Berserker chaos marine chapter the World Eaters are blazing a path of destruction across the galaxy, following in the path of a weird, blood-red comet which holds portents of doom. The small cemetery world of Certus Minor is one such planet along this celestial bodies route and the Excoriators chapter of space marines are called on for protection.
The force dispatched however are far too few to deal with this grim threat and their losses are high. Just as all seems lost, salvation is borne out of legend itself as sinister spectral warriors descend upon this planet of the dead, and the enemies of the Imperium come face to face with those who have already travelled beyond the realm of the living...
After the heroic Ultramarines the Legion of the Damned have always been my favorite space marine chapter, with their dark flame-ridden and skull decorated armour and their enigmatic, mysterious fate and unusual powers they are a real force to be reckoned with, causing terror in their enemies and friends alike.
Although this book does deal with the titular Legion, for the most part we follow the Fifth Company of the second founding Excoriators chapter - split from the original Imperial Fists chapter after the Horus Heresy event led to the restructuring of chapters into the modern 1000 unit system. The main protagonist is the disgraced former chapter champion Zachariah Kersh who now leads the Fifth as a chapter-captain and the majority on the novel is told from his perspective.
The Excoriators marines are described in great detail, coming across as a distinct and quite unusual space marine chapter, from their quite bloody self-torture to the way they fight on the field of battle, they are clearly marines but have their own foibles. This combines with their low status after the loss of the chapter standard and death of key figures. The use of a clearly hated and despised leader is also a very interesting move by the author; Kesh is an imposing figure and one that makes an effective protagonist. The author manages to capture his disgrace, subsequent struggle to accept his new leadership and the self-blame along with external hatred in a very effective way, allowing the reader to really bond with the Captain and creating a space marine hero quite different from any other.
The descriptive elements are pure Warhammer 40 000 and if you are new to the genre, or have had little exposure to the terminology I can imagine that it could throw you a bit, taking a while to get to grips with. I did find myself dusting off a few older memories of terminology and remind myself of certain past events within the space marine history. The start of the book is a little slow too and it wasn't until way over a quarter of the way through the novel that the pace began to pick up and the story move forward in any meaningful manner. The fight scenes though outclass almost everything else in the novel; fast, brutal and imaginatively realised they manage to engage the reader enough to get the heart racing and stand out as superb action sequences.
The highlight of the book for me though just has to be the Legion of the Damned themselves and at the beginning of the novel I was a little put out by the limited actual space given to those otherworldly servants of the Emperor. In hindsight though by limiting this exposure the author manages to portray the elusiveness and mystery of the Legion most effectively and the scenes where they do play a larger part than a ghostly figure they are magnificent, it's a real credit to the author that he manages to do them justice.
Legion of the Damned is a damned fine novel, with exceptional fight scenes, interesting, quirky characters and an intriguing insight into the Excoriators - all wrapped up in a powerful story.
Written on Monday 13th February 2012 by Antony.
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