In the war torn future, it’s enjoyable to partake in the game of espionage from time to time. Spies and deceit, winning through wits over brawn or firepower. Fine spy literature can be difficult to forget, although some of the tropes set by 007 are almost always guaranteed. Such as it is with Legion.
The Imperium is expanding, led by the superhuman “Primarchs” and their Space Marine armies. Yet as they conquer world after world, other species besides humanity have taken notice. A coalition of aliens named the Cabal have identified the youngest of the Primarchs, Alpharius, as the only one who may alter a forthcoming civil war within the newly established Imperium. They hope to parley with him.
But being the most clandestine of Primarchs, Alpharius is amazingly difficult to reach. Thus, the Cabal charges a human psychic agent of theirs, named John Grammaticus, with the troubling task. The challenge of finding the hidden leader only rises; Alpharius is located upon the planet of Nurth, whose heathen population resists Imperial control with their magic. What happens after that is full of twist after twist that I don’t want to ruin for potential readers.
Although I drew pleasure from reading the book, there were several faults. Alpharius’ army, the Alpha Legion, makes use of spies and intelligence sources, in this case within the Imperial Army itself. Cultivating a spy is no small task, taking either considerable training to prepare loyal men and women, or the right approach to transform a person into a turncoat. This is necessary because Space Marines cannot fit in where humans can.
Roughly a handful of human characters were among these side-switchers, people who were convinced that their life would better be served as Alpha Legion fifth columnists. Although I remember one passage explaining some of the reasoning for people changing allegiances in general, I felt myself wishing for more personal explanations. While some could easily be rationalized, I was surprised when others simply didn’t say “yes,” then turn around and report the discovery to their regiment. In the early chapters, one discovery risked that very possibility, but no real explanation was given how the Alpha Legion knew to intercept the communications that countered that danger.
Perhaps it would have helped if there were fewer characters. The chapters about John Grammaticus were more than interesting, giving great insight into the man and explaining several complex layers of his thinking. But when the conversation turned to Hurtado Bronzi and Peto Soneka, the narration jumped around and never covered all there was to know about them. The story does get by on the chemistry of the pair.
The novel can also frustrate people anxious to learn more about the Alpha Legion in general. While some of their methods are discovered, we are left knowing very little about them. Perhaps the most telling, most interesting part of the novel came during a scene where multiple Alphariuses (each Legionnaire is called Alpharius around distrusted individuals to further cloud and confuse them) have an open conversation about the ideals of the Emperor. The ending also doesn’t seem to carry the power of earlier titles by Dan Abnett. The impact simply isn’t as strong one would hope.
While Legion is fine for fans of the Horus Heresy series, I can’t help but feel that a reader of more eclectic and sophisticated taste may judge that something is just… off, about this book. Too many secrets feel kept from the audience. Too many situations feel undeveloped. On the bright side, Abnett’s combat scenes are full of intellect, the rib poking between his creations is fun, and the intrigue of John Grammaticus offsets the worst effects of these shortcomings.