Friday, July 23, 2010

Review: The Dark King & The Lightning Tower

I was highly entertained by my last foray into a Black Library Audio Drama, and this follow up did nothing to dissuade me of the notion that this is how Audio books were meant to be done. This time there are two short stories, written by two of the biggest names in the Warhammer fiction line, The Dark King by Graham McNeill and The Lightning Tower by Dan Abnett. They are interrelated stories, both taking place during the Horus Heresy era (about a millennia before Warhammer 40,000), detailing how the Imperium came to be wracked by civil war – led by the favored son of the Emperor, Horus. But this audio drama is about two of the Emperor’s other sons, Konrad Curze and Rogal Dorn – brothers who will become bitter enemies. In The Dark King, in the waning days of the Imperium’s Great Crusade, Konrad Cruze is leading Imperium forces on a planet that has recently been brought to heel for daring to rebel against the rightful rule of the Emperor. Konrad believes the best way to ensure the populace learns its lesson is to beat them down into submission, but when his brother Rogal Dorn hears of his methods, he takes over command of the planet and relieves Konrad of duty. Konrad is placed under a form of house arrest (on board an orbiting space ship), but he knows that he can no longer fight for an Imperium led by weaklings like his brother, so he plots his escape – and ultimately the rise of his loyal troops to become the fearsome Night Lords. I only have one disappointment with this first story; it lacks one critical scene. Upon returning to their command ship, Konrad faces his brother Rogal, and beats him near to death. But we only hear about that scene afterwards, from Konrad who’s now under arrest for assaulting his brother. This scene will be referred to again in the next short story, but again not described in detail. One could make a case for that fact that it could never be fairly described by either party – they would only both remember it from their own point of view – but I felt like I had missed something the first time through because of its absence. But the scene immediately following well makes up for it – it’s one of the most action packed intense scenes I’ve heard in an audio book so far. Konrad escapes from his jailors, battling them within a darkened anteroom – moving in and out of the dark and striking at them without warning. You can hear their fear, and even though he’s not a good guy – you can’t help but root for Konrad to escape. The Lightning Tower takes place some time later, as the Imperium prepares for the inevitable assault upon Terra (Earth) that they know Horus and his followers will one day pursue. To that end, the Emperor has tasked his son, Rogal Dorn to convert the Palace into a Fortress – changing it from utmost beauty into an ugly militaristic structure whose only function is to protect the Emperor. Rogal does not enjoy his task, and he finds himself questioning why his brothers have chosen to rebel. While at first he believes his biggest fear is that he might begin to understand the truth behind their rebellion – in reality it is his last interaction with Konrad which really makes him afraid. No one has ever nearly beaten him like Konrad did, and he knows that Konrad will face the forces of the Imperium with the same fervor – and that scares Rogal more than anything else. This is a great companion piece to The Dark King, though not as strong on its own. The Lightning Tower is lacking any action or significant story movement – it’s really just an exploration of Rogal Dorn’s feelings about how the civil war is proceeding and how deeply scarred he is from the events with his brother Konrad. There is some interesting insight for me (as a newcomer) into the world of Warhammer during this era – from the Emperor’s human advisor (the Emperor I assume is Astartes, a modified human like his sons) to the “lost” sons whom they don’t refer to (and these are not the sons in open rebellion against the Emperor). I also learned that the Palace lies at the top of the Himalayas – a place sure to make for an interesting backdrop for the inevitable battle to come. I haven’t mentioned the excellent audio work done for this recording yet, but everything that was true of Fireborn applies here as well. This is a feast for the ears, with the sound effects of battle, the echoes of footfalls, the grinding of pneumatic doors, the hiss of armor – as well as the fantastic orchestrated music which plays at just the right moments to add to the overall effect. It’s like listening to a movie, only having the action described to you by a narrator. If you are a fan of audiobooks, I can’t more highly recommend picking up one of these audio dramas from the Black Library – I have listened to each one of them twice so far, and enjoy them so much that I can safely say I’ll continue to pull them out when I’m looking to hear another audiobook in the future.

1 comment:

BStearns said...

Wow, and I always thought audio books were dreary, mono-tone people reading a book. Probably one if the big reasons why I have never listened to one. However, you're review of this makes me really want to check it out. Might have to, Thanks for this!

-Bryan
www.sff-hub.com