REVIEW SUMMARY: An excellent audio production of an outstanding military sf story.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Thunder Wolves, a super-elite military team, hunt down their zombie-like brother before he can kill again.
PROS: Perfect pacing; gripping and gory action; characters you care about; high quality production value.
CONS: I could nitpick that one character distractingly sounded too much like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
BOTTOM LINE: I cannot imagine how this could have been a more enjoyable listening experience.
Black Library’s audio production Thunder From Fenris is my first foray into the Warhammer 40K universe and it was every bit as entertaining as I hoped it’d be — the result of an excellent story line and top-notch production.
Nick Kyme’s gripping story takes place on the war-ravaged ice planet of Skorbad where a super-elite band of space marines called the Thunder Wolves (a subset of the already-elite Space Wolves) are called in to eradicate a Wulfen plague. What makes this a job for the military? Well, it turns out that the Wulfen plague is a zombie plague. That’s right: Thunder From Fenris is a military sf/zombie mash-up. And what could have been a phone-it-in story resting on the laurels of zombie hype (I’m looking at you, Death Troopers) is instead a freight train of action and tension, filled with several wonderfully descriptive and gory battle scenes.
It would be nice to say that the story starts off with a bang. It doesn’t. This was the only apprehension I had about the story at the start: the fact that it begins after what sounded like a thrilling battle. But this feeling was quickly dispelled by excellent characterizations and an attention-grabbing story line that involves the honor-bound Thunder Wolves hunting one of their brothers who was turned by the plague. Despite that initial apprehension, the story is actually perfectly-paced, with bloody battle scenes being separated by slower-but-engrossing passages of character- and world-building. The three main characters (Afger, Skeln and Thorgard) are well-drawn, tough-as-nails warriors. The fact that the infected retain some of their battle skills puts this to the test.
Thunder From Fenris also excelled in its production. Rather than being a standard narrator-read audiobook, it’s a lively audio production complete with a rousing music soundtrack and well-placed sound effects. It really brought the story to life, as did the excellent vocal performance by Toby Longworth. (But I will confess that Longworth’s portrayal of Skeln came dangerously close to distraction by sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger.) The overall effect is one of consuming something cinematic and epic.
The fact that the Thunder Wolves are described as “mythical” leads me to believe that zombie stories are not the norm in Warhammer 40K, which is fine. The emphasis here is on the military action more than on the zombie aspect of the story, as it should be. Being my first dip into this universe, any additional WH40K world-building the story may have had — beyond the Thunder Wolves being driven by duty and honor and riding battle-augmented beasts with steel-like fur that acts as armor (How cool is that?) — was lost on me. Not that it matters. Thunder From Fenris is an excellent standalone story I cannot image being any better.
Running Time: 68 minutes