Author: Dan Abnett
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 1 March 2008
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Personal Collection
“A Great War is coming, and it will engulf the Imperium of Man. The Space Marines of the Alpha Legion, the last and most secretive of all the Legiones Astartes brotherhoods, arrive on a heathen world to support the Imperial Army in a pacification campaign against strange and uncanny forces. But what drives the Alpha Legion? Can they be trusted, and what side will they choose when the Great War begins? Loyalties are put to the test, and the cunning schemes of an alien intelligence revealed.”
It feels like it has been a while since I picked up a Horus Heresy novel, Legion being the 7th in the long-spanning saga, and after the mixed thoughts that Descent of Angels left me with, I admit, I was excited to pick up Legion again. This is the second time I have read the book and I enjoyed it a lot more this second time around – the first time I was less interested in the Imperial Army and wanted more Space Marines, this time I was a lot more open minded.
Legion, unlike the suggested title spends less focus on the actual Space Marines within the Alpha Legion and more on the characters that support, and vex, them. One such character is reluctant spy, John Grammaticus, who has been ordered by his Masters – the mysterious, Cabal – to set up a meeting between them and the Primarch of the Alpha Legion, Alpharius. Of course, nothing within the web of the Imperium goes smoothly and he runs into all sorts of trouble for his efforts. I found John Grammaticus to be a very enjoyable character and despite all his otherworldly, psychic enhancements he came across as very human, suffering from a plethora of human emotions – arrogance and, surprisingly, romance. While he might be one too ‘steal the show’ from his more mundane human counterparts in Legion, I found Hurtado Bronzi and Peto Soneka just as compelling. Two characters who find themselves thrust into the secretive ways of the Alpha Legion, taken from the comfort of their position within the Imperial Army undertaking a seemingly, never ending war of compliance, and put into a world they can barely comprehend. It is the workings of the early Imperial Guard that I foudn interesting and how the rank and file worked. Of course there is the ‘big cheese’ at the top but it’s the foot-soldiers beneath them that captivated me. Especially the role of the female officer, the overseeing, Uxors (Which means wife in Latin) and her aides.
I did find some of the language in Legion a bit confusing to begin with. Warhammer in general is loaded with it’s own terms for things, but Legion replaces ranks that we’re familiar with (Captain, Sergeant, etc) for ones which we, generally, are not. It adds an additional layer of confusion to the story that just isn’t needed as figuring out who is who and who does what can be tricky enough in the Warhammer Universe and possibly more so in Legion.
The plot of Legion is a complicated one and at times I felt myself having to pause just to make sure I really understood what was going on. (Spoiler Alert: I didn’t) Legion is pretty far removed from other offerings in the Horus Heresy as it reads more of a Mystery/Crime that a War novel; although it does have it’s fair share of combat and it doesn’t lack for action, it’s just not on the grand scale as some other books in the Horus Heresy range. I think its a testament to Dan Abnetts writing skills that he can tackle something a bit removed from Warhammer 30k/40ks usual offerings. (And it makes me somewhat excited for the recently announced Warhammer Crime series)
I found the characters within the Adeptus Astartes the ones to be the most lacking in personality – despite the encouragement of them to be more philosophical than other characters; they do not blindly follow the Emperor as other Legions of Adeptus Astartes do which makes for a refreshing change – I think they would have come into their personalities more with a little more page time, but due to the nature of the Alpha Legion and it’s secrets I can understand this lack. I found that more was discoverable about the Alpha Legion by what isn’t written about them in black and white – such as their ability to question the Emperor of Mankind. Also they are one of the few chapters that uses mortals to do their ‘dirty work’; as discovered in Legion. They are simply a fascinating legion in how much they differ to their brethren and I feel like Legion is only just scratching the surface of what we can learn about them. It makes me wonder if there are any more books about them in the Horus Heresy series and I find myself hoping so.
The first three quarters of Legion are written as a ‘them’ vs ‘us’ spy novel. This in itself is a good read, but a bit slower paced than the final quarter, where the novel really picks up and shows some very dramatic and mind-blowing revelations. There is a question that always hangs over the Alpha Legion and that is ‘Whose side are you really on?’ and if you’re expecting this to be answered in any clarity then you’ll be sorely disappointed! I am still not entire sure how I really feel about the ending, but don’t want to delve too deeply in my concerns for the big reveal as it would enter spoiler territory. I do question the real motives of the path that the Alpha legion takes, but maybe that’s the entire point.
Despite my, few, gripes about Legion (And my continued digesting of it a few days after finishing it) I really enjoyed it. Learning about the Imperial Guard with renewed interest in them was interesting and seeing how the Adeptus Astartes Legions differ from one another has been really enlightening; especially in the case of the Alpha Legion where they differ greatly. I don’t know how much I’d recommend Legion to those new to the Warhammer/Horus Heresy setting. Technically, Legion could be read as a stand alone, but I don’t think it would be a good idea, somehow as I can see it putting readers off with it’s complexity.