Friday, April 01, 2011

Audiodrama Review: “Dead in the Water” by Sandy Mitchell

For a newcomer to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, I’m finding these audiodramas produced by the Black Library to be a real godsend. I haven’t yet had the chance to read any of Sandy Mitchell’s Ciaphas Cain books, but now having had this introduction to the character, I know I’ll be seeking out those books.

Ciaphas Cain is a Commissar (an officer) in the Imperial forces, serving the God-Emperor by attempting to stay out of harms way, find cushy jobs, and generally keep as low a profile as he can while still maintaining a heroic façade and reputation. Unfortunately, he has also been lucky enough to have led men who praise his leadership skills and fortunate enough in his battlefield engagements that he has managed to rise to a level where it is difficult for him to stay out of the lime-light (and the line of fire).

Cain finds himself on a backwater world, one made up mostly of islands dotting an ocean, where the native human populace is taking up a rebellion against the Imperium. Here Cain has been lucky enough to lead from behind a desk, sending his troops to quell minor infringements – but whispers of a new force who have taken to killing people on both sides soon drives him to track them down. Could it be a squad of his own men who may have defected? Could it be some other alien invaders? Could it be the rebels?

Cain will have to rely on an unknown ship and its crew, as well as their native guide as they sail into unknown waters – looking into the last place where Cain’s squad was last seen. But what mysteries await them in the heart of the jungle of this island? And is there any chance any of it will force Cain to rise up and become the hero everyone thinks he is?

Well, alright – there’s little chance of the last one. Cain is the reason to listen to Dead in the Water, he’s a fantastic character – very unlike the heroes I’m used to reading about. The narrator of the story is Cain himself, writing his memoirs, and it’s a fascinating look inside the mind of the man. He’s constantly considering his options – not for the good of his soldiers or the mission, but for which choice is the least likely to cause him trouble. Is it better to stay behind on a ship when his men go ashore searching what might be a booby-trapped island – or is he a sitting duck on the ship should there be enemy forces targeting it? And when he realizes that this planet has become too much of a hot-spot – it’s time to move on and find a new posting – one that’s at least got a chance of letting him live in his cushy position without forcing him to be in the lines of battle all the time.

This time the audiodrama aspects aren’t as strongly felt, I thought, as has been the case in most of the others I’ve listened to from the Black Library. There were still the sounds of battle and communication between soldiers that help make it feel like you’re there, but the amazing sound work (background noises and such) just didn’t seem to be there this time. It might be a case where the story just didn’t call for such things. The story is strong enough, and highly entertaining because of the humor that hearing Cain’s thoughts infuses it with, that it’s not such a big deal that the audio aspects were weaker this time. As I said, Cain is a compelling character, and one I’m looking forward to reading more about in Sandy Mitchell’s other novels.

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