In my review of Descent of Angels, I said that some readers would suffer whiplash due to the sudden change in setting and tone. And while that change is at times refreshing, it meant that the Lion’s origin didn’t always feel like a cohesive part of the Horus Heresy or the wider 40k Universe, despite how much I love the western, fantasy, sci-fi theme. So when I say that Legion deviates from the type of storytelling we’ve seen so far in this series yet again, I mean it in an entirely different way. Rather whiplash, Legion shows you the whip (I know that’s not how whiplash works, but stay with me) and magics it away into the shadows. So while you’re busy working out how and why that just happened, it manages to pull off one of the most compelling Warhammer stories I’ve read to date.
Legion is the Horus Heresy book that focuses on the Alpha Legion and what they were up to before the events in the opening trilogy. However, and this is a big however, we don’t get a major point of view or spend that much time with them. And while you might immediately think that is a negative, once you’ve read this book, understood what they’re all about and why they chose the side that they did, it will all make perfect sense. Dan Abnett pulls together a brilliant story that keeps you guessing all the way to the end and keeps you questioning everything you thought you knew for many books to come. It does all that through a spy thriller lens, and if these two paragraphs have done enough to convince you to read this book (or listen to the audiobook), I encourage you to stop here and pick it up.
However, if you need more convincing then let’s keep going. Like I said, Legion is about the Alpha Legion. And we view them from the point of view of John Grammaticus, an agent of a mysterious organisation called the Cabal. John is a fascinating character to follow. He’s this sort of reluctant anti-hero who has been working for the Cabal a very long time. John is ruthless, yet affectionate in a way that personifies some of the best Warhammer characters. Throughout, you’ll question who exactly he is and in doing so question his motives and role in the wider heresy. I need more John Grammaticus books in my life.
John’s mission is to set up a meeting between the Alpha Legion and the Cabal. To do this he has infiltrated the 670th Expedition Fleet’s Geno Five-Two Chiliad under the guise of Konig Heniker. So that he can establish contact with the legion he takes risks that start to have the expedition questioning whether there’s a spy in their ranks. What follows is a spy thriller where John is desperately trying to avoid capture while fulfilling his mission. On top of this, there is a time limit with the heresy about to kick off and the meeting between the Alpha Legion and the Cabal imperative before it does. This makes Legion an exciting read from start to finish. The quiet parts are tense as you watch John avoid detection and the action-packed sections have impact as they put his mission at risk. All the way through, you aren’t sure what is going to happen and that uncertainty makes for a compelling read.
If I had to pick some negatives about this book, it’d be how the female characters are treated. They are essentially used as props or narrative devices and that seems like a shame as the male side characters like Hurtado Bronzi are compelling by themselves. While John dominates this story, charters like Bronzi and Soneka play an important role as soldiers of the Geno and you care about their fate by the end of the book as well.
That being said, Legion is fantastic at doing what it sets out to do. It tells a sci-fi spy thriller that sets up future stories and makes you question everything you thought you knew about this conflict. The Alpha Legion, while not explored in-depth, are done so enough to know that knowing more would ruin their whole appeal. If you found yourself struggling with Descent of Angels, then Legion rockets the quality of the Horus Heresy back up and is worth a read, maybe even two.
Thanks for reading. If you are thinking of kicking off 9th Edition with the Indomitus novel, then read my review first as it might make your reconsider that purchase. For a more positive review, why not read about the Talon of Horus which is a great story of Chaos Space Marines.
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