Bloodspire and Deathwolf – An Audio Drama Review

Bloodspire and Deathwolf are two Space Marines Battles audio dramas by C. Z. Dunn and Andy Smillie respectively. Bloodspire features the Blood Angels. Deathwolf the Space Wolves. Both describe fights for (different) hive cities. Bloodspire felt a bit abstract, lacking a narrative core. Deathwolf, in contrast, was highly enjoyable. Most of all, the entire thing was (again) painfully short.

Bloodspire and Deathwolf‘ by C. Z. Dunn and Andy Smillie:
2.5 / 5 stars      

The Space Marines take to the skies in this pair of audio dramas. On the world of Axonar, a squad of Blood Angels Scouts scale the dizzying heights of a mighty hive city as their battle-brothers fight far below. Their objective: to open the way for a daring aerial assault that will crack open the city and ensure victory. In the heavens above Luetin Hive, Erik Morkai’s Space Wolves clash with dark eldar raiders, jump-pack clad Blood Claws taking the battle to the aliens’ own infernal airships. But the war will be decided by Morkai himself as he challenges the dark eldar archon to single combat.

The following review will inevitably contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

#1 – The Physical Thing

Black Library Audio Drama Bloodspire and Deathwolf

Bloodspire and Deathwolf (in the physical version) comes in a little three-part fold-cover, which contains two CDs.

  • CD1 has both audio dramas (for a total run-time of approx. 65 minutes
  • CD2 has some extras, including the cover art, wallpapers, iPad/iPhone backgrounds, some maps (more schematics of the hives) and the original scripts as pdfs (which I thought was cool, I guess now I know how Black Library’s Scriptbooks would read).

Overall, the production-value of this is top-notch.

#2 – Bloodspire by C. Z. Dunn

ELYON: <<‘Unsure. The dust cloud isn’t shifting very quickly. No, wait – negative. That’s a negative. The adamantium shields are intact. I repeat, shields still intact.’>>

Metraen grimaced.

The first audio-drama, of the Blood Angels retaking a hive city (and by thereby the entire world) from secessionists, is the story I enjoyed less, even if it is a well-crafted (and well-narrated) story.

It failed to “click” with me for two main reasons.

  • Unnecessary explanations

Throughout the story, C. Z. Dunn “leaves” the story to add short explanations on different aspect of Space Marines background. For example, in one scene, a Space Marine is wounded and his battle-brother makes a remark about Apothecaries. The narrator than goes off into a little tangent about what a Space Marines Apothecary actually is and does. This happens several times, giving you basic briefings on Space Marine scouts, the Black Rage, etc.. .

I guess there is a time and place for “beginner” stories, written (or narrated) for people who truly know very little about Space Marines. I might thus simply not have been the intended audience. Still, it felt not only unnecessary, but also disrupted the flow of the story, as each “explanation” took me away from the unfolding story, only to tell me things I didn’t need to know for the story at hand.

  • Who am I rooting for (or against)?

There is no tangible antagonist in the story. Bloodspire simply starts with an opening intro, that explains that the political elite of Axonar had started to refuse the Imperium their tithe and the planet had gone rogue. It is all kept fairly abstract.

Even worse, there is no real protagonist either. The Blood Angels’ Captain does his thing, the Scouts do theirs and the Assault Marine do what Assault Marines do. Sergeant Tycho makes a guest-appearance at the start and at the end of the story, but is missing for the most part in the middle. In short, there is no real “main character” that the reader listener can identify with.

  • Summary

In summary, Bloodspire feels a bit like a written/narrated wiki-entry, and not a story. It has a certain encyclopedic quality to it, in that the reader is given a “taste” of the different aspects of a Space Marine chapter (Scouts, Siege Tanks, Assault Marines, etc..), along with some helpful “explanations” (see above) for the uninitiated. Bloodspire might well be the CD you want to play if someone asks you “what is a 40K Space Marine?“. It is not, however, itself an exciting story.

#3 – Deathwolf by Andy Smillie

VRANAK: ‘Clumsy apes.’

Vranak spat the taunt as she kicked Agmund’s twitching torso from the transport. Erik growled and pulled himself back onto the platform.

ERIK: ‘Your death will bring them glory.’

Andy Smillie’s Deathwolf was a far more enjoyable story for me. A force of Dark Eldar raid the hive city of Luetin, where Erik Morkai and his Great Company try to turn the hunters into the hunted.

Admittedly, from a “rational” view, Deathwolf makes far less sense than Bloodspire.

The former has a clear cause (planetary secession), consequence (Blood Angels arrive to teach them a lesson) and result (planet back into the Emperor’s domain) logic. The latter happens to have some Space Wolves around when the Dark Eldar raid hits: and action! Why? I don’t know.

Still, Deathwolf is a lot more fun for the following reasons in particular:

  • Straight into the action

Given the short format of these audio dramas (~ half an hour each), there is something to be said about trying not to tell the “whole” story. Deathwolf plunges straight into it with a Mandrake’s gruesomely dispatching some Guardsmen (no explanations given here.. you better know your 40K) and ends with Erik Morkai activating his chain-axe to take on the next batch of Dark Eldar.

Deathwolf is more a snap-shot of a battle, as if the reader listener was just zapping through to catch a choice action scene or two, without seeing the whole movie. It works rather well.

  • Great Characters

Where Bloodspire suffered from having neither a bad guy nor a clear “hero” (i.e. a protagonist) in the story, Deathwolf does both well. The entire story, in essence, centers on the (eventual) fight between Wolf Lord Erik (snarling, sniffing, wonderfully feral) and Archon Vranak (utterly inhuman and, voiced by Charlotte Page, the voice-acting highlight of these audio dramas).

#4 – The Verdict

Overall, it is the price for what you get with Bloodspire and Deathwolf that lets this one down.

Bloodspire and Deathwolf‘ by C. Z. Dunn and Andy Smillie:
2.5 / 5 stars      

£ 15.00 (or £ 12.00 from Amazon) for a two half-hour audio-drama is steep. The direct downloads from Black Library downloads are more expensive than the Amazon-version. At these prices, I can go to the movies, expensive as they are these days, and get more entertainment-time per quid.

The stories are decent (Blood Spire) to good (Deathwolf). The audio-production and voice actors are great (a lot less ponderous than in the Dark King / Lighting Tower). The second disk with all the extra artwork, the pdf scriptbooks, iPad/iPhone-backgrounds, etc.. is nice.

None of that changes that it’s short. If I get myself an unabridged non-40K audio drama of similar costs – say Iain Bank’s Transitions - to listen to while painting (or as I do, doing the more menial tasks in my university work), I’ll get some 13 to 14 hours worth of audio. For the same price.

Sorry to nitpick about the pricing, but these are the comparisons I simply cannot ignore.

Anyhow, your thoughts?

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I am Zweischneid. Wargame Addict. Hopeless painter and founder of Pins of War. I hope you enjoyed this article. Don't forget to share your favourite miniature pictures and wargaming videos at
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  • Jeff

    I received both these as gifts, but I think they would easily be worth the price, they were both very well done and it was nice to have them playing while building a landraider. I wish very badly that they would do a service similar to pandora where for a monthly price you could listen to their audio dramas or download a time limited ebook. I would so be all over that but until then I”ll happily drop a few quid every now and then for a audio drama.

    • Zweischneid

      Glad you enjoyed it.

      Obviously, reviews got to be subjective in many ways. Personally, I found it too steep. Just listening through the Descent of Angels unabridged, and it’s easily 6 times as long for less than 25% more in price.

      And even that is steep (as most Black Library stuff is) to non-Black Library sci-fi audiobooks.

      The pricetag on this rubbed my the wrong way. If it was worth it for you (as it is for many others, surely), that’s only a good thing!