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Legion (The Horus Heresy) Mass Market Paperback – March 25, 2008
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I say this because Dan Abnett is simply the best author Games Workshop has available and the moment that he figures out he can earn more cash not leashed to Games Workshop's setting, the Black Library will burn to the ground.
Witness 'Legion', the latest in the Horus Heresy series. Deftly written, this is a story about intrigue and deception, not about dudes shooting other dudes. It builds on one of the least developed Space Marine chapters, the Alpha Legion, and gives them a place in the setting. It also develops the history of the setting even more through details of the Geno, a human army, and the memories of Grammaticus, one of the story's principal characters.
The story is a mind-twist and rightly does not feature a lot of Space Marines. Why should it? Most of the mysteries of the Alpha Legion could be answered in two pages at the start of the book, which wouldn't leave much of a story. Instead, the reader gets to follow a handful of characters (one of the hallmarks of Abnett's style is the use of a cast of POV characters) as they get enveloped deeper and deeper within the Legion's coils. The revelations at the end of the book are both shocking and satisfying and Abnett knows his craft well enough to end the story there.
So if you enjoy the setting of the Warhammer 40k universe, pick this book up. Read it for the characterization and plot and don't fret that you don't see too many world-spanning, gut-eviscerating chaotic action scenes. Because Abnett's 'Legion' is akin to the Alpha Legion itself - cunning, deliberate, and always worth getting to the bottom of.
Unlike most of the other Horus Heresy Novels, this one does not use the Marines as the primary point of view. Instead we see the tale through the eyes of members of the Imperial Army, primarily members of Geno Five-Two Chiliad, genetically engineered warriors left over from the Emperor's unification of Earth, essentially primitive prototypes for the mighty Space Marines. Peto Soneka, a "het" (translation: Captain) for one of their units is the most compelling character, but he's joined by a host of others that have equally believable abilities and motivations. Writing interesting characters has always been one of Abnett's strong points.
The beginning, usually one of Abnett's strongest points, stumbles in this novel due to an excess of odd terms that aren't easily defined by context. Where he usually weaves a compelling and immersive setting early on, it's difficult to maintain suspension of disbelief when you're wracking your brain in an attempt to figure out what some obtuse term actually means.
Fortunately he settles down into his typical excellent pacing after the first two or three chapters, and his action writing is as strong as ever. By the time you've gotten a third of the way into the book, you've forgotten the ragged beginning and can't wait to get to the next chapter. Particularly compelling is the view of the Marines of the Alpha Legion through human eyes. They retain their mystery and ability to inspire awe throughout, unlike some of the other books of this series. He really captures the intrigue, deception, and pragmatism of the Legion and mirrors it in many situations throughout the novel.
The climax and ending, typically one of Abnett's great weaknesses, works far better in this case than most of his other plots. It's not flawless, but as the deceptions within deceptions begin to unravel, the final choices are both interesting and unexpected. To say anything more might spoil the fun!
In short: if you can make it through the first few chapters, the rest of the work is well worth the price of admission, and is a refreshing change from the typical grind of "Legion goes bad except for a few good guys who try to fight the tide" that is typical of the other Horus Heresy books. Highly recommended for 40K fans, and still worth a look from general sci-fi readers.
As a 40K book, though, the entire book is a, as the title of this review says, deus ex machina. A group of aliens, never seen before or since, comes out of the woodwork to get the Alpha Legion to turn traitor. So much more could have been done. We could see the Alpha Legion at work. How they go about their jobs. Instead, most of the book is about the IG, with Alpha Legion thrown in. (Note: There is nothing wrong with a book about the IG. Just saying that this book is more about the IG, even though it is supposedly about AL.) I feel like Abnett took the easy way to writing this book - creating the Cabal out of whole cloth - rather than tying the fall of the Alpha Legion to previously-existing canon.