Legion of the Damned
Before I attempt a review of this book, I should state I went into it fairly blinkered towards the whole Space Marines Battles series. So far, the only ones that have impressed me are Helsreach
and Battle for the Fang
. The rest, on the whole, have been substandard when compared to other series published by BL. I had given up on the series after The Gildar Rift
, but when I saw the next instalment was Legion of the Damned, I gave it one more shot.
The story revolves around the Excoriators Space Marines, a chapter descended from the Imperial Fists. They are trying to regain some of the honour they lost when the chapter banner captured by the Alpha Legion by winning a tournament held amongst all the chapters descended from the IFs. When they realise they are almost out of the game, we are introduced to the Scourge, the marine who lost the banner in the first place, and loyal member of the chapter master’s command squad.
He has been lost in a coma-like state since he lost the banner, which for me sounds too like the BAs black rage, if not as extreme. A marine who succumbs to this state is reliving the horror and despair that Dorn felt while standing over the broken body of the Emperor after he defeated Horus. For me creating something like this for a successor chapter when there has been no mention of it regarding the parent legion or more prominent second founding chapters is a bit of a stretch.
Anyway, the Scourge is lifted from his fugue by an experimental procedure, and goes on to defeat both the champions of the Imperial Fists and Black Templars in the final round, winning the right for the Excoriators to hold the Dornsblade, a sword worn by Dorn himself. This feat does not endear him to his battle brothers however, who still blame him for bringing dishonour to the chapter by losing the banner. All the Scourge wants to do is return to his chapter master and try to redeem himself in his eyes.
Things do not go to plan however, as before he can return, his company meets with the Excoriators 5th company, who are down to half strength after chasing the Alpha Legion in an attempt to regain the banner. Much to everyone’s surprise and disappointment, the Scourge has been made captain of the 5th. He ends up leading them to Certus Minor, an ecclesiarchal cemetery world that lies in the path of a comet that is being trailed by a massive Khornate fleet destroying every planet they encounter. Despite hostility and derision from within his own company, who feel the company's veteran Sgt. Skase should have been promoted to captain, and want to continue the hunt for the Alpha Legion and their lost banner, the Scourge decides to stay and defend the planet in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. And so begins a desperate last stand against the forces of Chaos.
There aren’t many characters in the novel, but the Scourge makes up for it, as he is now one of my favourite SM characters. He is shamed by the loss of the chapter banner, and wishes only to atone for that sin, but also is determined to do his best to defend what is a small backwater planet not worth a whole lot in the great scheme of things. He refuses to just give up an Imperial world to the forces of Chaos without a fight. He must also (quite literally) combat the discontent and hostility towards him from within his own company. He is a brutal fighter, and is the epitome of the Excoriator’s battle creed of being attrition fighters.
In it’s own right this is a very good read, a pleasant change from the likes of The Hunt for Voldorius
or The Purging of Kadillus
. However, it does suffer in the same way as Prospero Burns
in that the subject matter alluded to by the title of the novel only appears at the very end of the novel. Because of the title, all you want to see is the ghostly revenants that are the Legion of the Damned tear into the Khornate warband and win the day for the Emperor, but apart from some visions that the Scourge has of a ghostly marine watching him from the shadows, they do not appear until the last 30 pages of the novel. This disappointment might have been lessened if the novel had been called something else, but it also might not have sold as many copies.
This novel scores a solid 8/10 for me.