Can Dan Abnett save the franchise?
After the underwhelming Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon, the Horus Heresy series is in desperate need of revival. None is better equipped to revive the flagging franchise than the prolific Dan Abnett. Abnett, author of Eisenhorn, the Ravenor series, the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, and other titles for Marvel and Doctor Who, has the rare gift to write well and to write a lot. Like the space fantasy version of William T. Vollmann, he churns out full-length novels at a ridiculous rate.
In Legion, Abnett throws the reader into a desert landscape, a war that has lost forward momentum, and paranoia sweeping the ranks. The parallels to modern desert warfare and the situation in Iraq are unmistakable. The Imperium of Man wages a war against the inhabitants of Nurth. We follow the Geno Five-Two Chiliad of the Imperial Army, a unit of the Imperial Army that traces its lineage back to Terra and its genetic heritage to that of the Space Marines. Their formidable nature and fierce loyalty make the military stalemate even more frustrating. The Chiliad operates through uxors and hetmen. Uxors are psykers and communicate through the hetman officer corps mentally.
John Grammaticus, a powerful psyker, meets up with the Chiliad in the guise of Konig Heniker. Grammaticus is a member of the Cabal, a secretive interspecies organization that has important knowledge it needs to communicate to the Alpha Legion of Space Marines. Grammaticus has to get close to the uxors to impart this knowledge. He describes the uxors thusly: “As he sat down opposite Uxor Rukhsana, he reached out. Instantly, he tasted feeble immature ‘cepts, chitter-chatter minds, the moist, unwholesome mental architecture of the pubescent aides. The technical inability to conceive made most uxor-aides gruesomely promiscuous. Grammaticus was repelled by the lurid, shallow thoughts that washed towards him.”
Eventually, Grammaticus gets in touch with the Alpha Legion, the newest and most enigmatic legion of Space Marines. Abnett even subverts the “legion-primarch trope” in this volume, highlighting a Space Marine legion that specializes in stealth and espionage. Even though the Space Marines, like their brother legions, are genetically engineered superwarriors that stand nine feet tall, he makes their covert tactics seem plausible.
The Alpha Legion already know what Grammaticus knows, but under a different name. In one form or another, the Imperium has been battling the forces of Chaos. The Cabal has a different name for the predictable enemy: the Primordial Annihilator. The name is clinical, menacing, and opaque all at once.
The Cabal offer the Alpha Legion a choice, but the reader is kept guessing while the stakes increase on Nurth. Factions have their own agendas, whether it’s the 670th Fleet Commander, the Imperial Army, the Cabal, or the Alpha Legion. While conditions on Nurth deteriorate, people are forced to act. In Legion, you are left guessing to the last page.