Friday, October 19, 2012

Audiobook Review – The Ascension of Balthasar

Just when I think I’ve grown accustomed to how great these audio drama’s from Black Library are, I get reminded by listening to a audio book from some other company. I’ll save that review for a Short Take on another date, but suffice it to say that it was a pleasure to return to a Black Library production with The Ascension of Balthasar by C.Z. Dunn.

I have a fondness for the Space Marines Battles books, as my first book in the Warhammer 40,000 universe was one from this series – and I have to say that it seems to me to be the perfect match for audio drama adaptation. A complaint I’ve seen leveled at this book series is that it’s just focused on a particular battle, without being a very deep book otherwise – well, that sounds like the perfect story to be adapted into an action packed listening experience. While this isn’t an adaptation of an already published novel, if the purpose was to experiment with doing future adaptations of other books in the series, I’d say the result from this one makes it a clear winner.

The Dark Angels, a loyal contingent of Space Marines to the Emperor, receive a psychic message that one from their order who participated in the betrayal against the Emperor during the Horus Heresy has been found – and he can be found at the planet Stern’s Remembrance. There Balthasar’s squad descend to the surface to locate the betrayer and bring him to justice, but what they find are cities empty of people, billions missing, and cathedrals the size of skyscrapers filled to bursting with their dead bodies.

In one of these cathedrals’, in statis, is the traitor – but he is only bait, luring the Dark Angels into a trap for a massive wave of Chaos cultists intent on their destruction. Now Stern’s Remembrance has become a battlefield, where the Dark Angels will have to decide if they can once again trust the traitor from their ranks to fight alongside them in a battle where all their lives are at stake.

One of the things I loved about this story were the references to The Horus Heresy, and the fact that this traitor is a secret the Dark Angels have kept from all others after all these centuries. No one knows of this particular marine’s betrayal – and it happened after the defeat of Horus, adding to the stain this particular event has on the Dark Angels. They have hunted him ever since, looking to redeem their order with his death – and now instead they find that they must choose to fight alongside him if they are to survive, especially against the giant Chaos beast sent to finish them for good.

The audio drama does a great job of describing Stern’s Remembrance, it’s winding streets and dedication to worship of the Emperor – it felt like a very real place, something that can at times be a struggle in some of these audio books (as the character interaction takes precedence over description). It may also help that a map was included in the flap of the case, and also on the second disc as well (which also included some artwork, wallpapers, audio excerpts from other books and the original script for The Ascension of Balthasar). At this point I hardly have to talk about the quality of the sound effects, the acting or the music, but they are all top notch and kept me engaged throughout. This ranks up there for me as one of the best Audio Dramas I’ve had the pleasure of listening to from The Black Library, an engaging story with intriguing twists and engaging characters. As I said near the beginning of this review, I hope they continue to do more Space Marines Battles Audio Dramas, I think it’s the perfect fit for this kind of story.

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