Reviews: With Baited Breath, Labyrinth of Sorrows

I was so impressed with the audio drama Helion Rain from Black Library, that I went ahead and bought two more. These things really help get through a long day at work when I'm stuck on lengthy, repetitive processing tasks.
I bought and listened to With Baited Breath and Labyrinth of Sorrows. Both were written by George Mann, the same author as Helion Rain. I wanted to indulge my current obsession with the Raven guard.

I'll talk about With Baited Breath first, as I bought it a couple weeks ago and have listened to it a few times. It is voiced by Toby Longworth (the same main actor from Helion Rain) and Ramon Tikaram.
The story follows a lone Imperial Guardsman, Sergei, who is slowly dying on a battlefield. He encounters Shadow Captain Koryn of the Raven Guard. Koryn is the same captain from Helion Rain. There's some brief interaction between the two, but the bulk of the story is actually told from Sergei's perspective, and is the tale of how Sergei came to be in his situation. While I liked the overall plot and story, the narration style falls a little flat when you shift to Sergei's narration. The problem lies in the fact that the words are written in a very vivid narrative style. Sergei becomes an omniscient narrator, and uses descriptive language that a Guardsman would never use (unless he was an author in his pre-Guard life), and certainly never as he's trying to retell his tale as he's bleeding out from a gut wound.
I was able to forgive the implausible character narration because the story is so good. The background effects (music, sounds) are well done, and really help you visualize the enemies and action. I can't fully describe the sounds of one scene without spoiling the story, but rest assured that the sounds attributed to the Chaos minions are chilling.
Overall, its a solid buy for the price. It's only a half-hour long, but worth a listen. There's not a ton of Raven Guard fluff exposed in the piece, since it's mostly about Sergei, with Koryn serving as a plot device.

Labyrinth of Sorrows is an hour and fifteen minutes long, and is voiced by Rupert Degas and Saul Reichlin.
It is the story of a small squad of Raven Guard, led by the oft-recurring Captain Koryn, and a squad of Brazen Minotaurs led by Captain Daed. Note that these are the Brazen Minotaurs, not the Minotaurs. Big, huge difference in mindset and doctrine. The Brazen Minotaurs land on the planet Kasharat, a mortuary world, in order to retrieve "a weapon" from the clutches of the Empyrion's Blight Chaos Marines and the various forces of Nurgle. The Rave Guard are there to clear a path for the Brazen Minotaurs as repayment of an honour debt incurred when the Brazen Minotaurs sacrificed an entire company so the Raven Guard could destroy an Iron Warriors fortress (this event occurs before the events of the audio drama).
The first thing you learn about the Brazen Minotaurs is that they're based on a Greek or Persian culture. Unfortunately, you learn this from their voices. I say "unfortunately" because the accents given to the characters in the Brazen Minotaurs squad are god-awful. They're almost a caricature. At first, I thought they were trying to pull off a Rasta Jamaican accent! The speech settles down some as the story goes on, almost as if they did they whole drama in one take while ironing out the kinks of the accent as they went along. Sadly, it never reaches "good" quality. Late in the story, one of the characters' accents is butchered so badly that it sounds like he's having an emotional breakdown. He shouts "What has happened here?" in such a poor accent when looking at dead Chaos Cultists that you get the impression that he's anguished over the death of Chaos scum, instead of just confused. At one point, one of the Raven Guard speaks so slowly it takes half a minute for him to finish a sentence.
One thing that is done well on a voice acting level is the narration. When narrating the Raven Guard, the narrator's voice is low and whispery. When narrating fight scenes, it's loud and terse.
The sound effects are well done, as they were in the previous two dramas. My only problem was that weapons sound differently in this story than in the prior two. Bolters in this drama sound like rapid fire submachine guns, whereas in prior dramas they sounded like shotgun blasts. It's a little disconcerting, but not a huge deal.
One confusing point are the recurring Raven Guard characters. Koryn leads the squad, but Grayvus and Argis from Helion Rain also appear, both as Tactical Marines or Command Squad members. It's odd to see characters in different battlefield roles entirely from their previous appearances.
There are also two actions in the narrated fight scenes that don't make much sense from a lor/fluff perspective. During a fight one of the Brazen Minotaurs, Torgas, fires his heavy bolter...but only one shell. He then fumbles to reload another single shell. He's not a scout, and isn't described as using Hellfire rounds, so why is he loading a single shell into his heavy bolter at a time? That's tactically moronic. Also puzzling is when Koryn sneaks up behind a Plague Marine, and instead of chopping him apart with his lightning claws, pulls out a combat blade and slits the Traitor's throat. This obviously fails to kill the Plague Marine, and Koryn is actually surprised by that. A Shadow Captain who's fought Chaos for centuries...doesn't know you can't kill a Plague marine by cutting its throat?
Overall, Labyrinth of Sorrows is an interesting story that falls a little flat in execution of the script. Inconsistencies, terrible voice acting, and some minor missteps in the action mar an otherwise great story. One of the things I really have to be careful about when listening to these dramas is not getting too excited about obscure Chapters. I could totally paint some Brazen Minotaurs after listening to Labyrinth of Shadows!

For those keeping score, I'd give With Baited Breath 4/5 stars, and Labyrinth of Sorrows 3/5 stars.

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