Review: Trials of Azrael / Author: C.Z. Dunn / Publisher: Black Library / Release Date: Out Now
Continuing Black Library’s growing trend of simultaneously releasing tie-in material to major novels, Trials of Azrael takes place in the middle of the conflict in Pandorax. After a teleportation accident leads to separation from his company, Grand Master Azrael finds himself stalking the depths of a crippled Imperial flagship. While without his battle brothers, the Dark Angel is far from alone. Seeking his skull, the chosen of the Blood God dog his every step…
The unfortunate thing about Trials of Azrael is that it mostly works in spite of itself. While the story is straightforward enough to soldier along solidly, it feels as if many good elements have been misdirected to render them less effective.
Chief among these is the book’s supposed villain. As in a cheap B-movie, every effort is made to telegraph Kharn the Betrayer’s involvement in a huge fight with Azrael. The truth is that his presence is superfluous, and the vast majority of his contributions feel tacked on. While hardly the worst chaotic writing we’ve seen in recent years (looking at you, Codex: Grey Knights), they add very little to the actual plot. As a result his scenes reek of being added so as to boost sales by showing two well-known figures fighting one another, even when it adds little to the story. The chunkiness doesn’t stop there either, with a bloated middle section to pad out the tale to its advertised length.
The scenes where Azrael is pitting his wits against a very different foe are easily the best, reflecting both the character’s abilities and his Chapter’s nature. These allow for a great climax to the tale, and the Grand Master a chance to act in far more of a knightly manner than the Chapter is usually associated with. It is just a shame that the story takes its sweet time getting to these points.
Thankfully the quality of the audio partly makes up for the writing’s flaws. Apart from the uncharacteristically calm Khârn (voiced by Rupert Degas) everyone fits their roles near perfectly, and the acting is strong all around. That said some of the lines are so clichéd as to provoke eye rolling- for instance, the closing, “No! No! Please, I’ll give you anything! All you have to do is name your price!” is more likely to make you cringe than gasp.
Ultimately Trials of Azrael is more underwhelming than blood-boilingly bad. It’s hard to hate (any story which includes a cameo by Kaldor Draigo purely so he can be mockingly snubbed is doing something right), but its flaws are obvious. If Azrael is your all-time favourite character perhaps give this a look but otherwise stick with Pandorax.