With “I Am Slaughter” writer Dan Abnett, one of the Black Library’s best authors kicked off their newest event series “The Beast Arises” with a bang. It was a fun and thrilling read, populated with fascinating characters, and imaginative worlds. Best of all it gave us a glance of something we’ve never really seen in Warhammer 40,000; the Imperium of Man in a state of relative peace. So I was excited to tackle the next chapter in the year long event story line, the novel “Predator, Prey” by Rob Sanders, a writer whose work I had not read before.
Let’s get my one real problem with the book out of the way first. I’m not really a fan of the Orks as villains. They’re entertaining as obstacles and side missions, but to me they’re kind of forces of nature like the Tyranids. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re truly terrifying like how they were when Abnett wrote them in “I Am Slaughter” and other times they’re just sort of faceless obstacles like how they were portrayed here. Don’t get me wrong. The action scenes still crackled and were full of tension and intrigue, but with wave after wave of unrelenting ork slaughter some scenes felt like a disaster movie rather than a battle with a monstrous force of foes.
So in future novels I’m hoping to see more personalities within the Orks. I also want to see what united them and armed them with their fearsome and awesome attack moons. I sense something there and it could be Sanders wasn’t allowed to reveal that yet since he was charged more with setting the table in this second entry to “The Beast Arises.”
What Sanders does succeed at in “Predator, Prey” is creating some memorable places and populating them with interesting characters. For me, the most fascinating place was Undine an aquatic hive world where giant cities floated on chemical seas. On that world we follow the fight for survival of Lux Allegra, a member of the Planet’s defense force and her allies. Lux is a pretty likable character and her planet is a really interesting one; especially when Sanders takes us to one of the fringe cites that have developed on the water world. The action on Undine was fast and furious. So despite my complaint about faceless orks the scenes there still work. I loved the scope and scale of everything.
The other new batch of characters Sanders introduces are the Fist Examplars, a Second Founding (think spin off) Space Marine chapter that originated from the Imperial Fists. In “I Am Slaughter” Abnett really captured the culture of the Imperial Fists and it was one of my favorite things about the book. Here the Examplars, especially their sort of leader Maximus Thane, are interesting characters and there’s some fun action scenes with them, but there’s not as much about what makes them distinctive. They didn’t resonate with me as much as the few scenes Sanders included with their more fanatical brethren in the Black Templars, another spin off chapter of the Imperial Fists.
Sanders also gets to have some fun with returning characters like Drakan Vangorich, the Grandmaster of the Offfico Assassanorum, and his chief enforcer Beast Krule. These scenes are a lot of fun. Sanders has a knack for action, but the political machination scenes were also highly enjoyable.. It was also interesting to see the underlying tension in the political arrangement between the Imperium of Man and the Machine Cult of the Adeptus Mechanicus. There’s a few chapters that give you some clever insight into just how delicate the arrangement between the two cosmic empires are and illustrate how self motivated each can be. I say that too as someone who doesn’t really find the Adeptus Mechanicus all that interesting.
So despite the one slight problem I had “Predator, Prey” was still a pretty great entry in “The Beast Arises” series. I’m excited to see what comes next especially with the really cool reveal that Sanders gives readers in the book’s final chapter.
As I’ve come to get to know and love the diverse, dystopian, science fantasy world of Games Workshop and Black Library’s “Warhammer 40,000” I’ve discovered one of the reasons why the genetically engineered fan favorite warriors of the various Space Marine legions are so popular is the original 18 legions and the thousand of others that formed in subsequent foundings is the eclectic cultures they hail from and the cool premises behind them. For instance, the members of the Space Wolf legion essentially are futuristic vikings with werewolf style powers. I repeat futuristic vikings with werewolf powers! That’s a fantastic premise with a lot of promise.
So I was excited to read “The Space Wolf Omnibus” by William King which collects his first three novels featuring the titular Space Marine Legion, “Space Wolf,” “Ragnar’s Claw,” and “Grey Hunter.” Now having finished the book I can whole heartedly say that King took the awesome and very Metal premise of the Space Wolves and fleshed it out into something fun and fascinating. He also expertly and slowly immerses readers into the big, exciting world of 40k. If you or a friend are looking for an introduction into the 40K universe and it’s larger lore “The Space Wolf Omnibus” is a good place for them to start.
The culture of the Space Wolves revolves around the one found on the “Death World” (a planet inhospitable to human life) of Fenris. It’s a snowy world of islands so its human population very much lives as the ancient Vikings did; as seafaring warriors and hunters who battle rival clans for territory. It’s from these clans that the Space Wolves, who are viewed as god like beings and sorcerers recruit new aspirants.
So in “Space Wolf” King kicks things off with a chapter that throws you headlong into an exciting battle, with the protagonist of the three novels, Ragnar Blackmane, and then in chapter two he winds the clock back and reintroduces us to a very young Ragnar who is still a pretty fierce warrior even at his young age. You get to spend some time with him and the members of his clan as they use one of their boats to ferry a Space Wolf back to one of their facilities. Then King plunges you headfirst into the tragic events that lead Ragnar to become a potential recruit for the Sixth Space Marine Legion. What makes the story even more interesting is that a mortal enemy of Ragnar’s clan named Strybjorn is recruited at the same time as Ragnar and the two are forced to cooperate.
From there we follow Ragnar and his fellow aspirants through the various trials of becoming a Space Wolf. We get to learn a lot more about the fascinating and frozen environment of Fenris and the customs of the Space Wolves. You also learn a lot more about Ragnar and his unique perspective among the Space Wolves.
So “Space Wolf” is definitely more of a character driven novel and probably my favorite of the three in this omnibus. Ragnar’s journey from human to genetically enhanced warrior is a pretty epic one and watching him learn about the larger universe is fun if you’re new to the world of 40K or someone who’s pretty knowledgeable like myself. In the final part of the book King tests the mettle of Ragnar and his new Space Marine comrades by forcing them to confront one of their Legion’s ancient and most hated foes.
In “Ragnar’s Claw” King introduces readers and Ragnar to another important 40K institution as the surviving Blood Claws are recruited by the Inquisition for a mission. It’s an exciting one that takes them to a variety of classic 40K locales like a world under siege by an Ork Waagh and a Space Hulk. The novel is very much a classic and fun adventure story as King’s heroes travel to various locales looking for pieces of an ancient artifact that will help them combat the powers of Chaos. The climax where Ragnar and his comrades invade an ancient Eldar temple to confront the forces of a specific Chaos God is especially satisfying.
Then in “Grey Hunter” King immerses readers deeper into the universe of 40K by upping the scope and scale of the novel to epic proportions. In the story Ragnar and most the of the Legion are called to defend a world sacred to the Space Wolves that is under siege by a massive army of Chaos aligned heretics. The story is pretty much a war novel with some thrilling set pieces. I particularly loved the boarding action Ragnar and his brethren engage in as they storm a hostile Chaos warship and the final apocalyptic confrontation with the leaders of the heretic army.
So over the course of “The Space Wolf Omnibus readers are given some breathtaking action sequences and taken to many strange alien vistas, but what really makes those scenes work is the connection the readers feel to Ragnar and his fellow Space Wolves. King really makes these characters larger than life. They’re daring in battle, loyal to their friends and love to celebrate victories with ale capable of intoxicating them even with their enhanced physiques.
Ragnar is especially interesting because of his introspective nature and the time we spend with him as he processes all theses new things and learns and deals with his inner demons like his hatred of Strybjorn or what appears to be claustrophobia (At first I wasn’t sure what to make of that because my understanding was Space Marines are genetically programmed to not feel fear, but I just let it go. It helped humanize Ragnar a bit)
My other favorite characters included Ragnar’s Seargeant, Hakon, and Berek Thunderfist, the Wolf Lord of Ragnar’s division of the Space Wolves. Hakon is a classic gruff but fair instructor type, and Berek Thunderfist is as cool and as Heavy Metal as his name suggests.
So if you’re looking for a great entry point into the “Warhammer 40,000” universe, or if you’re looking for three novels that celebrate some of it’s awesome fundamental and unique traits definitely check out “The Spacewolf Anthology.” It’s packed with fun action, cool characters, and makes great use of one of “Warhammer 40,000’s” most Metal premises
Book Review: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain by David Goodman
When I was a growing up Saturday night for me was all about two wondrous television programs “The Muppet Show” and reruns of the original “Star Trek” series. The former probably helped shaped my sense of humor and wonder the latter my sense of adventure and heroism. Indeed several years later it was Star Trek that introduced me to the fact that heroism had a cost when I sat in a darkened theater with my dad and watched my beloved Mr. Spock sacrifice himself to save the Enterprise. It was the first time I realized my heroes could die. It was a pretty powerful moment and to this day when I hear Spock say, “I have been and always shall be your friend” tears come to my eyes.
As I grew older I still loved Spock, but my love for his best friend Captain James T. Kirk grew. I loved his never say die attitude, his sense of loyalty, his sense of humor, and his sense of adventure. He was my favorite Star Trek Captain until I met a man named Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, but that’s a story for another time. So I was saddened when Kirk was killed off in such a blah way in “Stark Trek: Generations” and then really happy when William Shatner with some help from the great Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens brought Kirk back in a series of fun novels. They were highly enjoyable reads, but after a while the series sort of lost steam for me.
Then last year I heard about David Goodman’s “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain.” I was very curious. Could this be a chance to catch back up and relive the exploits of a hero who shaped so much of my youth? A chance to see some of Captain Kirk’s adventures from a different perspective? I had to find out. So I added the book to my Amazon wishlist and got it as a Christmas gift. I just finished the book and I’m happy to report that the answers to my two earlier questions was a resounding yes. “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” is a fun and fantastic read that captures the true spirit of Star Trek in the way the Nu-Trek series of films wishes it could.
When you first open “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” you’re greeted by a foreword by
Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy and it becomes clear from the get go that Goodman knows the characters he’s writing about. He perfectly nails McCoy’s voice. Then we get the book itself which is told in first person by the titular character, whose voice he also captured perfectly. Goodman then brings the book to a fantastic close with an afterword by Kirk’s best friend, a now older, wiser Spock and I can practically hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice in my head.
The other great thing about “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” is the fact that it’s a purely character driven story. Goodman expertly ties together Kirk’s childhood, years in Starfleet Academy, as well as both his television and small screen exploits into one singular narrative. It’s a tale that’s fun, exciting, powerful, and heartrendingly poignant. That’s because Goodman gets Kirk.
He understand that the galaxy’s greatest hero might have some swagger when it comes to romancing a green skinned alien woman or facing down a Klingon commander, but at heart he’s a humble man whose haunted by his failures. Over the course of the book you see Kirk both fulfilled and haunted by his commitment to duty. He struggles to forge a family outside of his career while not realizing how strong a family he has forged while sitting in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise.
There’s plenty of new stuff in “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” that’s interesting, but Goodman makes the parts you know, where Kirk recounts his film and television adventures, equally fascinating. I particularly loved how he handled the heartbreaking loss Kirk experienced in “City on the Edge of Forever” and the mixture of emotions that came as we got Kirk’s insight into the films “Wrath of Khan,” “Search for Spock,” “The Voyage Home,” and “Undiscovered Country.” I also loved how he handled the wretched fifth Trek film “The Final Frontier.” I’m not going to spoil it, but I think long time Trek fans will enjoy what Goodman does.
So if you’re a “Star Trek” fan or just looking for an insight into what makes a great hero tick do yourself a favor and pick up “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk.” It’s a fascinating look at the exploits of one of pop culture’s greatest and most wonderfully flawed heroes.
I’m a huge fan of idealistic characters who stick by their vows and what they believe in even when times get tough. So I was not surprised when I reached book three, “Galaxy in Flames” by Ben Counter, of Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” series that I would meet some of my favorite characters in all of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I’m taking of course about the Space Marines who stood loyal to their vow to the Emperor when their Legions went rogue and tried to kill them on Istvaan III. Of those characters my favorite is probably former Luna Wolf (He was never a Son of Horus) Garviel Loken.
“Galaxy in Flames” also introduced my second favorite Loyalist member of the Traitor Legions, Battle Captain Nathaniel Garro formerly of the Death Guard, but we didn’t really get to know him until James Swallow’s excellent fourth “Horus Heresy” novel “Flight of the Eisenstein,” which I loved. So I of course followed Garro to his own sort of sub-series within the “Horus Heresy” series. What was especially interesting about the Garro series is so far they’ve all been audio dramas, and they’ve all been amazing. If you haven’t listened to them do yourself a favor go and download them from Black Library’s website, or buy the boxed set of CD’s. You get Swallow’s stories, fun music and sound effects, but best of all you get Toby Longworth as a narrator. The man can make anything sound epic. I want Toby Longworth to narrate my life.
So this December I was especially intrigued when Black Library announced that the Garro series would be returning to print with a new novella titled “Garro: Vow of Faith.” You could get as an e-book, or splurge and get the deluxe limited edition signed hardcover. I had some extra money at the time so I bought the hardcover and I’m glad I did. It’s a fun book. It’s got a breathtakingly gorgeous Neil Roberts dust cover painting and the actual hardcover is made up to look like a heavily annotated copy of the Lectito Divinitatus, the holy book of Garro’s faith. The real question though was how was the story? Having just finished it I’m happy to report that “Vow of Faith” is another highly satisfying entry in the Garro series that moves the title character forward in some intriguing ways and also hints at the further development of one of my favorite Warhammer 40K institutions, the secretive Inquisition.
When we catch up with Garro in “Vow of Faith” he’s experiencing a bit of a crisis of faith and identity because he’s recovering from the shocking revelation at the end of “Shield of Lies,” where he discovered that his master, Malcador the Sigilite, a shadowy and powerful Psyker, is forming his own personal army to deal with the treachery of the Warmaster Horus and the other Traitor Legions that turned to Chaos. So Malcador gives his top agent some time off and Garro uses it to seek out the woman who changed his life back during “The Flight of the Eisenstein” novel, Euphrati Keeler, a mysterious and powerful woman who is venerated as a living saint by the underground church that worships the Emperor of Mankind as a god.
What follows is a fun novel of chase and intrigue as Garro sets out across Terra to find Keeler, but he’s not the only seeking that Saint. Two of Horus’ agents have infiltrated Terra and embarked upon a quest to assassinate Keeler.
It’s always fun to visit Terra in a 40K novel because it’s not a place we often see. It’s especially fascinating during the “Horus Heresy” because we’re getting a glimpse of Earth right as it’s come together after many years of divisive and apocalyptic warfare. In “Vow of Faith” Swallow takes Garro and us readers to some of the planet’s more fascinating locales including a vast desert, an arctic wilderness, a gigantic “walking city,” and a massive industrial metropolis that hovers above the Earth.
As we visit these locales we’re given moments of action and intrigue, but more importantly we’re along with Garro as he meditates on his faith and struggles to find the right path in the morally murky morass that life during the Horus Heresy has become. It’s great because as a Space Marine Garro is a deeply noble and larger than life hero, but he’s also very vulnerable and is plagued by many of the doubts that us mere mortals would have.
Along his journey to find Keeler and protect her from the assassins at her heels Garro meets some interesting characters. We learn something intriguing about the Imperial Fist Sigismund, especially given his later history. For me though the best encounters came at the end when Garro was reunited with both Keeler and Kyril Sindermann, the iterator (lecturer and sort of teacher) from the first four “Horus Heresy” novels. It was great revisiting these characters and seeing what they’ve come to stand for since I last read about them.
So ultimately one of the most interesting aspects of “Garro: Vow of Faith” is how Swallow tackles the idea of faith and how it drives people at this point in 40K history when the Imperium is basically a secular empire. You get to see how Garro’s faith impacts the crisis he’s going through and it ultimately leads him onto a pretty interesting path. The story also deepens the mystery of what exactly is going on with Euphrati Keeler. I’m as excited to read more about her as I am to read more about Garro.
My only real complaint about “Vow of Faith” is not really Swallow’s fault and that is the fact that by reading it I may have spoiled some Horus Heresy books I have not read yet. I won’t say which ones, but ultimately that’s okay. They’re not huge spoilers and for people who have read far enough those moments that provide connective tissue to other books might be pretty cool.
So for me, “Garro: Vow of Faith” was a pretty pricy read, but it was worth it. Swallow gave us a character driven story that took Garro back to his roots and put him on an exciting path. So I look forward to the next adventure of Garro even if Toby Longworth is not narrating, but I hope he is.
I was late to the party in terms of discovering Black Library’s epic Warhammer 40,000 events story lines. When I became a fan of 40K books the “Horus Heresy” novels the series already had 20 entries, but once I discovered those book I quickly became a fan. So I was very intrigued when Black Library announced they were kicking off a year long novel event titled “The Beast Arises.” Making the event even more intriguing was the fact that one of my favorite 40K writers, Dan Abnett, was kicking it off with the first novel, “I Am Slaughter.”
One of my favorite elements of 40K fiction are the settings. The best ones really take you to some fascinating worlds and “I Am Slaughter” did just that. Abnett began by taking up to the front lines of a planet called Ardamantua, a world just six weeks away from Terra by warp travel, where the Imperial Fists Space Marine Legion had embarked upon a campaign to exterminate a threatening alien species that recently emerged there. We’re also taken to Holy Terra for some scenes of political machinations and spycraft. That was a treat because it’s rare that a 40K novel heads back to Earth.
What made the trip to Earth even more fascinating though was the time in which “I Am Slaughter” and “The Beast Arises” series is set, the 32nd millenium. So the Horus Heresy is over and Earth has healed, but the scars still run deep. What’s especially interesting though is the Imperium is at relative peace, and that’s not something I recall reading or hearing about in 40K books. It makes for an interesting time period. Humanity is still adjusting to the physical death of the God Emperor (who is kept alive but in a vegetative state via the Golden Throne) and many of the other great heroes lost during the Horus Heresy, like some of the Space Marine Primarchs, but it is doing it’s best to move forward.
That of course doesn’t last long though because we know the whole point of “The Beast Arises” event is a massive threat to the Imperium is going to rear it’s head, and by the end of “I Am Slaughter” it does, and in a major way. I don’t want to say too much about the extent of the threat and it’s nature because it remains a mystery for most of the book and its scope and scale is one of “I Am Slaughter’s” fun reveals. What I will say is it involves an established 40K foe that I generally don’t find that interesting. Abnett makes it work though. He really plays up the frightening nature of the enemy and their new status quo.
Another element that Abnett exceeds at is his cast of characters. Much of the action in “I Am Slaughter” revolves around the Space Marines of the Imperial Fists legion, and what I like about that is when Abnett writes Space Marines he really dives into the customs and traditions that makes a particular legion tick. You come away from the book with a good sense of what that particular legion is all about.
With the Imperial Fists Abnett shows you there a lot of fascinating things going on. The first thing is that these are proud warriors who believe more than anything in standing and holding your ground. That really gives the scenes where the Imperial Fists characters collide with the mysterious threat an epic feel. Abnett is already fantastic with action scenes, but the final ones really crackle with a sense of power and poignancy that comes from standing tall in the face of impending doom.
The other fascinating thing about the Imperial Fists is at this point in time they’re a Legion that’s just gettng back into the field. For so long, many of their members stood guard defending Terra, and the Imperial Palace in particula,r and in the book they’ve stood at their posts against no real threats for decades.
Abnett spends much of his time with the Imperial Fists in “I Am Slaughter,” but we do get to meet some interesting human characters as well. Many of them serve supporting roles, but much of the Earth scenes involve a fascinating character named Drakan Vangorich, the grandmaster of the Imperium’s Officio Assassainorium. We get to see Vangorich navigate the byzantine schemes and machinations of the High Lords of Terra and we get to see him put a mysterious plan in play. So “I Am Slaughter” is both a war novel and a tale of political intrigues, and both parts are equally fascinating.
The only real criticism I can offer of the book is that for some it may be a little too short in length, but I didn’t mind it that much. It felt right to me especially when you consider it’s the first chapter in a larger narrative. That meant much of “I Am Slaughter” involves setting the stage for things to unfold later, but Abnett does so with a potent cocktail of mystery, intrigue, and all out action. Plus, as I said, we get some great character work with the Imperial Fists. So with “I Am Slaughter” “The Beast Arises” event is off to a fantastic start. I eagerly await “Predator and Prey,” the second chapter in the story line.
One of the things I loved about Alex Segura’s debut novel “Silent City” was that it was something you don’t often see in the private detective genre, an origin story. In the book you got to follow disgruntled, hard drinking Pete Fernandez on his journey from worker at a Miami newspaper to becoming a private detective. It was a rare tale for the genre and did some incredibly cool things. So I was excited to see where Segura took Pete in his follow up book “Down the Darkest Street” (which will be available April 12th. I was lucky enough to score an ARC) Having just finished the book I’m happy to report that in it Segura has once again done something cool and different with Pete. He’s shown that the origin story can be a much more complex and entertaining tale that involves more than a person deciding to become something.
In crime fiction life is often complicated, brutal, and messy. Discovering your true calling doesn’t necessarily mean your life will be better and your personal demons will be silenced. Or you can be great at something and because life gets in the way you fail miserably. So the origin story is a great heroic thing, but it’s nice to see here that becoming who you are meant to be isn’t always a linear journey. As Segura expertly shows, some times it’s a case of one step forward and three steps back.
That’s what happened with Pete when Segura picks up with him in “Down the Darkest Street.” He tried being an unlicensed private eye and failed. He’s living on some savings and passing the time working in a friend’s used book store. Plus he’s wrestling with his alcoholism and haunted by all the violence and death he witnessed in the previous book. So he’s in a pretty realistic and dark place.
Pete is also still very much a mercurial tempered person who often makes poor choices and can be a real jerk at times. So he’s a hard person to like, but he’s a fascinating character to read about and root for. That’s because even though Pete might not see it in himself Segura’s prose shows us that Pete is a capable and cunning investigator who genuinely wants to do good. So he’ll disappoint you and break your heart some times by being a jerk, but like the few friends he has left at the beginning of the novel, you root for him to make the right choices and do good because you see his potential.
In “Down the Darkest Street” Pete is once again thrust into situation where he can do a lot of good or a whole lot of damage to himself and the people around him because Miami is once again being menaced by a dangerous and shadowy killer, but unlike the Silent Death (the antagonist of “Silent City”) this killer isn’t a professional one. He’s a serial killer. I don’t want to say much about the killer and spoil anything, but I will say he’s a pretty creepy villain that you want to see brought down and there’s some fun reveals about him.
Some of the surviving characters of “Silent City” also return like Pete’s ex-girlfriend Emily, and her jerkass husband Rick, but my favorite returning character is Pete’s friend Kathy, who’s working as a reporter in this story. I love that Kathy is a noble, but human character and that she doesn’t suffer Pete’s B.S. with a smile They’ve got a fun rapport.
We also meet a number of fascinating new characters like two FBI agents investigating the same murders as Pete, and Pete’s good natured, burly, and burnout friend Dave, who owns the book store Pete works at. Dave is probably my favorite new character. Early on in the book you see that he is prepared for violence and can handle himself in a fight and Segura also hints at his connections with certain elements of the Miami underworld. So Dave is almost kind of a burnout muscle figure for Pete. I love those types of characters in private eye fiction.
The other major character in “Down the Darkest Street” is of course the city of Miami. It’s Segura’s hometown and he shows it by really giving you a sense of the city. Too often when we see Miami in fiction it’s all glitz, glamour, and beautiful people and places. In this book you get some of that, but Segura also shows you the decadence and grit lurking just below that shiny, pretty surface and that the city is also home to real people struggling to get by.
The action, pace, and revelations in “Down the Darkest Street” are all well done. It’s a book that you will finish quickly because ultimately it’s a gritty, gripping. character driven tale of a guy struggling with his personal demons and trying to do some good while trying to come to grip with the fact that he has a knack for rooting out and confronting corruption and evil. It was a hell of a book and I can’t wait to see where Segura takes Pete next.
One of the reasons why I love the Warhammer 40,000 universe that Games Workshop and the authors of their fiction imprint, the Black Library, have cooked up is it’s jam packed with fun and fascinating characters and concepts. In the Horus Heresy series, which chronicles the titular galactic civil war that sets up the status quo of the 40K universe, we get to meet many legendary figures and military units and watch them make them make monumental choices that echo throughout history. So far almost each one of the novels I’ve read have focused on a different Adeptus Astartes or Space Marine legion, genetically engineered super soldiers tasked with uniting the scattered remnants of humanity into a galactic empire.
Each of these legions have their own customs, legends, and heroic figures, but only one chapter is so shrouded in mystery that they actively cultivate multiple and contradictory legends about themselves and that’s the Alpha Legion. That enigmatic aura and their willingness to use whatever tools are necessary to get the job done make the Alpha Legion, a bad-ass, fascinating, and incredibly cool group. I imagine it also makes them pretty hard to write about since you want to include some insights into what makes the Sons of Alpharius [Alpharius is the primarch; a sort of demi-god and leader of the Alpha Legion] tick, but you don’t want to ruin their mystique.
So in the seventh Horus Heresy novel, “Legion” Dan Abnett was faced with an incredibly difficult task; chronicle the choices and events that lead the Alpha Legion to side with the other traitor Space Marine legions during the Horus Heresy. Abnett rose to the challenge too. “Legion” is a fantastic novel packed with great characters and exciting action that not only fleshes out the Alpha Legion it makes them cooler and even more identifiable. This is a novel about characters who will come to be known as some the greatest villains in 40K history and I found myself cheering them on! That’s an amazing feat because while I think the traitor legions are great villains I almost never find myself agreeing with any of their point of views let alone cheering them on.
In “Legion” Abnett perfectly employs the Sons of Alpharius. This is a group that’s all about controlling the knowledge others have of them. Their members are known for telling outsiders that they are Alpharus and each Alpha cultivates an appearance similar to their primarch. So it’s fitting that in “Legion” most of the scenes Abnett gives us with his title characters comes via the perspective of outsider characters or operatives that are slowly being initiated into the Alpha Legion’s shadowy world. When we’re given a scene with just Alpha Legion Space Marines interacting it’s usually to let us know that what we just saw in the previous scene may not be the truth.
Doing something like that can be tough when your readers are coming to your book to meet and observe Space Marines, but Abnett makes it work by giving us a fascinating cast of human characters that are drawn into the Alpha Legion’s orbit. The bulk of them come from a storied Imperial Guard unit (The Imperium of Man’s human foot soldiers) that fought to help unite the warring nations of Earth. In “Legion” we join these soldiers in the middle of a disastrous campaign to bring a planet of resistant humans into the Imperium of Man. Because the campaign is not going well the Alpha Legion is asked to assist.
Early into the book we find out that the Alpha Legion were drawn to the planet thanks to machinations of a mysterious alien secret society called the Cabal, and their seemingly immortal psychic human agent, John Grammaticus, who has infiltrated the Imperial Guard unit. John is a pretty interesting and identifiable character. Abnett does a great job fleshing out his powers, cunning, and world weariness.
We meet many other interest members of the Imperial Guard unit, but my favorite that we follow in “Legion” is an idealistic and noble officer named Peto Soneka who gets drawn into the Alpha Legion’s world, and much to his chagrin finds himself helping the ruthless and pragmatic Space Marine Legion.
As I said, the Alpha Legion does spend a lot of time shrouded in secrecy, but we do get to spend enough time with them to understand who they are, how they work, and what drives them. These are some of the most exciting portions of “Legion.” It’s great seeing the Sons of Alpharius in action, and the sequences that reveal the reasons why the Alpha Legion chooses to side with Horus’ traitor legions are fantastic, mind blowing and powerful revelations.
So I’m only seven books into the Horus Heresy series, but for me “Legion” is one of the best books in the series so far. When I finished the book all I could do was say, “Wow!” It left me stunned and excited to spend more time with the Alpha Legion who I now find even more fascinating.