Friday, 14 February 2014

Legion - A Horus Heresy Book Review


Spoilers abound in these posts, if you haven’t read the books and will get upset by finding out what happens just stop.

This is also not a recap, if you want a recap go to Lexicanium.

What The Black Library says about the book

A Great War is coming, and it will engulf the Imperium of Man. The Space Marines of the Alpha Legion, the last and most secretive of all the Astartes brotherhoods, arrive on a heathen world to support the Imperial Army in a pacification campaign against strange and uncanny forces. But what drives the Alpha Legion? Can they be trusted, and what side will they choose when the Great War begins? Loyalties are put to the test, and the cunning schemes of an alien intelligence revealed in this latest installment of the ground-breaking SF series by Dan Abnett, as the fate of mankind hangs in the balance.

What the book is really about?

Legion is a very different book from the others in the series so far. The best way to describe it is that it is a spy thriller. The whole book is about conspiracies and plots, with different groups spying on each other for different reasons. There are no less than five factions involved in this intrigue and it makes for great reading.

First of all, there is the local “deviant human race” (the Nurth) that the imperials are trying to subjugate. They specialise in guerrilla warfare and lightning raids (as well as “air magic”….. basically warp magic). They are defending their world from “compliance” (Such a spin doctor for an invasion) because they are chaos worshipping nutjobs armed with spears and black magic.

Then, there is the geno-regiment. The main human protagonists are part of this fascinating group. The regiment is ruled over by a cabal of low level psychic women whose eggs are harvested when they mature and vat grown into soldiers. These “uxors” use their psychic abilities for command and control of the vat grown soldiers. They are supported by “Hetmen”, non-genetically modified veteran officers who provide direct leadership and command on the field. It’s an interesting model, solid dependable grunts, veteran grizzled sergeants, and psychic female officers. I like it a lot and the dynamic between the three groups is believable, and more importantly, would be combat effective.

The Cabal is introduced in this book and they are a fascinating concept. A group of alien races that have been working against chaos since humans were grunting apes (So at least before 1977). The Cabal have deployed one of their human agents to negotiate with the Alpha legion and to get their help in the war against chaos. To this end they have sent a man whose sole role in life seems to be to eat scenery, and that is John Grammaticus. I’ll take more about John later, but he is essentially the 40k universes James Bond.

The Alpha Legion are the fourth faction at play here. Summoned to the warzone by the machinations of the Cabal they are conducting a shadow war against the Nurth and not really telling the imperial command exactly what they are up too. The Alpha Legion use a combination of hit and run tactics, covert operations and their own non-astartes spy network to cause trouble. 

Finally there is the imperial commander and his retinue of “Lucifer blacks”. The commander is suspicious of everyone and is pretty pissed that the Legion is just conducting operations in his warzone and keeping him in the dark.

The story builds into one giant cluster f** of suspicion, spying, intrigue and deceit. It’s all good.

Why are there humans in my book about super powered Space Marines?

This is a human centric book, something Dan Abnett seems to excel at. If your idea of a great 40k book is one about wooden space marine stereotypes being heroic and killing stuff with the power of AWESOME, then this is not the book for you. (Battle for the abyss is the book for you, read it while you sit in your mom’s basement cuddling your Marneus Calgar pillow case)

The human characters are all relatively well fleshed out. I really like the buddy duo of the curmudgeonly pragmatic Hetman Bronzi and his maudlin friend Hetman Soneka. These two veteran soldiers are portrayed well, as guys who have been around a warzone for most of their lives and are willing to do practically anything to survive.

The Uxors are interesting as well as young ladies in command positions. Abnett does a fine job of presenting their mixture of youth and the responsibility that comes from being able to perceive and control thousands of soldiers. I really liked the concept of the geno units.

Even the imperial commander and his bodyguards are presented in an interesting light. It would have been easy to make the commander into a bit of a fool being outplayed by the Alpha Legion, and while he ultimately ends up on the losing side, its after he’s figured out exactly what is going on. Unfortunately for him, he ends up figuring it all out just a bit too late.    

MVP – John Grammaticus

John is an interesting character. On one hand he is a wish fulfilment character, he’s immortal, he has super powers, he’s boning a hot woman, and he’s a super spy. I normally hate these sort of characters, but John is written with such charm that you end up rooting for him. His story arc is good, and it reveals him as a flawed human far more than the uber awesome super spy he initially comes across as.

 John Grammaticus an immortal super spy........

Worst Character – Um……?

No character in this book truly sucks. I’m serious, there was not a single character that made me want to scrape my eyes out: Perhaps the elder douche who keeps calling humans monkeys, but that was pretty minor.

Blue/Purple? Who knows?

Get to know your Legion – The Alpha Legion

If I was designing the Space Marines, they would have ended up like the Alpha Legion: Smart, dirty, clinically efficient and without the steaming piles of hubris the mar the other legions.

Instead of dropping head first into the first combat target that appears, the Alpha Legions tactics involve gathering intelligence, using infiltrators and spies, and generally only attack important targets at the most opportune times.

Most legions battle plans so far seem to be as follows.

“Right men, the enemy is here….. we think…. It certainly looks like they are there and one of them called me a knob. How about we all load up and drop pod onto the first thing we see and beat it to death with our hands. Alright, last marine to the drop pods is a poof”

An actual strategy seems sorely lacking, mostly it comes down to applying brute force and winning because your soldiers are 8 foot tall genetically engineered supermen in power armour who eat lead and shit bullets.

The Alpha Legion are different and I totally love them for it.

Oh, I really love the scene where an Alpha Legion warrior waltzes through a laser security grid without setting off the systems and is all “yeah, we know you have security, we took precautions, we are the Alpha Legion, your silly little security system is no match for us dude.”

Get to know your Primarch – Alpharius Omegon

Right, if you really don’t want spoilers stop reading…..



Ok, if you’ve read this far you either know what the reveal is, you don’t care, or you are functionally illiterate.

There are two Primarchs of the Alpha Legion, twins called Alpharius and Omegon.

What I really like is that they are a wee bit smaller and less MAGNIFICENT than the other Primarchs, and that they have surgically altered their men to look like them. I really like the “I AM SPARTACUS” routine they have going with each and every legionnaire identifying themselves as Alpharius.

These guys seem smart, level-headed and generally admirable warriors. They also seem to be absent the raging inferiority complex that all the other Primarchs seem to suffer from. When Horus is begging for praise and Lorgar is worshipping, the Alpha Legion duo are off blowing up stuff and not taking the credit for it.

Yeah, Primarchs that are not completely head over heels with promoting everything they do. Weird I know!

I really like how they swap who is Alpharius and who is Omegon, and that they even share the roles amongst their men while pretending to be random foot soldiers.

I can see how these guys felt alienated from their brother Primarchs though. Being the only level headed dudes in a room full of ego-maniacs would do that.

One of these things is just like another

Why the Emperor is a giant douche

Chaos and the warp….. again.  

It’s a big freaking deal that he never mentions this to his Primarchs. Yet again, a legion is tripped and falls because the Emperor thinks that the best policy with chaos is to ignore it and lie to his people.


Moustache twirling evil-bastard award – Soneka and Bronzi

I really enjoy these guys and their character arc, from grumpy old veteran soldiers, to hard bitten agents of the Alpha Legion. Soneka wins the award for his final betrayal at the end of the book, really nicely done.

The writing – technical review and evaluation

Good book, good human characters and an intriguing story that introduces new concepts, creates a believable alpha legion and shakes up the story quite a bit with its reveals.

This is one of the few Horus Heresy books that is a genuinely good book in its own right.

This book gets a “must read” rating. (5/5)

Book Rankings

This is a new Feature, where i will be ranking the books from my favorite, to least favorite so far. 

 In short, Abnett good, McNeill ok, Counter bad.


  1. Ye same, brilliant reviews, would love to have a good convo with you about these books mate.

    1. Check out

      Some good discussions about the fluff there, you have to register, but its pretty straight forward and friendly


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