Review: Mortarion's Heart by L J Goulding

Posted by DarkChaplain at 2/15/2014
I apologize if this review is a bit lengthy and referencing other works in the franchise; my perspective is certainly based on being a long-time fan of the lore, and I feel that it will be most valuable to people already well-invested in the background material. As a newcomer to the franchise, please walk away and start elsewhere.
The Story:
"The daemon prince Mortarion has emerged from the Eye of Terror at the head of a vast plague-horde, intent upon the corruption of the Imperium he once served. Under Supreme Grand Master Geronitan, the Grey Knights finally meet the daemon army in battle on the plains of Kornovin – a mobilisation of the Chapter the likes of which few have ever seen. Kaldor Draigo and his fellow brotherhood masters lead from the front, trusting to their lord’s secretive plan... until Geronitan is unexpectedly struck down by the Death Lord. With the eyes of the Inquisition upon them and the arcane path of destiny broken forever, the Grey Knights must cast aside thoughts of anything so petty as revenge. The Supreme Grand Master’s successor must be named, or all may be lost."

The Review
Mortarion's Heart has been a hotly debated topic ever since the story surrounding it had been introduced in the 5th Edition Codex: Grey Knights, back in April 2011. The short new piece of lore involving Primarch Mortarion and newcomer Kaldor Draigo was deemed inplausible, unworthy of being considered canon to the Warhammer 40,000 lore.
I can understand the fans' outcry, for Kaldor Draigo's new history appeared nothing if not over the top; a wishlist of deeds added to a new character, who I often saw described as a silly Mary Sue.

Among other tales of glory, Draigo was told to have beaten the Daemon Prince M'kar the Reborn (featured in Graham McNeill's The Chapters Due and his novella "Calth That Was" and Dan Abnett's "Unmarked" from the Mark of Calth Horus Heresy anthology) in single combat, repeating the feat centuries later. In the meantime, he also became the Supreme Grand Master of his Chapter, and carved the name of his predecessor into the Primarch Mortarion's heart. Nowadays he is travelling through dimensions and kicks mighty daemon butt in a realm outside of real time and space, saving his kin whenever necessary.

Many just considered it "fan-wanking" by the Codex's author, and I will not blame them, for a new character to the lore to make such an amount of buzz, defeating the big archenemies left and right, must certainly rustle some jimmies among fans.

With that context in mind, I was both excited and fearful of this release; it has been quite some time in the making, having been announced at the Black Library Weekender 2012.
Of course I hoped that L J Goulding, being one of Black Library's Editors and Loremasters, would take the tidbits of lore surrounding Kaldor Draigo and craft them into something more plausible, less ridiculous, and overall satisfying that fits into the universe.

Having listened to the audio drama twice since yesterday, I can confirm that, in my eyes and ears, Goulding has succeeded in delivering a story that easily beats what expectations I had, and may be even better than what I had hoped to receive.
Mortarion's Heart goes all-in on this piece of new lore. It shows the death of one Supreme Grand Master, the election of another and the victory of the latter. It roots itself into the background by referencing a lot of other works, including the Horus Heresy series. It even hints at future HH revelations, making me eager to learn more of specific side-plots of the long-running series.

Without spoiling the plot of the audio drama, I can tell you that the actual act of humbling Mortarion is not the single focus of the work. It is the character of Kaldor Draigo who, unsurprisingly, is the star of the drama; we get to hear how he ascended to the rank of Supreme Grand Master, and what aided his duel with the Death Lord.

As told by the Codex it would appear that Draigo, on his very own, crushed a whole force of daemons before banishing the Daemon Primarch - this is not what actually happens according to this audio drama. It was not as simple as that. While not physically aided in his task, Kaldor Draigo received other means of help from his fellow Grand Masters - all of which feature in the drama.

Above all, however, Mortarion's Heart makes sense of an odd and unexplained bit of lore. It turns the glory-tale of Kaldor Draigo into a relatable, believable thing, at least in context of the franchise. The humbling of the monstrous Primarch is not depicted as a one-sided battle, but as a struggle Draigo was fully equipped to subject himself to and stand a chance.

All of this is also presented by a big cast of voice actors, all of which did a fantastic job bringing life to the setting and characters. While I was not immediately convinced by the deep, rumbling (and a bit cliched) voice for Mortarion himself, it grew on me, as did Draigo's. The audio production was, once again, top notch, with a lot of sound effects throughout. Mortarion's Heart is a high quality product, continuing the upwards trend of Black Library's audio dramas.

I salute Laurie Goulding for turning this drama into a gem. He added a lot of nuance to a bland piece of writing, without contradicting the source material. Fans of Kaldor will still find a heroic tale, whereas disgruntled fans should be put more at ease through this work.
Considering Goulding also wrote an micro eShort for the Black Library Advent Calendar 2013, Kaldor Draigo: Knight of Titan, I hope to read more in the future.

Both C.Z. Dunn's Pandorax and L J Goulding's recent work have turned Kaldor Draigo from a ridiculously over the top character I would not ever have expected to like into one I can very well live with and appreciate.
While some gripes about his lore still exist in my mind, I hope they will be put at rest by an equally satisfying story as Mortarion's Heart at some point in the future.

Mortarion's Heart on Goodreads

About the Author
DarkChaplain is a big nerd who spends too much time reading and thinking about books, organizing them on his ever-growing shelves, and yet increases his backlog by the month. DC is also an avid Gamer and owns more PC games than he'll ever be able to play. He is certainly spoiled for choice!
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain

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