I have always resisted the idea of 'books on tape/CD/MP3/etc' as I have always preferred my own pace and prefer my own voices in my head (I hear my pals rearing up for comment on that line). Listening to documentaries and interviews is one thing, but I always thought radio dramatizations felt a bit corny, especially the English ones (heard a lot these while growing up there).

 And yet I needed so desperately to quench my thirst for more Eisenhorn stories so I gave in and ordered Thorn and Talon  and while I was at it I figured I would pick up Red and Black as well. I might review Thorn and Talon some other time (it's excellent, what more could I tell you?) but I really wanted to discuss Red and Black as it was surprisingly different from the standard BL war-smut. And not just 'cause it's all about women! -With big guns and flamers!

 OK, it's hard to describe ANY of this story without feeling like I'm opening the Pandora's box of spoilers, so be warned!

While driving through southern Pennsylvania on a business trip, I was thrilled and captivated by this engaging story. It's starts off simple enough, with Adeptus Soritias Celestian Miriya being introduced to a woman who is apparently a clone! Normally such an aberrant would be destroyed apparently, but she is from a world, Holios,  that was previously lost in warpstorm. Now the liaison from Holios, this clone, has been sent to make contact with the Imperium and Miriya has been assigned to 'check it out'.. And it pretty much hits the fan the instant Celestian Miriya leads her Sisters to the world of Holios as Miriya quickly discovers that the clones run the entire world while the pure-humans are more-or-less the labor class. As you can imagine, this doesn't sit well with the Sisters, even more so upon being attacked by supposed insurrectionists.  

It's too easy to spoil this story, so I won't say more about specific plot points, only that I was surprised that despite the 'feel' of this audio-drama, it quickly 'sucked me in' and melded itself to my personal interpretation of the 40k universe. Red and Black, the typical 40k gamer might be under the impression that the title refers to the colors that the Sister of Battle wear, but no, it's a far more clever twist than that!

  • Did I like it? I really did. The story had different vibe from the typical Warhammer 40,000 adventure, and felt almost Star Trek-like at times, however, the 'Grim Dark' will not be abated and those Star Trek vibes are put right back in their place by the time this story concludes.
  • Was it hard to put down  stop? Pretty much impossible really. I even drove past a rest area because I didn't want to stop! LOL
  • Could I care about the characters? Sort of. It's amazing how hearing a voice can sort of color one's impression of a character. Yet I found myself a tad enamored with the main clone woman's sense of wonder and innocence (a problem with audio books: you can't just flip it open to find a name!). Some of the more fanatical Sisters of Battle were a real treat too, they really sounded pissed off and blood-thirsty! My favorite character was probably the Tech Priest, who was just totally cool even though he pulled that 'in the last 2 minutes of the Episode solution' that -surprise- damn near every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ended with.
  • Did the writer truly grasp how the 'world' of the 41st millennium works in the sense that it doesn't betray or retcon previously established (as I know it) lore? Or is this the work of a hack chasing a paycheck vs. establishing his mark on the ever-expanding 40k universe? I think he did. In fact, I'm finally going to read the other two Sisters of Battle novels that he's written. He captured the sense of fear and heretical dread that the Sisters of Battle and to a lesser degree, the Tech Priest had towards advanced bio-technology.
  • Was I being talked down too? Tough one... I would say not, but there was a 'haughtiness' about the whole thing that I noticed but was able to deal with. I just assumed it was more with the whole audio drama format than anything, but perhaps this was intentional?
  • How predictable is this story? Not very. I smiled when the twist was revealed: "Red and Black. Got it."
OK, so my first venture into world of audio dramas went well, so much so that I'm eager to dive into James Swallow's other Sister's of Battle books. Check this out, it's quite enjoyable. I'm itching to share it with Red Bird, who plays a Sister of Battle in my Dark Heresy campaign, to see what inspiration she can get from this.