Friday, October 28, 2011

Audiobook Review: Thorn and Talon by Dan Abnett

Though this Audio Drama from The Black Library isn’t due to come out until early December, after giving it a listen I just knew I had to review it in time for Halloween. These are some great eerie tales set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe; very different from any of my prior experiences with this series. Over the course of two discs, three short stories unfold starting with the tale of…

Master Imus’s Transgression

In a universe in which magic and the supernatural are caused by Chaos – an energy originating in hyperspace and responsible for the creation of all manner of demons, is it any wonder that a strange occurrence might occur even in the most mundane of jobs? Master Imus is a bookkeeper, an accountant, who has come to Inquisitor Eisenhorn to turn himself in for discovering a forbidden number. It is the number of Chaos itself, capable of hiding other numbers as well as itself, and possibly even more dangerous should it fall into the wrong hands. Now Eisenhorn must determine how this lowly bookkeeper came to discover the number; was it purposeful or is there a larger picture.

I thought this story was perfect for my first introduction to Eisenhorn. He remains a bit of an enigma at the beginning of the tale, as it is told from Imus’s perspective and the listener only knows as much as Imus himself does (or reveals to Eisenhorn). I quickly realized that the Inquisitors such as Eisenhorn fit into a much different story structure than what I’ve been exposed to so far in WH40K fiction. Up until now, they’ve been very focused on the war and the Astartes supersoldiers as well as the religious aspects which are merged into their crusades against alien civilizations as well as the human heretics.

But here what we have is more like a detective story, taking place within the trappings of the WH40K universe, and all the “rules” created within that framework. There are a couple of fairly horrific moments within this story, where the actors really convey the intensity of the scenes and brought it all to life. It was during this first story that I began to think that this might be a perfect listening experience for just prior to Halloween. That feeling only continued with…

Regia Occulta

Inquisitor Eisenhorn finds himself stuck for an extended stay on a backwater world, and as a lark decides to help out a Commissar who is investigating a series of murders which appear to have been committed by a serial killer. Normally that would be below Eisenhorn’s station, but as he begins to look closely at the victims, he starts to wonder if this isn’t a much bigger case than he at first imagined.

As the second story featuring Eisenhorn, this continued to be a great way to expand upon what I had already learned about him in the first story. He is a Psyker (think psychic powers) but now we learn that he can talk to the recently deceased, turning this into a bit of a ghost story. As we learn more about his abilities though, we also learn more about his limitations – exposure to Chaos energy can have a debilitating effect on him, and he is not as all-powerful as an Astartes warrior as he and the Commissar ultimately face off against the killer.

I thought the twist of the link to the physical location was a great hook for the story, though I’m loathe to mention any more without ruining it. While I enjoyed the previous tale, this story really convinced me that this was going to be a favorite in the Black Library Audio Dramas. The sound effects and voice work were just top-notch here, which only continued in…

Thorn Wishes Talon

The whole cast of characters (and actors) comes together to tell this story of Eisenhorn’s greatest pupil, Ravenor, who responds to a summons from his teacher to a world of apocalyptic cultists. Ravenor and his team of warriors and psychics come under heavy resistance from the cultists as they infiltrate an ancient alien ruin, but what awaits them there may be even more disturbing. Because Eisenhorn has learned what the cultists know – that one of Ravenor’s team will be responsible for bringing into our universe a Chaos demon who will be disguised in human form, a powerful creature who just may bring about the apocalypse. But can they trust Eisenhorn, who appears himself to be in league with a Chaos demon he once battled…

This again for me was my first introduction to Ravenor and his team, and it’s well done for any newcomers. He has five people reporting to him, each of whom has a very distinct personality and specialties which make them important to the story. The listener even gets a glimpse into the backgrounds on a few of them through the course of the tale, including Ravenor himself, who is a rare handicapped character being confined to a hoverchair (wheelchair-like) construct since losing most of his body in battle.

I’ve already mentioned the entire cast participating this time around, and of course that brought it all together nicely. Likewise it was interesting to see Eisenhorn much later in his career, referred to here by some of Ravenor’s team as an “old-man”. But the sound effects, which have been spectacular up until this point, and the music reach a pinnacle in Thorn Wishes Talon. Between the rainstorm which is linked to the psychic demons and their unearthly screams, to the thundering of the giant mechanical Titan, and the flow of the music – this entire Audio Drama is a feast for the ears.

Just when I begin to wonder if my love of The Black Library’s Audio Dramas has begun to wear off, one comes in and just blows me away. Perhaps it’s partially because of Dan Abnett’s writing, but the audio work is fantastic this time around as well, doing exactly what the best of these books should do by immersing you in the story. If you’re going to check out an Audio Drama by the Black Library, I can think of few better than to start with Thorn and Talon.


xenophon38 said...

Are these actually audio dramas, or are they just narration with sound effects and music?

I listened to one,Aenarion,and was pretty disappointed.If your are really into audio drama, I would highly recommend anything by Big Finish Productions. I listened to their Dr. Who series all last year while exercising and thought they were outstanding.

A great place to start would be Hitchhiker's Guide, NPR's Star Wars, BBC's Lord of the Rings or Sherlock Holmes, these are all very well done radio dramas.

Jim Haley said...

It has depended on the Audiobook from The Black Library, but Thorn and Talon (and any that include a cast of more than one) is what I would call a drama, since it is more like a "play" or dramatization of the story. Throne of Lies and Red & Black (both revewied here as well) certainly fit the bill in my mind as well. Some of these audiobooks may be more like you describe, but they're still head and shoulders over standard audiobooks. I did recently listed to the Audio Drama of The Mark of Zorro, so I'll do a review of that soon as well. Thanks for the other suggestions, I'll keep on the look out for them at my library.