Bloodletting, telepathy and Jokers in a world at warWhile the latest installment in the Horus Heresy series - “Legion: Secrets and Lies” by Dan Abnett - is engaging to read, it has a comic book quality that goes in line with the author’s specialty: Abnett is a comic book artist. He relies heavily on visual description to define his characters as well in this science fiction novel.
We know what each soldier’s uniform looks like and what sound a blade makes as it slices through an arm, a neck or a head, but we don’t have much insight into what really motivates characters.
Abnett instead focuses on plot, which in this case introduces the space marines of the Alpha Legion and the role they will play in an unfolding civil war.
The book relies heavily on context from previous installments in the series. The plot is unfolding, but its direction will be best appreciated by regular readers.
First-timers may keep reading, but the action sometimes lags. Only in the book’s final pages do we finally find out what Abnett’s been building up to.
Legion opens with a scene of torture. The subject is Hurtado Bronzi, the field officer who leads the Jokers, a platoon of crack shots. We aren’t told why he is being tortured. Rather, we see only his stoicism as he holds up. The context for the torture becomes clear later.
The first chapters contain loads of bloodletting as limbs are severed in primitive warfare and bodies are eviscerated by high tech laser cannons. There is a lot of gore.
The emperor’s forces are seeking to tame a rebel planet and its Nurthene inhabitants. The Nurthene are a lot harder to defeat than they should be and it turns out they have a secret weapon, a Black Cube, that has the potential to destroy entire planets. They use it to good effect and the emperor’s forces escape only after suffering heavy losses.
One of the book’s main characters is John Grammaticus. A psychic agent, he is in the employ of the Cabal, a nonhuman species that has the ability to see the future. What the Cabal sees is alarming and it employs Grammaticus to infiltrate the Alpha Legion and use his mental influence to arrange a meeting. The Cabal see the Alphas as the humans, which they call “mon-keighs,” with the most potential for rationality.
Grammaticus is a flawed hero. He struggles, is afraid, fails and then succeeds by the skin of his teeth. In the process, he betrays friends and lovers, for which he feels guilty. He is human in every sense of the word.
The other main characters are in the Alpha Legion. These giant, superhumans are an elite force known for their undying loyalty to the emperor and subversive ways of attaining their goals.
They earn the distrust and disdain of war master Namatjira, after stealing several of his key troops, including Bronzi.
Also worth mentioning are the uxors in the emperor’s forces. Always women, the uxors have low-level psychic powers that they use to lead squadrons of soldiers.
They send battle commands telepathically that organize soldiers without their being fully aware of what is happening. They give up all reproductive ability and are forced into retirement by their late 20s.
They move around surrounded by groups of teenage girls who are uxors in training.
The Cabal emerges at the end as the all-knowing species that foresees humanity’s fate.
After finishing my first installment in the Horus Heresy series, I am curious about what happens next.
But the truth is, I probably won’t pick up another book to find out.
The books are based on the Warhammer 40,000 board game.
Legion: Secrets and Lies
Author: Dan Abnett
Genre: Science fiction
Publisher: Black Library
By Christopher Carpenter Deputy Editor [email@example.com]