While the Horus Heresy consists of a multitude of very individual stories, Garro's tale is the only one which could be considered a stand-out success. With several major audio dramas, novellas and short stories following on from Flight of the Eisenstein, he is the only character to have had a full fledged spin-off series from the main arc, with no small amount of success as a result. However, as his tale is moving towards a finale at long last, it seems that Black Library wanted to bring everyone up to speed. Unfortunately, the results are rather mixed.
Now, for once the issue isn't that the stories are bad. There are a couple of very disappointing ones in here with a few odd narrative choices but nothing truly worthy of being bad. No, the problem instead stems from the formatting, structure and style of this work. Confused yet? Well, read on as we delve into the strengths and failings of this latest book.
The big point immediately in Garro's favour is its pricing. For the cost of a single book you are getting the entire series, with everything from Oath of Moment to Vow of Faith put into a single tome. While several are spin-off stories, a number of others feature events which directly affected the main storyline itself, from the re-introduction of one major character to the establishment of a location which would become crucial to the Imperium's survival. So, this is both a mixture of events fleshing out the tale and building upon events seen elsewhere.
The story also branches across a multitude of events from across the timeline, giving a nice nostalgia rush as you see a Calth in the midst of the Word Bearer's assault, a pre-Alpha Legion attacked Terra and even a post bombardment Isstvan III. Each is extremely well described and quite atmospheric in its own right, with Swallow's typically and clean descriptions of battles holding up well amid the intensity of combat. Besides this though, there is also a definitive character arc surrounding Garro which stands out well as he moves from one location to the next. It's minor at first, but you do start to see the seeds of faith planted in Flight of the Eisenstein begin to bloom and even flourish. This creates a nice sense of continuity between the tales.
Quite a few of the side characters prove to be very interesting at times as well, with Macer Varren granting a rare look at an honourable (if still very angry) World Eater who sidestepped the Butcher's Nails. Rubio is also another good example, delving further into the mind of a psyker forced to never use his powers, and giving some nice commentary upon Nikea's overall effects. Both are hardly the most developed or fleshed out of the figures within the Heresy, but they do enough to hold up well in the fact of the more streamlined style of the series.
The book has also seen an number of expansions over the course of several scenes, expanding upon the fine details of certain actions. Quite a few of these are admittedly quite combat orientated, but a number of very nice ones do help to expand upon the features, expressions and presence of the characters in certain scenes. Furthermore, the book introduces a number of third person narrative pieces by other characters to help break up certain events, speaking of Garro and his tale from its beginning. Three guesses as to who this is.
With the stories also veering from a murder mystery to an odd character piece on Rogal Dorn, there's also plenty of variety to read through here. So, even if you don't like one story, there will be a good two more you'll definitely enjoy on from it within a few chapters.
Still, there is a very big warning light which is holding up on this book. As good as the stories individually are, and each of which do deserve an individual review, this simply isn't the right format for them. Why? Read on and find out.
Now, a big point audio reviews have gone back and forth on several times over the course of reviews. Often an author will have a big problem in knowing when and when not to introduce details into the story, permitting the sound effects and voice actors to carry the drama. Swallow was one of the first to really get to grips with this, and his style was rapidly adapted to the more audible format with few difficulties. The problem is, while that might have been a boon there, it's a definite hindrance to this reworking of the old stories.
For starters, as you read through it you will rapidly notice that many sections of these stories are bereft of usual level of detail we have come to expect. Establishment of scenes, facial expressions, more subtle reactions and the heavy duty descriptions have all gone out the window here. As a result, it can be difficult to really get into many scenes, and many sequences which were both extremely strong and atmospheric in the audio dramas are now bizarrely nebulous by comparison. It's difficult to get into the intensity of a massed fight against Chaos cultists, when almost all of it is conveyed by dialogue and it lacks the sound effects it was supposed to coincide with.
At the same time, while this story has supposedly been reworked into a single saga, that simply hasn't worked either. The reason I personally called this an anthology or sequence of stories is that's really what it still is. The bare basic has been redone to try and fix up a few points, but it is painfully obvious that this is a massive number of individual tales with the beginning and end chopped off. Obviously the big one is how often the story jumps about the galaxy from chapter to chapter, often completely starting over at multiple points. We're introduced to Rubio and Garro during the events on Calth, only to be re-introduced to them on Isstvan III as if it's the opening to a story, and that sort of thing just doesn't work here.
What's more, there's no disguising that there is no typical story structure here. You don't get an introductory act, a middle and then a finale, just lots of micro-arcs which repeatedly start and end at a rapid pace. Some last a good third of the book, others perhaps nine or ten pages at the most. This makes the difficulty in getting used to the book all the more difficult, especially when it refuses to treat this as a group of stories so much as a single ongoing plot with a few time-skips. Now, that sort of thing can technically be pulled off such as with Trollslayer or Brothers of the Snake, but most of those were made from the ground up. Others, such as Ghostmaker, did link together a ton of pre-existing stories, but it didn't just tie them up. It worked them about a much larger tale before tying them into an ending conflict. This is just gluing the ends together and expecting it to work.
Perhaps the strangest thing, however, is the parts these stories actually leave out. Along with adding a few bits and pieces, anyone familiar with the audio dramas will likely realise that some vital parts have been omitted. In particular, the opening to Garro: Legion of One has been completely erased, despite it being one of the best retellings of the Great Crusade/Horus Heresy in the series. Why were they erased? Likely to try and smooth things over and ensure that there was somewhat less of an intro to each big story, but it just creates more problems. In that particular case, it's a very abrupt start which seems to begin with little to no build-up and leaps head on into the action.
As you can guess from all of this, it's not so much the tales themselves which are really bad here, just the formatting and efforts made to try and turn them into a single story. Unfortunately, that's really what kills this.
Garro is an interesting experiment, but one which ultimately went wrong. While personally I do still argue that it is a good value for money compilation, and some fans will enjoy having a few extra bits to some tales, the audio dramas really are the way to go. Each of them is expertly voice acted (barring one or two odd choices which always seem to crop up in each one) and the story arcs do offer some fun lore moments even in the worst of tales. Sure, it might cost a little more, but it's really the best execution of this idea.
So, if you didn't get that, skip this one and stick to the CDs. Here's hoping next time we'll have something more positive to say about this series.
Verdict: 4 out of 10