Monday, March 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Binary Succession

I'm a big fan of all of the audio dramas that Black Library puts out, and they continue to surpass their past efforts with each one they make. The Binary Succession by David Annandale is no exception to this. Besides being wonderfully performed, the story is gripping and explores the complicated politics of the High Lords of Terra, the Mechanicum and deals with a huge moment in Imperial History.

The story opens with us being introduced to Vethorel, a member of the Mechanicum who is still more human than machine. Due to this, and having been stationed on Terra previously she is appointed as the ambassador to the High Lords of Terra. Mars is still in the control of the traitors following the Martian civil war and Kalbor Hal holds sway there, retaining the title of Fabricator General. The Mechanicum who have fled to Earth have had a new Fabricator General appointed, Zagreus Kane, leading to a situation where there are two Fabricator Generals at the same time. One loyal to Horus and one to the Emperor. This is causing further strife for the Mechanicum since it delegitimizes both of them to an extent.

The parallels to history is obvious with the two Popes situation from the middle ages. It's a really fascinating situation and lets you delve more into the wounded psyche of the Mechanicum as a whole. Those on Terra are viewed as refugees and as such, are not really being heard amongst the High Lords. Their concerns are being ignored, and in one scene there are even people in the Imperial Council chamber who are shouting things like "Go home!", which really drives home some modern parallels as well as the historical. Kane decides there is only one solution to this situation and tells Vethorel that she must put forth the idea of forming the Adeptus Mechanicus, solidifying the Mechanicum's seat on the council and giving them equal weight compared to the other members of the Imperial government.

I don't want to spoil the wonderful plot, but this leads to some really tense moments between not just the Mechanicum and the Imperium, but within the Mechanicum themselves. Many of the Tech-Priests see this as submitting to Imperial rule and giving up their freedom. There are a ton of fantastic dialogue scenes here, but there are also a small handful of action scenes that feel even more perilous and intimate for the smaller scale it focuses on. The scenes within the Council of the High Lords itself are my favorite and I just love hearing them debate and maneuver around each other politically. Even this early in the council's formation there was already the seeds of political corruption as each Adeptus tries to lobby for the outcome that would benefit them the most. Malcador is in here too, being just as mysterious and aloof as ever.

Vethorel is a great character too, and it was nice seeing such a well written, and acted female character within the Heresy. She's not the only strong female character too. There's another Tech-Priest, and a wonderfully ancient sounding Titan Princeps named Tevera. All of the voice acting in this is top notch, with a few voice actors doing several characters but making them sound different enough that the only way I knew was by the cast listing. The Mechanicum characters all have varying degrees of mechanization to their voices, helping to draw you into the story and really make you believe that these are Tech-Priests. Black Library continues to diversify the style of music used in their audio dramas as well, branching out from the familiar gothic sounding music you may be used to. I really liked this and hope it continues going forward.

For a story with very little physical action, The Binary Succession proved to be one of the most riveting Heresy stories. The stakes and tensions feels real, earned, and palatable in every scene and I really hope that we see more of Vethorel in the future. I would love to get more political dramas like this in the 30k/40k setting as well. There's so much to work with, and David Annandale utilizes it all perfectly. He humanized the half machine characters and made me care for every one of them and made all of the politics feel realistic and grounded. A bit I really enjoyed that he added in was how the Priests of Mars would stand outside and watch the red planet transverse the night sky, silently observing it pass in an almost ritual like state. He also touches upon the dangers the religious Mechanicum face while integrating with the, at the time, high secular Imperium. Really every part of this is great. Oh, and if you can't tell by the cover, there are Titans in it too. The Princeps in this story are pretty awesome.

I highly recommend giving this a listen. Not only is it a wonderfully written, acted, and scored audio drama, but the story touches upon one of the most pivotal moments in early Imperial history, and it's not a giant battle. I hope they give other important moments the attention they deserve, like the splitting of the Imperial Army into the Guard and the Navy, and of course, the splitting of the Legions. I know some people don't like the idea of listening to audio dramas and would rather read it, but trust me, you'd be missing out on all of the cool touches that are added in. It's less like a book on tape and more like a movie with only the sound turned on.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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