Friday, September 23, 2011

Audiobook Review: Warhammer 40,000 – Red & Black by James Swallow

Since Throne of Lies and my first introduction to a battle sister of the WH40K universe, I’ve been looking forward to learning more about them. Red & Black is the perfect way to immerse someone new into this segment of the franchise, though it may not be the most action packed of stories. Red & Black slowly brings the listener up to speed, first introducing Miriya, the commander who will serve as the main character through the story. It is through her eyes that we learn about her order, what their purpose is in service to the Emperor and how it differs from the Astartes warriors who populate the military structure. The primary purpose of Sisters of Battle is to enforce the religion which worships the God-Emperor of mankind, and it is for this reason that Miriya is summoned before her superior for a special mission. A colony world called Hollos, which had been cut off from the Imperium for millennia due off due to storms of chaos energy in space, has recently made contact again. But there have been disturbing developments on that world during the interceding years, as replicants (clones) have risen to the status of human citizens – even ruling the planet because of their extended lifetimes. This is blasphemous in the Imperium where clones are slaves, where their intelligence is purposefully limited by genetic manipulation, and they cannot possibly have a soul. Yet Miriya finds herself face-to-face with the replicant named Ro, who prays to the God-Emperor just as she does, and speaks of His divine will. So Miriya and her squad go to Hollos on board a ship capable of destroying the world completely. Her mandate is to pass judgment on the entire civilization – can it be reintegrated into the Imperium, or is it too far gone? And how can she make that judgment when nothing is quite as it seems on this world. If replicants have managed to maintain peace as rulers and protectors of the humans for hundreds of years, why does a massive clone army attack as soon as Miriya and her squad arrive? Why are the natural-born humans meeting with Miriya in secret to overthrow their replicant rulers if they are so benevolent? And how can this entire situation be salvaged without razing the entire planet? This story is less about the battles that a typical Warhammer 40,000 story focuses on, and more about exploring some real science fiction concepts in a universe with very specific rules and expectations. Things that would be exceptional in our universe, like the concept of a species of humans who were genetically created for one thing and have evolved to a point where they so strongly believe in non-violence – is treated with distain within the context of that universe. There are a couple of action sequences, but that is not really the reason to tune in for this particular audiodrama, it’s for the exploration of the WH40K universe through the eyes of the Battle Sisters. I will say that similar to my last experience with The Madness Within this isn’t the perfect story to have adapted to an audiodrama, as there isn't much use of the background audio effects as you get in some of the others I've reviewed. There are a couple of moments where the sound effects really get the listener into the scene (like upon the arrival of the Battle Sisters on Hollos and the crowds are cheering and the voice of the advisor from the Mechanicus), but it’s really more about the work of the two women (Lisa Bowerman and Beth Chalmers) reading the various parts of this story and taking on various roles which makes it an impressive listening experience. I find it much more fulfilling when these stories are treated more like a play or an episode of a TV series than as strictly a book being read to the listener. Ultimately Red & Black my not be at the top of my list of favorite audiodramas from the Black Library, but I also wouldn’t rank it at the bottom – just somewhere in the middle. I think it’s a great way to introduce the Sisters of Battle to new readers/listeners, and it kept me entertained throughout. It’s just important to realize this is not as action-packed of a story as one might normally expect from a Warhammer 40,000 book, and setting your expectations around that you should find it to be an enjoyable listening experience.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm gonna read a warhammer book on of these days.

Michael Offutt said...

I love the Warhammer 40K universe. I'm going to buy Space Marine today for the X-Box as well as Gears of War 3

stevesmith said...

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