Legion of The Damned by William C. Dietz (Book Review)

As with last year, it seems that at the moment I’m doing well enough with my “25 Series To Read In 2014” reading challenge, where I pick out the aforementioned number of series in a variety of genres and attempt to read at least the first books in each. One of the books that I read for this challenge earlier this month was the first novel in William C. Dietz’ Legion series, Legion of the Damned. Bill is an author I’ve known for quite a while, and even invited on the blog for a guest post. His first Sauron duology novel DeathDay is among my favourite books, and is one that contributed towards my decision to become a writer, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I hold him in high regard for being an inspiration.

Legion of the Damned imagines a future where humanity has spread out of the cradle of Earth and has built for itself a sprawling galactic empire, ruled by a creepy and perverted and highly schizophrenic Emperor who cares more about his own enjoyment rather than the Empire itself. And one of the fighting forces he has at his command is the Legion, a futuristic incarnation of the French Foreign Legion. A lot of the novel deals with the political drama between the Empire’s various armed forces and the invasion by the technologically superior Hudatha, who have been burning world after world. As a whole, Legion of the Damned has some fine concepts, but it doesn’t always go all the way, and some of the concepts even prove to be troublesome. But it is still a novel I’d recommend reading.

Legion 01 Legion of the DamnedTo start off with, the best parts of the novel are the scenes where is action, physical action. This is a novel about an alien invasion of a human empire, and that necessitates some space battles and battles fought on solid real estate. Through a variety of characters, whether they be a part of the Legion or otherwise, or even civilians, Bill uses his background from the US Navy and Marine Corps to good affect, going into detailed explanations of tactics and strategy at all levels. There is even a significant scene in the middle of the novel which deals with the consequences of the strategies put in place by the Hudatha as they advance through the Empire, destroying all opposition before them, sometimes at great cost.

Bill combines the futuristic weapons used by the Legion and other Imperial forces by adding into the mix two different types of cyborgs. The first are the familiar hulking bipedal killing machines (quite a bit different from Terminator actually), which are agile and are one of the more common elements of Legion forces, other than the regular troops themselves. Then there are the Quads, which are basically human brains encased within the body of a very bulky and heavily armed and armoured quadruped walker. With these three elements in the mix, there are lots of opportunities for some really good action scenes, and Bill certainly delivers.

He doesn’t delve into the intricacies of the technology, skimming only the surface for most of the time, but that was fine with me since that’s really not what I was looking for here. While I love the occasional hard space opera, such as Jean Johnson’s quite awesome Theirs Not To Reason Why novels, I prefer to read something a little less… cerebral, because more often than not authors in question simply get lost in those details to the detriment of character and plot development. And that is not something that I wanted out of this, hence why I liked Legion of the Damned.

Given that the Legion is based on the French Foreign Legion, Bill draws a lot of similarities between the two forces and he uses the 19th and 20th century history of the Foreign Legion to add character to the Legion of the future. Sometimes it feels a bit cheesy and cliche, but honestly, it was very interesting in its effect on the story. It added more character to the action scenes beyond the obvious and it also almost perfectly characterised the nature and attitude of the Legion. Which is another element of the novel that I really liked and appreciated.

However, one of the things that I didn’t appreciate was the characterisation of the female cast. While the novel has very good gender parity and heavily features women in similar positions of power to their male counterparts, often higher in fact, it doesn’t do much with them as characters, if that makes sense. There are some quick, rushed romances, and a fair amount of sex scenes which don’t read very well at all. It all just combines to give a less than welcome experience of the novel. I really wish that the characterisation had been better, because if it had then the novel would have been significantly better, but it is what it is and I can only hold out hope that the sequel is much better!

In general though, I liked the characters themselves, even if they acted idiotically, such as the Emperor himself and Admiral Paula Scolari, who are often opportunists and make decisions to benefit their own power rather than putting some thought into resisting the Hudatha. Nevertheless, for that very reason, both of them are fascinating characters in their own right. And their arcs get a very delicious ending towards the climax, which I applauded. Characters like Colonel Natalie Norwood stand out however, both because she is one of the coolest characters in the novel and also one of the most open in terms of her attitude and her personality. She is captured by the Hudatha very early on and through her we get to see their society, their culture, and their military protocol, all of which adds a significant layer of complexity and depth to the entire novel in the end. I believe she also becomes quite a significant character later on in the series, so that is one of the things that I’m looking forward to here.

There are lots of other characters in the novel of course, and one of the great things is that there isn’t any small handful of “main” characters in the novel. The plot is divided up rather evenly between all of them, and each of them gets to shine, such as it is.

Another thing I didn’t like was that generally the plot itself was quite thin. I liked the whole invasion angle and the various subplots which were there, but they didn’t really come together for a cohesive whole. One of the reasons that might be is because there is such a large cast here, and so many different subplots going on. So the interconnectivity is just not there, at least not in this novel. So, a third thing that I’m hoping for from the sequel is that the plot is much more interesting, and is less cluttered as well.

Still, when all is said and done, I had a lot of fun reading the novel. It is light space opera fare, and that worked just fine for me. And it kept me interested throughout, which is what matters most in my opinion. Onwards for the sequel!

Rating: 8/10

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Posted on March 31, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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