Lord of the Night reviews the debut Space Marines Battles audio-drama Mortarion's Heart by Laurie Goulding.
"An exciting and visually immersing audio that takes one of the most hated pieces of 40k lore, and uses it to tell a great story that may well be the first step in the redemption of Kaldor Draigo in the eyes of the fans." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
Mortarion's Heart is an audio-drama that I have been eagerly awaiting. To start I will say this; I am not one of those who hate Kaldor Draigo, and I did not hate the Battle of Kornovin when it appeared in the Grey Knights 5th edition codex. This is for two reasons; first I think that Draigo is an interesting character and because I think he ultimately fights a futile battle, meaning that the idea of the UberDraigo stomping around the warp isn't what I picture when I think about his character, and secondly because I believe that the 40k codexs are, in a sense, the mythological version of events, what the Imperium officially believes happened, while the novels/novellas/audios/etc are the ultimate truth, what actually happened. Because of that I very much anticipated this audio as I hoped it would finally show those who obsessively hate Draigo and this battle that there is more to it than a paragraph in a codex, and I feel vindicated after listening to Mortarion's Heart as even if people still hate the subject, they can't say that Draigo crushed Mortarion like he was nothing as the codex seems to indicate.
The moment of destiny has finally arrived. On the plague-stricken fields of Kornovin a host of the damned marches towards the victory that is close at hand. Led by the Death-Lord, once the 14th son of the God-Emperor and now the chosen servant of the Grandfather, the army of Mortarion is ready to ring the funeral bell of yet another world. Only the Grey Knights stand in their way, the Daemonhunters who have waited for this moment for centuries. But when Supreme Grand Master Geronitan falls in combat with the damned Primarch, the Chapter must look elsewhere for a champion to slay the Daemon and save Kornovin. But is Kaldor Draigo the hero they need at this dark moment? Or has any chance of an Imperial victory died with Geronitan?
The story in MH is told with the point of expanding the paragraph worth of information about the Battle of Kornovin into something more in-depth, something that makes more sense to the listener. Right from the start the story is captivating, the choice to start with the climactic confrontation between Draigo and Mortarion, then going back a few hours to explain how things reached this point, which forms the main parts of the story. Goulding shows how the Grey Knights deal with a loss of the likes of Geronitan, and while not only expanding the battle between Draigo and Mortarion with detail, also gives Kornovin far more background than expected, revealing surprising information about what has led to Kornovin and why it has happened. Goulding uses both the battle and the election of a new Supreme Grand Master as the primary focus of the story, though there was one element in the story that I think should have been elaborated on and that the quote on the back of the audio case made me think would be more central to the story. The absence of that subplot was a let-down but I think that Goulding made up for it with the other aspects of the audio.
The characters are a surprisingly detailed bunch for an audio. Draigo and Mortarion are the real focuses of the audio, with many Grey Knights characters making brief cameos though they are justified by the material of the story rather than shoehorned in. Draigo as a younger Grand Master was interesting to see, so much of his character is based around what he does rather than who he is, and seeing him as an actual character with thoughts and a personality gives much more needed weight to his character. I liked Draigo's frustration at the limits placed on him as a Grand Master and his easy relationship with many of his brothers, and especially how he handled the Inquisitor in the audio. I think that Goulding has laid the foundations here for Draigo to become a very well-rounded character that would be more than just the deeds he has yet to perform. Mortarion was the real star of the audio in my opinion though and I greatly enjoyed his appearance. Those who have read the Horus Heresy series will draw comparisons between Mortarion the Primarch and Mortarion the Daemon Prince as I did, and the differences were staggering. Mortarion really doesn't feel human or even post-human in the audio, yet there is still an echo of humanity in both his physical appearance and some parts of his words, though his words mostly confirmed how far away from human he has gone. He felt far more like a Daemon than he did a mortal.
The action in the audio was very well done from start to finish. The key reason that most people hate the subject of this audio is that few believed that Draigo would be capable of fighting Mortarion, much less defeating him, and while I disagree with that, the audio has found a nice middle ground. Draigo is a good fighter but Mortarion is clearly the greater warrior, the sheer power that Mortarion wields is shown in multiple cases across the audio and I felt that it was appropriate for a being as old and as powerful as Mortarion to be capable of the feats that he performs in the audio. But at the same time he is a Daemon and Goulding is aware of that, and just because he is a Primarch and a Daemon doesn't make him an indestructible being or a warrior that even a powerful psyker and warrior like Draigo would be utterly incapable of fighting. Draigo does fight Mortarion and I think that the process of the fight and the outcome that Goulding chose was fitting, a good middle ground between those who feel Draigo could fight Mortarion and those who feel he couldn't fight him. So too the death of Geronitan is a good middle ground, Mortarion does kill him rather easily but it is clearly shown and explained that in essence he "cheated" in order to gain such an easy victory. Goulding's battle scenes are well-written, well-read and easy to visualize with the descriptions that the audio provides and the effects that are added in.
The pacing of the story was nicely done, though I felt it lagged a little in the middle as the Conclave carried on. I think that less time in the Conclave and more time focusing on the Grey Knights actually on Kornovin, or the unexplored plot that I mentioned earlier actually being explored would have been a better use of page-time in the audio than the Grand Masters talking to each other. The voice acting was superb, Draigo's British accent made him sound distinct from every other character and was also clearly enunciated and easy to understand, which isn't always the case with some Space Marine characters. Even with his helmet on Draigo was the character with the clearest voice, which as the protagonist was important. Mortarion though had the best voice of all the characters, described like "cracking bones" I think that his voice sounded booming and commanding yet at the same time weak and strained. His wheezing breaths and stretching out of words were at odds with the deep tone and echoing vocals, he sounded strong and weak at the same time, a contradiction that I felt fitting for a creature who is a harbinger of disease and at the same time a victim of disease. He too was easy to understand which was a big plus as he gave quite a few speeches in the audio, all of which I really enjoyed, and had his voice truly sounded like "cracking bones" I think that understanding him would have proved difficult and detracted from the audio.
My favourite quote, I would post a Mortarion quote here but mostly everything he says is either very very long or spoilery, so I will stick with this quote that the atmosphere of the audio, the description of the scene, what followed and the delivery by whomever it was that voiced Draigo made awesome;
"In the sight of the immortal God-Emperor, burn for your sins!"
The ending covers the infamous moment when Draigo does what we know he does to Mortarion, and just like the fight I think that Goulding has handled this moment in the best way possible. He brings the audio to the conclusion that the codex dictated, but adds his own twist on it and most importantly of all; he actually explains exactly how the ending comes about and how it was all possible. Even though I knew how the audio would end I was very surprised by how that ending came about, and the actual ending scene was very well written and powerful even though it depicted the aftermath of combat. It was also very memorable but to see exactly why it was so memorable you will have to buy and listen to the audio yourself.
For a great story, stunning action scenes and for taking one of the most hated pieces of lore and using it to create an audio that is exciting all the way through, I give Mortarion's Heart a score of 8.1/10. Without a doubt this is an audio that I would recommend to anyone who disliked the original lore in the Grey Knights codex, hopefully Goulding's writing and the performances by the voice actors will change your minds. For those who want to listen to some great battle scenes and an enjoyable story with some surprising hints towards a greater mystery in the Grey Knights lore I would also recommend that you give Mortarion's Heart a try. It's a very good audio and in my opinion is well worth the hour and fifteen minutes it takes to listen to it.
That's it for this review. Thanks for reading, until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!
Mortarion's Heart by L.J Goulding
Lord of the Night
8.1 / 10