Lord of the Night reviews the exciting Horus Heresy audio-drama, Templar by John French.

"An action-packed audio that also takes an interesting and revealing look at one of the Heresy's more well-known characters." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming

Templar is an audio that I had been looking forward to listening to, as an entire audio about Sigismund the First Templar sounded very exciting and promising. After listening to it I felt the audio both met and didn't meet my expectations, a mixed package, which was odd for John French as aside from his Tallarn novella I have greatly enjoyed all of his work and I have found his writing to be expressive and very enthralling. Yet Templar seemed to, if not lack, then have a lower level of said writing when compared to French's other work. And certain aspects of the audio just felt wrong to me, particularly due to exactly who this audio is about. But the action scenes were enjoyable and I found the revelations about Sigismund as a character to be surprising and interesting.

Among the Legiones Astartes there is a singular warrior. A warrior who has never lost a single duel against one of his own kind or the myriad of enemies the Imperium faces. A peerless master of the sword whose very name has become synonymous with the blade. Sigismund of the Imperial Fists, First Captain of the Seventh Legion, and the Favoured Son of Rogal Dorn. But for all his mastery and skill, Sigismund has never killed an Astartes, not even once. But now that must change as Sigismund and a group of Imperial Fist Paladins, Space Wolves warriors and agents of the Sigilite converge on the Shrine of Unity, a monument to the brave warriors who died in the Emperor's Wars of Unification. Taken over by the fanatical Word Bearers, Sigismund must destroy this nest of evil before it can infect the heart of the Imperium, but the Word Bearers are no ordinary traitors, and aboard the shrine Sigismund will face his greatest challenge yet, an enemy that clashes with the order he wrapped his entire life in.

The story in Templar is a character study of Sigismund in addition to the more straight-forward story of Sigismund and his strike force dealing with the Word Bearers that remain in the Sol System. The tracks are split up with a present-time track showing the advancing main plot while the other set of tracks show flashbacks to momentous occasions in Sigismund's life that reveal more about him as a character through his interactions with others. Both kinds of tracks were enjoyable, the present-time tracks because they featured lots of battle scenes and memorable imagery while the flashbacks were illuminating regarding Sigismund and featured some surprising cameos. The main story itself doesn't really surprise you, what happens is obvious and there is no twist to this story, it's straight-forward and is simply about Sigismund killing some traitors and recovering an Imperial stronghold, which does detract a bit as it means the character elements are the only thing that keep Templar from becoming audio bolter-porn. The key issue I had with the story is that, though this may just be my interpretation of it and could be wrong, it seemed to be building up to something regarding Sigismund and the chains he wears on his gauntlet, and yet it felt like all that build-up was wasted and unexplored when the audio ended the way it did. Also I felt that the Word Bearers motivations were not adequately explained, it would have been good if the key Word Bearer character could just briefly have revealed exactly what they were hoping to achieve.

There are only two characters in the story that matter. Sigismund and the unnamed Word Bearer that serves as his antagonist, and the latter only matters because he is the "final boss" of the audio. French delves into Sigismund's character by exploring how he feels about everything from the purpose of the Astartes in the galaxy and to the Imperium, the state of the Imperium, the relationships between the Primarchs, the nature of dueling and the purpose behind them, the politics of the Legiones Astartes and how it affects men like him, and about his own idea of himself and how he in a sense cages his more ferocious instincts. Sigismund has always been an interesting character not only for what we know he will do in the final battle at Terra but for his very first appearance where he, ironically correctly, predicted that "In the future there will be only war." Not only does the audio explain a lot more about Sigismund it also advances his character a little, by the end he has taken a step closer to becoming the First Templar but we also see that something has died in him, never to return. The other key character, the Word Bearer Priest, was shown only through his interactions with Sigismund but what was shown painted the picture of a very interesting character that I think should have been given his own POV in the audio to show what the Word Bearers wanted and perhaps explain a few of the things that happen in the audio.

The action scenes are the highlight of the audio and are quite enjoyable. We get plenty of Sigismund charging through Word Bearers and utterly destroying them in combat, and we also get three duels across the audio with Sigismund facing three very different opponents in personal combat. Once the audio gets further in we also get to see how Sigismund faces a different kind of enemy, which was quite good but I think that more time could have been devoted to exactly how new and strange this kind of enemy was for him. French makes the battles feel powerful and real, and of course makes sure that he shows exactly how good Sigismund is throughout the entire audio while at the same time keeping his skills within the sphere of realistic, he is very very good but he isn't perfect. One of the real problems I had with the audio is the resolution of the final battle and that ultimately, it felt completely wrong for Sigismund to finish the fight that way. It felt like a waste of an interesting build-up but also it felt wrong that a champion like Sigismund would finish the final fight of this audio in that way, another no-name character could have gotten away with it but the protagonist is Sigismund and I personally expected better from him.

The pacing of the audio is done quite well. The tracks fit well into each other, going at a good speed and with lots of fast-paced action the audio does seem to move a lot quicker than other, more story-driven audios that Black Library have released in the past, and the flashbacks come at appropriate moments and provide a nice slower narrative to explain aspects of Sigismund's character and reveal more about him than has ever been revealed elsewhere. The voice acting was superb, each character sounded distinct but the two stand-outs were Sigismund and the Word Bearer. Sigismund had a rough voice yet not gravelly and mangled, he felt like a noble knight but not somebody who was born and raised as one. The Word Bearer on the other hand sounded terrifying, like a deadly calm fanatic who could justify anything and at times seemed to be not entirely there when he was dealing with Sigismund. He sounded exactly like I would expect somebody standing over a sacrificial altar with a bloody knife, so to speak, to sound like. Plus he got the best lines, which helps a lot. One other character who makes a voice-only cameo sounded very good as well, kind but ethereal and like somebody who wants the best for Sigismund but sees only the worst for him.

My favourite quote is without a doubt this one, three guesses who says it;

“There are no secrets in the Warp. I see your heart and I see your fate. I am shriven, and the Gods have placed your ending in my hands. You will not leave this place alive. You will not live to see your Primarch fail. You will not live to see this false Imperium fall. The witch lied to you Templar. She lied.”

The ending unfortunately felt very abrupt and cut the story short by far too much. Too many questions were unanswered, what did the Word Bearers hope to achieve? What exactly was it that the Word Bearer pulled from the tomb? What did Sigismund think of the events in the chamber? Why did the Sigilite send agents with Sigismund? I think that in exploring Sigismund so much French neglected the other elements of this story which keeps it from being one of the better audios that BL have released. And again I felt that the resolution to the final battle was entirely wrong for Sigismund, at the end it didn't feel like I was listening to a story about the warrior who become the Emperor's Champion at Terra but rather some random Imperial Fist that happened to be pretty good with a sword. So while the audio started off strong and kept going in that direction, the ending flagged quite a bit and felt like a let-down.

For a very interesting look at Sigismund's character, some very good battle scenes that were only let down by the end of the final scene, and superb voice acting and conversations the whole way through I give Templar by John French a score of 7.2/10. This is a good audio that I think those who have enjoyed BL's audios in the past will also enjoy, but at the same time it is really a character-study on Sigismund so if you aren't interested in him, then this is not an audio I would suggest to you. At the same time if you want lots of action scenes and sword-fighting, listen on, but if you want a deep plot with twists and interesting elements, you won't find them here. This is an audio about Sigismund killing traitors, nothing more.

That's it for this review. Thanks for reading, until next time;


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