Thursday, May 09, 2013

Booknote: Legion

Abnett, Dan, Legion. Nottingham (UK): Black Library, 2008.

ISBN: 978-1-84416-536-0

Genre: Science fiction
Subgenre: Military science fiction
Series: The Horus Heresy, Book 7 (Warhammer 40,000)

After the previous book in the series, Descent of Angels (link to my review), I was a bit wary when it came to picking up this volume. I can reassure my four readers that this novel is a definite improvement from the previous one, and that the outlook was better. Well, the outlook for the reader. In the upcoming civil war in the 31st Millennium, the outlook is kind of grim, but that is part of the fun of reading the series. If you have read any Warhammer 40K, then you are aware of the Horus Heresy. This series covers events 10,000 years or so before the "current" events of Warhammer 40K. Like the previous novel in the series, we go back to a time before the civil war exploded, but we know it is soon coming. Choices will have to be made, and in Legion, it falls to the secretive last legion of the Emperor, the Alpha Legion to make choices.

The 670th Expedition is engaged in a war of attrition on the planet Nurth. What they thought would be another routine compliance campaign has become a long, prolonged war as it seems the Nurth inhabitants, humans as well, have some dark powers of their own. The Alpha Legion of Space Marines is sent to Nurth to assist the expedition and end the war. However, there is more than meets the eye. There is a lot going on behind the scenes. For one, the Alpha Legion are a secretive group, one who uses spies, deception, infiltration, subterfuge, and secrecy to achieve its goals. Heck, no one at times is even sure who their primarch really is, a key secret of the legion (and one that is revealed in the novel). Two, there is another group acting behind the scenes, the Cabal. The Cabal are a group of xenos (aliens) of various races working behind the scenes to keep the rise of Chaos (the dark powers) from rising, and they are manipulating the Alpha Legion, in subtle ways, to come to Nurth. The question is why do they want the Alpha Legion to be involved. Caught in the middle are the Imperial army forces. Most of the tale is told from the point of view of various members of an Imperial army unit, the Geno Five-Two Chiliad. The other major point of view, which comes a bit later in the novel, is that of a spy working for the Cabal, a human they know as John Grammaticus. They all come together in this tale of deceit and secrecy.

Once the novel gets going, it is quite a spy thriller. However, the start of the novel can be a bit slow in terms of pacing, and we do not see the Alpha Legion right away, so some readers may wonder if this novel is really about the Alpha Legion? Yes, it is. Their presence is there; one can feel it, and then, they emerge. In the end, will the Cabal be able to persuade the Legion to work to their ends? Or will the Legion follow its own path, as it has always done? True, they have always been loyal to the Emperor, but they are not blind followers. This is what distinguishes them from other Astartes legions. The end comes rapidly in terms of pacing, and it sets things up very well for events down the road. Those who know the lore of Warhammer 40K know that the Alpha Legion is labeled as a "traitor legion" that sided with Horus. But this is open to question, were they really on Horus' side? Did they remain loyal? By the end of the novel, they make their choice, and the truth is revealed about the Alpha Legion.

Overall, this was a much better book than the previous one. Abnett overall is one of the better authors in the Black Library, and this book does not disappoint. It is different from other Space Marines books in Warhammer 40K in that it is not just war and battles. There is more intrigue and nuance here. These are marines versed in the arts of subterfuge and espionage. If you like thrillers and tales of intrigue, this will make a pretty good choice. It is definitely a good entry in the series, and it definitely reveals the secrets of the Alpha Legion well, so it should satisfy fans of the series lore. This is one I recommend.

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