Helion Rain (George Mann)
Helion Rain is an audio drama focusing on the desperate fight of the Raven Guard Space Marines against the swarms of the Tyranids in a desperate effort to save the people of Idos. The first audio book I have ever listened to, Helion Rain delivers a simple and somewhat dull story with characters that have little depth, packaged with some outstanding audio work and skillfully executed action sequences.
The story is little more than a string of battle scenes, with characterization to match this focus. We follow the members of a Raven Guard recon squad as they attempt to destroy a power plant in order to give their comrades a leg up in the battle against the merciless swarms. There isn't a lot of downtime in this book, something that definitely works both ways in terms of quality. While the action scenes are bolstered by extremely strong narration and solid scripting, this focus on action comes at the expense of the plot and characters. The big picture battle of Idos and the importance of their individual mission is very subdued in this narrative, with the focus on a very small band of soldiers and their quest behind enemy lines. While this is a decent setup, it falters because the characters never come across as compelling, and as a result the battle scenes lack that all important tension element so crucial to building an effective story. It doesn't really matter if these characters live or die because only the protagonist, Sergeant Grayvus, is given even the slightest bit of characterization. Everyone else is relegated to the usual expository device/cannon fodder role, and even Grayvus has only the slimmest bit of background story and motivations. Luckily though, this story has an all important second element that nearly manages to make up for the various flaws.
The defining factor in this story is unquestionably the audio effects and narration courtesy Toby Longworth. I've never listened to an audio book of any kind before, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the high quality production values and narration style. Audio cues like the incessant din of battle, hum of chainswords, and screams of the dying are used to great effect to subtly augment the poised and balanced narration, never overpowering the actual content but helping to visualize the action on a different level. There are also some suitably creepy Tyranid growls that help to better envision this formidable threat. A big turn off for me in audio for movies or television shows are the sweeping, overblown musical cues that indicate what emotion are supposed to be feeling at any particular time. I'm not sure why I expected this to pop up in Helion Rain, but I was pleasantly surprised to note that actual music was very limited and tastefully done when it appeared. The only real flaw I spotted was that the character voices were occasionally a bit bland and unconvincing. This wasn't so much a problem for the main character as it was much of the supporting cast, where it seemed to crop up multiple times, but thankfully this is a drama built more on endless and tense action than on heartfelt character scenes. Overall a strong performance that has definitely convinced me to give more audio books from Black Library a chance.
Helion Rain is a limited, brief quest that gets an immense boost from the phenomenal audio work. As a short story, this would be a decidedly mediocre offering, but as an audio drama, Helion Rain is an enjoyable and immersive adventure with plenty of tense action scenes and thoroughly enjoyable narration.