable, but not figures who are trained from an early age to fight the worst the Eye of Terror has to throw at them. Things only become worse when the Imperial Fists (Again Black Library? Not too long ago you said you were going to stop this) are easily massacred and repeatedly make decisions which make CS Goto’s Mantis Warriors look like the special forces. A flashback shows that three Pathfinders performed a direct assault against their forces to kill a mysterious red armoured space marine, effectively running right through their forces and killing everyone left right and centre. It reaches the point of staggering ridiculous when a flash grenade is thrown at a tactical squad, and they promptly stumble out of cover whilst blinded.

What really hurts it is a few problems which seem to be elements which feel more at home in Imperial books and even get some pronunciations wrong. Along with initiating a rite of battle which Kal’va speaks as he is preparing for combat and even while firing upon his enemies, something which might have worked well if treated in the right way but it really reads like a moderately changed Imperial chant. This might have been fine on its own, but then he starts to quote the “Axiom of Mindfulness” like some part of the Codex Astartes and it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at those parts.

Furthermore, Kal’va repeatedly gives praise to the Aun (pronounced “Auns” in this for some daft reason)  as if they were god-like figures watching over him, in place something which would make more sense. It really reads like someone scored out the word “Emperor” and put in the Tau Empire equivalent instead. These might be small moments, but there are many such bits like this which just feel as if the author was sticking to what he knew over the tau themselves,which holds it back from making full use of their unique traits.

While The Kauyon certainly has good elements, it doesn’t do enough right with either side to really warrant a look. It feels as if it needed another re-write before finally tying up the core elements and reworking minor details to truly streamline the work and be rid of some of the more facepalming elements. There is definitely a good story in here somewhere, but at the moment it’s buried under just so many bad decisions and factual errors that they are hard to see at first. Give it a look if you want, but it’s yet another story which falls short of being a great tale for the tau.

Verdict: 3.6/10


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.
Find more of his reviews and occasional rants here: