Friday, 17 December 2010

‘Helion Rain’ – George Mann (Black Library)

It is always a good day when a Black Library audio book finds itself on my door mat... It doesn’t take long for me to pop it on my iPod and then I’m guaranteed a days worth of commuting where I can shut out some of the worse excesses of London travel and lose myself in the grim, dark universe of the forty first millennium. At least, that’s the way it normally goes but the latest arrival didn’t have me leaping all over it like I normally would...
The last book I read of Mann’s was ‘The Affinity Bridge’, very well received by everyone who read it. Very well received by everyone accept me that is. I won’t bore you with the details all over again (just click Here to see my review if you want) but, for me, it was a case of only half of what was promised being delivered. When I saw his name on ‘Helion Rain’ then, well... I was left wondering if I was in for more of the same. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried so much.

The world of Idos is in the throes of a Tyranid infestation (a ravenous species that seeks to consume everything in its path) and the 4th company of the Raven Guard Space Marines have been tasked to its defence. The opposition is nothing short of overwhelming though and an audacious plan is conceived that will hopefully buy time for the last survivors on Idos to escape. It falls to veteran Sergeant Grayvus and his squad of Raven Guard scouts to execute this plan; a plan that will involve a race against time over a landscape bombarded by the inadvertent destruction of its own moon. If that wasn’t bad enough, many varied (and deadly) sub-species of Tyranid lurk round every corner; ready to rend and flay the unwary...

I’ve got to the point, with this audio book series, where I’ve run out of original things to say about Toby Longworth’s delivery. I’ll come straight out and admit it. The fact of the matter is that he does as sterling a job as ever, certainly up to the point where I can’t imagine another Warhammer 40K audio book that doesn’t feature him in some aspect. Some of the voices may sound suspiciously similar, to those heard from earlier audio books, but it’s that gruff, hard quality to his delivery that really captures the feel of the setting. I said it last time and I’ll say it again; I’m looking forward to hearing more from Toby Longworth in the future. Emphasis is on the characters this time round, instead of background affects, and this is the right approach in a tale that is all about the characters instead of scene setting (although the steady fall of a shattered moon was a particularly nice touch in terms of giving the piece some atmosphere).

The story itself is relatively straightforward, perhaps a little too straightforward for those who after something a little more involved to chew on. There’s a mission and, although Mann does a good job of building up the tension, the outcome is never in any real doubt (although there was one point where I did wonder...) This does rob the story of some of its urgency but the real fun lies in trying to predict who will make it through to the end of the story as Mann takes great pleasure in throwing the very worst elements of a Tyranid swarm at one small band of scouts. Frequent switches in perspective show all too well how hard such an encounter can be for a full Space Marine Company and you’re left with a very clear picture of how hard it is for the scouts to complete their mission. There’s a real element of uncertainty here and, with a revealing insight into the character of Sergeant Grayvus, this was what kept my interest. Space Marines may be well nigh invulnerable but Mann goes past this and gives us a character that is far more than just a ‘hack and slash’ automaton. Grayvus has had prior experience of the Tyranids and knows just what they are capable of...

Longworth’s delivery and Mann’s climactic passages combine to give us an ending that, although not unexpected, is more than worth the price of entry. One of those endings where everything vaguely flammable is thrown at it and the end result wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen. ‘Helion Rain’ may not be a stand out entry in the Warhammer 40K audio book line but it’s a more than solid affair that fans will enjoy. Not only that but it’s also left me feeling a little happier about giving Mann’s ‘The Osiris Ritual’ a go in the near future. Look out for this one in February 2011.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

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