Friday, June 29, 2012

Audiobook Review: Malediction by C Z Dunn

On the world of Amadis, veteran Imperial Guard officer Regan Antigone is being honoured for his role in the planet’s liberation from the forces of Chaos, some twenty-five years earlier. But when his old comrade, Master Tigrane of the Dark Angels Space Marine Chapter, arrives to join the festivities and asks to hear the glorious tale told once more, Antigone falters. With the details of his account cast under close scrutiny and with the judgement of the Imperium hanging over him, will his noble reputation remain intact?

I went the easy way and copied the text from the back this time around, not because I couldn’t remember the plot (you’ll often see me do this for unmemorable books, not usually a good sign) but in this case it’s because I thought the blurb did a good job of summing up the main points and leaving it on a cliffhanger. This is an audio drama, not a reading of the story, so there are a number of actors handling the various character parts throughout the story. Of course, because Regan is retelling the story, it makes him a natural narrator for the flashback.

It feels a lot like a World War I story, of men in trenches trying to keep back an overwhelming force from invading their city. They are the last line of defense, and they are volunteers without any real battle skills and no real hope of getting any reinforcements in time to save the day. Regan and the two troopers assigned with him are all regretting their decision to volunteer, and are considering deserting when their commander sends them on a mission to recon the enemy forces and determine the size and strength of the enemy they face. Regan shows a true level of heroism and professionalism at that moment, not only succeeding in what should be a suicide mission, but in bringing back critical information to his superiors for the battle ahead.

Unfortunately, the bombardment of heavy artillery by the enemy wreaks havoc among the defenders, and when Regan talks about rallying the troops to stand their ground – just managing to hold off the enemy until the Astartes warriors under Tigrane show up – the story doesn’t ring true. The truth of what really happened in that final battle will finally be revealed, and the punishment for Regan’s lie reminds the listener why this is a dark future in the Warhammer 40K universe.

My only real problem with the story is that I couldn’t figure out who the antagonist was (actually, this is a problem mirrored by and related to who is revealed to be the true hero of the battle). They keep mentioning cultists – which I thought were among the Chaos/Heretic Marines. But that seems to fly in the face of who winds up saving them. I’m also not entirely sure why it’s such a big deal to Tigrane when he finds out who the savior of the battle was – the listener is given no background information in this story to understand Tigrane’s reaction to the revelation. It’s a weak point in an otherwise pretty well-laid out story, with a number of compelling characters and a nice switch on what I normally expect from these audio dramas. This story is told almost completely from the viewpoint of average human soldiers, in way over their heads in a war they barely understand, and I enjoyed it for that reason.

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