Burden of Duty by James Swallow: A Review

I have to say that I am quite fond of the character of Nathaniel Garro. He first appears in The Flight of the Eisenstein, which is one of my favourite books from the Horus Heresy series, and then stars in his own series of audio books produced by Black Library and Big Finish.

Burden of Duty also features another of my favourite characters, that of Rogal Dorn. It’s odd but I find it very easy to feel sympathy for Dorn. Yes, he is a bit stiff and formal, he is after all a Primarch, but while he hasn’t the easy likeability of Sanguinius or Horus he is very easy to feel sympathy for. He is loyal, and, no matter what he might like to do, he will do his duty.

Duty is the theme of this audiobook, Garro’s duty to Malcador the Sigillite, Dorn’s duty to the Emperor, a Librarian’s duty to his Primarch and all of their duties to the Imperium. These audiobooks, like the short stories in the anthologies, offer little vignettes into the thoughts of characters both large and small, beyond those offered in the books. They offer a really good way of both getting under the skin of a character and exploring what’s going on away from the main plot.

Both Swallow and John French, who wrote The Crimson Fist, have really brought Dorn to life. He is a pivotal character in the Horus Heresy despite and because of his role as the defender, the guy at home providing the last line of defence in a war that he knows is coming and is powerless to stop. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I like Rogal Dorn as a character. He’s not showy or impulsive, he doesn’t run off and get revenge or carve empires for himself or any number of other equally justifiable but incredibly short-sighted things that he’s doubtless tempted to do. He’s been told to stay put and prepare Terra for war and that’s what he’ll do.

Burden of Duty is, while short, a very good story. It’s not a fast paced story, it’s not about bolters and bloodshed, it’s about duty and understanding what that means for the three main characters. For Garro, it’s about doing the Sigillite’s duty, to build up the Knights Errant in order to protect the Imperiun. For Dorn it is about building a fortress, about protecting Terra itself, and for the Librarians of the Seventh Legion, ah, well that’s the whole point of the story and I’m not going to give away the plot twist.

Burden of Duty is well written and it’s also well acted. Toby Longworth has a very strange way of saying “aquilla” but the acting is on the whole very good. Big Finish appear to have dug into their box of Doctor Who sound effects for the servitor’s voice, but that was kind of cute (and if you haven’t heard any of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas you really should do) and the sound effects don’t intrude too much into the story.

To conclude, Burden of Duty is excellent. I really hope that James Swallow gets to write some more about Rogal Dorn. It’s kind of unfortunate that he’s so good at both Rogal Dorn and Sanguinius as I’d love to see his take on both characters whenever Black Library get round to the Siege of Terra. One other thing that I’d like is to have these stories in print form. I know that I was complaining about this very same thing a few weeks back, but as long as I knew that that was what I was getting, I’d be very happy to actually read these stories as the language is so good. I’d even buy a special edition if I had to!

L.o.F.

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