Series: Saga of the Beast (#1-4)
Genre: Science Fantasy
Publisher: Black Library
Runtime: 4hrs 23mins
Release Date: 28/03/2020
Cast: Tom Alexander, Charles Armstrong, Gareth Armstrong, Ian Brooker, Steve Conlin, Andrew Fettes, Jonathan Keeble, Colleen Prendergast, Jon Rand, Richard Reed
Ragnar Blackmane, the youngest of the Space Wolf jarls, has earned a great victory over the heretic. Yet at the moment of his greatest success, he is unsettled. A vision has come to him. There is a beast that must be fought, and Ragnar is the only one who face it. But facing the beast may also mean facing his own doom . . .
Black Library’s second boxed audio set from the forty-first millennium is a different beast to the first. No pun intended. In many ways, David Annandale’s tale of heroism and glory among the Space Wolves is a far simpler tale than Gave Thorpe’s twisting Inquisition affair. This is perhaps its greatest strength. There’s a wonderful straightforwardness to Saga of the Beast, perfectly echoing the drive and simple-minded determination of its protagonists.
If you’d told me a year ago that I’d have enjoyed a story about Space Marines fighting the threat of Ork invasion, I wouldn’t have believed you. Hard SF fanboy that I am, neither of these two iconic factions have ever held much interest for me. Yet there’s no denying that they are the very embodiment of the carnage at the heart of the grimdark future. There are times that you could almost forget this was science fiction at all. Vikings clad in power armour fighting greenskinned monsters? Sure, why not. In 40,000, anything goes. This is the first Space Marine-centric story I’ve encountered that has the protagonists acting like characters rather than caricatures. The writing is strong, but the voice acting brings a whole new dimension to proceedings. Ragnar’s band of brothers are all fully realised and distinct, even in the bolter-filled heat of battle.
The orks, and I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to reveal their involvement, provide their usual blend of comedic antics and excessive violence. Despite the comedy being one of the reasons I dislike them as a faction, here it works. Mostly this is because it’s toned down, with the orks feeling like a genuine threat throughout their appearance. Despite being audio only, there’s a real sense of weight to the villains. As they lumber around, growling orders, ready to snap at any moment, I was put in mind of hippos. Yes, they’re funny to look at, but there’s no denying that they could easily break a man in half.
As ever, Black library’s production is on top form. The sound effects are second to none, be it gunfire, chainswords whirring and tearing through flesh, or the roar of engines. This is, however, a more dialogue driven story than many previous audios, with lengthy descriptive sections and monolgues. At times it feels more audiobook than audio drama, and in these sections the story does start to drag a little. The accents given to the Space Wolves are also, well, questionable. It sound a mix between Swedish and Welsh. It doesn’t get in the way of the story at all, but it does take a little getting used to. But even with all the dialogue and sound effects, you never get lost in the noise. Perhaps due to its relatively simple storyline, this is an easy audio to follow, even as it skips merrily across a grim galaxy.
Another strong entry in Black Library’s audio catalogue, all things considered, and one that delivers exactly what you’d expect.