Hunter's Moon is a truly excellent audio drama. The audio production oozes with quality, making it easy to immerse oneself in Guy Haley's gripping narrative.
Unlike its accompanying drama, Thief of Revelations by Graham McNeill, Hunter's Moon is being told from the perspective of a normal man, who gets involved in an engagement between Space Wolves and Alpha Legion. This choice of perspective generally does a lot of good to the story, moving to a respectful distance from the superhuman soldiers and adding to the confusion and irritation in the process.
Only halfway through the half-CD story do Space Marines appear in person - which may seem odd at first, for a Horus Heresy story, but goes a long way to remind us that even through all the action in this intergalactic civil war, the Imperium's people are not necessarily aware of the Heresy, nor do they have picked sides, or will ever get between the fronts. It is easy to forget that there is more to the Great Crusade / Heresy era than augmented supersoldiers, especially since the Remembrancers' plotlines seem to have been completely avoided in recent years.
At the top of it all, Guy Haley once again proves that he is a master at crafting interesting worlds and environments. As with Baneblade or Crash before, Haley managed to present an intriguing geography in his story, which adds to tension and character background. With Guy Haley's work, one can be sure to experience interesting, if often hostile places.
Considering the short, 35 minutes runtime of this story, I can honestly say that Guy has made the most of it with his great narrative. Having it presented in such a wonderfully produced audio format, spoken by a cast of Black Library veterans, however, makes it stand out as one of my favorite audio dramas BL has ever released.(less)
I apologize if this review is a bit lengthy and referencing other works in the franchise; my perspective is certainly based on being a long-time fan of the lore, and I feel that it will be most valuable to people already well-invested in the background material. As a newcomer to the franchise, please walk away and start elsewhere.
Mortarion's Heart has been a hotly debated topic ever since the story surrounding it had been introduced in the 5th Edition Codex: Grey Knights, back in April 2011. The short new piece of lore involving Primarch Mortarion and newcomer Kaldor Draigo was deemed inplausible, unworthy of being considered canon to the Warhammer 40,000 lore.
I can understand the fans' outcry, for Kaldor Draigo's new history appeared nothing if not over the top; a wishlist of deeds added to a new character, who I often saw described as a silly Mary Sue.
Among other tales of glory, Draigo was told to have beaten the Daemon Prince M'kar the Reborn (featured in Graham McNeill's The Chapters Due and his novella "Calth That Was" and Dan Abnett's "Unmarked" from the Mark of Calth Horus Heresy anthology) in single combat, repeating the feat centuries later. In the meantime, he also became the Supreme Grand Master of his Chapter, and carved the name of his predecessor into the Primarch Mortarion's heart.
Many just considered it "fan-wanking" by the Codex's author, and I will not blame them, for a new character to the lore to make such an amount of buzz, defeating the big archenemies left and right, must certainly rustle some jimmies among fans.
With that context in mind, I was both excited and fearful of this release; it has been quite some time in the making, having been announced at the Black Library Weekender 2012. Of course I hoped that L J Goulding, being one of Black Library's Editors and Loremasters, would take the tidbits of lore surrounding Kaldor Draigo and craft them into something more plausible, less ridiculous, and overall satisfying that fits into the universe.
Having listened to the audio drama twice since yesterday, I can confirm that, in my eyes and ears, Goulding has succeeded in delivering a story that easily beats what expectations I had, and may be even better than what I had hoped to receive.
Mortarion's Heart goes all-in on this piece of new lore. It shows the death of one Supreme Grand Master, the election of another and the victory of the latter. It roots itself into the background by referencing a lot of other works, including the Horus Heresy series. It even hints at future HH revelations, making me eager to learn more of specific side-plots of the long-running series.
Without spoiling the plot of the audio drama, I can tell you that the actual act of humbling Mortarion is not the single focus of the work. It is the character of Kaldor Draigo who, unsurprisingly, is the star of the drama, and we get to hear how he ascended to the rank of Supreme Grand Master, and what aided his duel with the Death Lord.
As told by the Codex it would appear that Draigo, on his very own, crushed a whole force of daemons before banishing the Daemon Primarch - this is not what actually happens according to this audio drama. It was not as simple as that. While not physically aided in his task, Kaldor Draigo received other means of help from his fellow Grand Masters - all of which feature in the drama.
Above all, however, Mortarion's Heart makes sense of an odd and unexplained bit of lore. It turns the glory-tale of Kaldor Draigo into a relatable, believable thing, at least in context of the franchise. The humbling of the monstrous Primarch is not depicted as a one-sided battle, but as a struggle Draigo was fully equipped to subject himself to and stand a chance.
All of this is also presented by a big cast of voice actors, all of which did a fantastic job bringing life to the setting and characters. While I was not immediately convinced by the deep, rumbling (and a bit cliched) voice for Mortarion himself, it grew on me, as did Draigo's. The audio production was, once again, top notch, with a lot of sound effects throughout. Mortarion's Heart is a high quality product, continuing the upwards trend of Black Library's audio dramas.
I salute Laurie Goulding for turning this drama into a gem. He added a lot of nuance to a bland piece of writing, without contradicting the source material. Fans of Kaldor will still find a heroic tale, whereas disgruntled fans should be put more at ease through this work. Considering Goulding also wrote an micro eShort for the Black Library Advent Calendar 2013 eBundle, Kaldor Draigo: Knight of Titan, I hope to read more in the future.
Both C.Z. Dunn's Pandorax and L.J. Goulding's recent work have turned Kaldor Draigo from a ridiculously over the top character I would not ever have expected to like into one I can very well live with and appreciate. While some gripes about his lore still exist in my mind, I hope they will be put at rest by an equally satisfying story as Mortarion's Heart at some point in the future.(less)
The Wolf of Ash and Fire was very enjoyable, if not without flaws. Being a prequel story, set before even the Ullanor Crusade, this short story nonetheless references and strengthens plot points and twists throughout more recent Horus Heresy installments. Beware, this review turned out a lot longer than anticipated!
However, the story felt much stronger during its first half than the second, and some points which were introduced in the first part never got followed up on in the second. A bigger incident which has not been detailed in the novel series, but featured in the Luna Wolves' part of the Forgeworld Horus Heresy rulebooks, was brought up - something that will undoubtedly confuse people, as it is not well known but impactful lore.
An intriguing plot device is introduced in relation to this via the Mournival and Hastur Sejanus in particular. After the introductory scene, however, it is forgotten, and its lack of inclusion in the Horus Heresy opening trilogy, and Horus Rising in particular, makes it feel like a solid idea that holds no relevance in the wider scheme of things. Maybe McNeill's upcoming novel Vengeful Spirit will pick the idea back up - it still appears to be too little to late, though.
At the end of the day, however, it felt good to see Hastur Sejanus and the Mournival before Horus Rising. Seeing their dynamic before Garviel Loken entered the stage was satisfying, especially paired with Horus's theatrical nature. Overall there have been quite a few good callbacks to Horus Rising and False Gods during the first half of the story.
The second half, however, focuses a lot more on action than I liked. Many of the Emperor's and Horus's elite warriors seem to find their ends here, and while the highly developed Ork antagonists feel menacing, I felt like the story was stronger when taking a step back and observing the Master of Mankind and Lupercal, focusing on dialogue rather than action.
I also noticed that Horus was described as using a power sword and storm bolter - which seems fine, until you realize that storm bolters were said to not yet exist during that timeframe. At a later point, the weapon was refered to as "twin bolters", so maybe that was just an oversight, and I am most certainly blowing it out of proportion. Still, it bugged me when I read it.
After all is said and done, it is easy for me to recommend this story to series fans and newcomers alike. I felt this short could be a nice and short introductory piece to the Horus Heresy series, reinforcing the father-son-relationship between Horus and the Emperor, which was not clearly shown but only talked about in the opening trilogy.
The Wolf of Ash and Fire should do an impressive job reinforcing the first few novels' impact on the reader, new and old. It could have done more if given a larger page count, however, and I firmly believe that turning it in a full novella would have done a lot to turn a pretty good story into a fantastic one. As it stands, however, Graham McNeill delivered a damn fine addition to the Horus Heresy series.(less)