BOOK REVIEW: Black Legion, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

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black legion.jpg

Publisher: Black Library

Series: The Black Legion (#2)

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 364

Publication Date: 2017

Verdict: 4/5

Iskandar Khayon continues his tale of tragedy and horror. The dreaded Abaddon has claimed leadership of the traitor Legions, but that role is far from unchallenged. Abaddon uses every weapon at his disposal to stay on top, and no weapon is more feared than Khayon himself . . .

Black Legion is the best Space Marine novel I’ve yet read. This statement of course comes with the caveat that I’m not a big fan of big stompy super-soldiers, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that I enjoyed this book a whole lot more than the first in the series. A lot of Space Marine stories are all about the archetypes (which are often the part I dislike the most) and few of the characters have ever had much – well – much character. Black Legion has spades of character, and there are two factors for this. The first is Dembski-Bowden’s writing, which I’ll be talking about in a bit, and the second is the fact that these aren’t just Space Marines, these are M&S  Chaos Space Marines. A lot of the Imperial Space Marines feel hemmed in by the constraints of their chapters, but their Chaos-praising brethren don’t have that burden. In this book, we see a scattered group of Marines, all from different backgrounds, and all feel like individuals. I couldn’t tell you much about the chapters, but I like that. These aren’t just symbols of something bigger, they’re characters in their own right.

One of my favourite things about The Talon of Horus was the framing narrative, and that is back in full force for the sequel. I love, love, love the narration of this book. Not in the audio sense, but in the prose itself. There is a weight to the words. A philosophical inclination that is largely absent in the action-heavy forty-first millennium. In neither Warhammer 40,000 or its fantasy siblings have I come across a better exploration of what Chaos means. It’s a part of the universe that didn’t interest me much prior to this series, but the in-depth and in character analysis is bringing me round to the idea of forces beyond mortal comprehension. Khayon’s tale is told with such a tragic sense of defeatism, even in the face of victory, that it changed how I see Chaos in Warhammer. The overall gothic style of the prose makes this something very special, and a far cry from my usual military SF leanings.

But if you’re here for action, Dembski-Bowden delivers that too. Plenty of it. A lot of the time, the superhuman antics of Space Marines can feel very much like a video game. Not bad in itself, just not what I prefer. But Black Legion‘s violence has a weight to it. A sense of consequence that pervades very blood-soaked page. The duels are magnificent, and the scenes in which the Chaos fleet attempts to leave the Eye and return to the real universe is just brilliant on every level. There’s not enough space combat in Warhammer 40,000, so any chance to see it is appreciated. And the violence isn’t limited to the big set pieces. There’s body horror and grimness throughout. This isn’t a book for the faint of heart, but you already know that.

Black Legion relies less heavily on established lore than its predecessor, and is all the stronger for it. Definitely one for Warhammer fans to check out.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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