Wednesday, 7 September 2011

‘Red and Black’ – James Swallow (Black Library)

‘Black Library, making Graeme’s daily commute a hell of a lot more bearable since about 2008…’ Ok, I can’t really see this slogan being adopted but that doesn’t make it any the less true. Sometimes the quality varies but I’m always guaranteed something that will take my mind off the trip to and from work; sometimes I even find myself wanting to stay on the train… This is more often than not the case when I have one of their audio books playing on my iPod as I can blot everything out and really get into what is happening in the countless worlds of the Imperium in the forty first millennium. The arrival of the latest audio book from James Swallow was a pretty big deal then and I didn’t hang around in giving it a listen…

No man may carry arms under the banners of the Imperial Church… It’s a good job then that, due to a legal loophole, the other half of humanity is allowed to take the Imperial truth to heretics and Xenos everywhere with flamer and bolter. Sister Miriya is a zealous member of the Church but her faith is about to tested as never before. The planet Hollos has emerged from a millennia long warp storm and begs to be allowed back into the Imperial fold.
What has happened to Hollos, during its exile, merits the attention of the Church though and Sister Miriya has the final say on whether an entire planet lives or dies…

‘Red and Black’ is a bit of tough one to call; while it grabbed my attention from the off I couldn’t help but wonder if this tale was a victim of it’s format and could have been a lot better on the written page instead.

There is a lot going on here but only so much running time to fit it all into and, as a result, it felt like the whole story wasn’t being told. Of course you do get a whole story and Swallow does well to fit in what he does; I just couldn’t get away from the feeling that the intrigue (and counter intrigue) really wanted to spread itself out rather than be shoehorned into a small space…

This is a shame because the premise is definitely interesting (Swallow asking the question of what it really means to be human and applying this to the 40K universe) and Swallow adds enough twists and turns to make the inevitable outcome a little more surprising than you would at first think. It’s not a great final twist in the tale (this particular setting will always demand a certain end to any story based there) but it does move the plot in a new direction just when you are least expecting it and it does a good job of forcing Sister Miriya to confront the big issues of the plot.

The production is as great as ever with background effects really drawing you into the story itself and also proving that female narrators really don’t have to be stuck with reading female characters. Beth Chalmers and Lisa Bowerman bring the characters to life in such a way that 40K fans will definitely approve of and I hope we see more of them in this line.

Like I said, ‘Red and Black’ is a tough one to call but it does enough to come down on the side of all that is good about the Black Library audio book series. I’ve got the books to be going on with in the meantime but I’m looking forward to seeing which audio book comes my way next.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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