|Sometimes simple covers are the best. Love those skulls and the flames around them, they feel very unsettling when you look at them.|
"An atmospheric and chilling collection that puts the Legion of the Damned in the spotlight, and gives us quite a few scary stories with these ghostly Space Marines. An enjoyable and fitting read this Halloween." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
The Legion of the Damned Digital Collection was a gift from a fellow reader and it was quite a nice way to spend an hour or two this Halloween, and I quite enjoyed each of these six short stories and I felt that a special Halloween review was worth doing. Each story has it's own merits and while one or two are shorter than the others, some are longer than I expected and it produces an anthology that I think is worth reading if your simply looking for some enjoyable and very atmospherically chilling stories.
Animus Malorum by L.J Goulding
Animus Malorum was a little different from the others in that the Legion play a much more central role to the story. An unnamed Chapter of Space Marines fighting a lost cause is the epitome of the causes the Legion undertakes, and I found that Goulding captured that quite well, showing how the Legion come and how they aid those that they come to in their darkest hour. But after that the story takes some twists that present a rather different view of the Legion.
I liked how not all of Goulding's characters reacted favourably to the Legion, after all seeing Space Marines that are on fire and wearing black armour covered in bone and parchment doesn't inspire warm feelings of comradeship and brotherhood. But others react as we'd expect and it was an interesting thing to see the argument, admittedly brief, made by both sides. And a surprise cameo from a character who actually gets a role in the story, and a surprising one at that. I'm still not totally sure why what happened in the end did happen, though I have theories.
Goulding's interpretation of the Legion is different from what we have seen before, mainly because he has them actually deal with people rather than appear, save the day and fade away. But it does pose an interesting question in the story and answers it as well, in a rather grim way. Some more explanation at the end and this story would have been a bit better, but on the whole it was a fairly enjoyable short. I give Animus Malorum a score of 3/5.
The Dark Hollows of Memory by David Annandale
Annandale's story was a step up from the previous entry and deals with the Legion in a manner more reminscent of what we're used to with them. The Deus ex Machina that comes to save the day, but this time there's a twist to the story and the Legion may not just have come to save the day. Annandale set up an interesting world, rather than a military target it is a target of knowledge and his choice for the Company of Misery as the antagonists was a good one as they were well matched with the Legion, both groups that have known great suffering but took different paths in response to it. His human characters were done well enough, I liked that they kept to their duty but other then that nothing really stood out about them.
The Company however was more fleshed out, broken down Chaos Space Marines driven to extinguish hope wherever they find it, only this time they picked the wrong target. Captain Akror's unique style of preaching made for an interesting scene, and I liked how he tried to wage war against the Legion, but the outcome was never in doubt. And yet Annandale throws a twist in, showing that perhaps there was more to this story than we first thought and a mystery that we'll never know the answer to, but we can always wonder.
The portrayal of the Legion was more in keeping with the original lore, though one little bit did deviate from the more in-depth portrayal by Rob Sanders and it poses yet another question about the Legion. Can they die?? Another thing we may never know. But Annandale makes the Legion feel powerful and a force that just can't be stopped, but you can fight them even though it's futile. On the whole a nice read that is a true Legion of the Damned story. I give The Dark Hollows of Memory a score of 4/5.
From the Flames by Graeme Lyon
From the Flames is a much shorter, and likely re-published, story in the collection and as such there isn't a great deal to say about it. The setting of Craftworld Idherae during the Invaders attacking it was a cool choice, as was the choice of opponent for the Legion and had a rather interesting dilemna for them. How do marines that shoot fire hurt a creature made of fire?? The story gives a pretty amusing answer, though aside from that there isn't much to recommend the story other than a brief look into a moment where the Legion came to save the day.
I liked that Lyon had the Legion be creative in this story rather than just overpowering the enemy, sometimes even unstoppable ghost marines have to think about how they'll win. Really this story could have benefited from being much longer, showing the Craftworld invasion in a bit more detail and foreshadowing the Legion more. This is not a bad story at all, the problem is there just isn't enough of it to really enjoy. By the time you've gotten settled into the story, it's already over. I give From the Flames a score of 2/5.
Remorseless by Josh Reynolds
Reynolds returns to 40k and yet again he does not disappoint. A very interesting, and very overlooked in 40k fiction, choice of protagonist in a Traitor Guardsman serving the Iron Warriors legion. Reynolds is very good at making his stories feel elaborate and larger than they actually are, the background of this story really sucks you in and I wanted to know more about the battle and the idea of Gene Hounds. I very much liked Reynolds depiction of the Traitor Guard, not so different from the regular Guard really just with much cooler wargear and far less concern for life.
The story itself was intriguing, the hunter becoming the hunted as a new kind of prey emerges, one that even the gods themselves cannot defeat. Reynolds handles the protagonist fighting a Space Marine with very good care, showing realistically how an augmented human is still no match for a Space Marine but how one would go about fighting such a foe and how one could achieve victory in such an uneven contest. The main character's abilities felt strong yet it was clear that without trickery, underhanded tactics and callous sacrificing of his comrades he would have no hope against a Space Marine, which is fitting.
The Legion of course were handled very nicely as well, they felt overwhelmingly powerful yet rather than focus on the Legion steam-rollering everyone in sight Reynolds focuses on something more personal to them and we get another hint as to the activities of the Legion outside the battlefield, and how single-mindedly they can view their goals. But of course the Legion are there in full force and we do get glimpses of their retaliation against the traitors, and it does feel like a proper Legion story for that. I give Remorseless a score of 4.5/5.
Ship of the Damned by CZ Dunn
CZ Dunn returns to a character he's used before, and produces a quite enjoyable take on the haunted ship story archetype. Sister Agentha of the Dialogous Orders, and what happens to her after the Black Templars short story The Voice. I felt the atmosphere in this story was well done, it really did feel like an abandoned and forsaken ship, and while the choice of antagonist in the story did limit the amount of characters the story could have, I quite liked it as it was a foe that the fact they did not just overrun and kill everyone felt plausible, and that Agentha could actually fight them.
I quite liked the point of the story, that sometimes compassion is best ignored and cold pragmatism should be heeded, but it was also rather nice to see Agentha protecting the children. A 40k story with feels. I also found Agentha a rather amusing character for her mannerisms of fixing her glasses, her obsession with books and her surprising steel core that I would not expect from a simple translator sister. I would actually like to see this character again in another short story, which since the title included A Sister Agentha Story in it, I think we'll be seeing her again.
The Legion sadly didn't appear as much as I would have liked in this story, but when they did appear it was quite a good scene. I just wish they could have appeared in the chapel, in front of more people just because I would have liked to have read their reactions to these particular Space Marines appearing before them. But Dunn handled them nicely and these Legionnaires felt closer to Sanders' Legion than any other in the collection did. I give Ship of the Damned a score of 4/5.
Votum Infernus by Nick Kyme
And finally we come to Kyme who gives us a story with a fair few plot twists, the two main ones I never saw coming as the story never even hinted at them but this was a good thing as foreshadowing it would have ruined the surprise. And of course it features the Dark Eldar so I liked it all the more for that reason. Kyme's Dark Eldar duo felt quite creepy and strange in their incestuous-loathing relationship with some attempts at murdering each other, yet they did feel something for each other albeit in a twisted way. I also liked how Kyme showed the different styles of Wyches similar to the ancient gladiator styles.
The Vostroyans were done well enough, though only one really mattered while the rest were simply red shirts. But what Kyme did show of Vostroya shows that he clearly went all the way with the Tsarist Russia image they have going for them, with what I think were actual Russian words in the text and Russian dialect style names for each character. Its only a short story so the lack of any detail beyond the obvious can be understood, but i'd be interested in seeing a longer short story from Kyme with the Vostroyans in it after this.
The Legion were another part of the twist in this story, for both the reader and the characters as the Legion show a fiercely protective side for this story and again we learn a little more about the Legion, specifically what they still care enough about to go out of their way to do something. One particular moment involving the Legionary was brilliant, because what happened to that Wych was very amusing and really makes you think about what exactly he saw, but you'll have to read the story to find out for yourself what I'm talking about. I give Votum Infernus a score of 4/5.
So on the whole I found this to be a fairly good way to spend an hour or two, some light short story reading with a nicely creepy tone to each story and the ridiculously awesome Legion of the Damned getting some more coverage. I really do think that a full anthology of short stories involving the Legin would be a great choice for a future novel, these stories and some more additions would make for a fine book. So here are the rankings for this collection;
Best Story: Remorseless
Worst Story: From the Flames
Favourite Story: The Dark Hollows of Memory and Votum Infernus (Tie)
Final Score: 4/5
And with that this special Halloween review is over. Hope you enjoyed the review, thanks for reading. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX! FOR THE EMPEROR, BEYOND THE POINT OF DEATH!