The Legion of the Damned – spectral Space Marines clad in ebon and bone, wreathed in flame, appearing only when the hour is darkest and humanity’s need is greatest. It’s a wonderful concept, one which entered the Warhammer 40,000 canon way back in the ’80s and has been a fan favourite ever since. They’re classic 40k – dark and gothic, morally ambiguous and forever shrouded in mystery. For anyone hoping to get a concrete explanation of their background, you won’t find it here. Instead we get a collection of short stories (including one very short story) from six Black Library authors exploring different aspects of this most mysterious of forces.
Each author has chosen a very different angle to take, giving the collection an interesting depth, and for the most part we see the Legion through very different sets of eyes. Two of the stories are from the viewpoints of other Space Marines, and these are arguably the weakest of the set – LJ Goulding’s unnamed chapter take a mauling and provide the biggest hint towards the Legion’s methods and motivations, but despite the impressive action and knowing old-school references fail to land much of an emotional punch. Graeme Lyon’s Invaders offer a tantalising look at this hardly-known Chapter, but are given short shrift by the low word count of the story.
The stories showing the Legion through the eyes of mortals are much more effective, both in terms of the sheer power of these ghostly Space Marines and also the fear they induce in not only those they face but also those they save. David Annandale ramps the fear factor up in a typically dark tale of an Imperial archive world under attack from the forces of Chaos, while Nick Kyme gives us Guardsmen spooked by sinister Dark Eldar and CZ Dunn spins a tale of a Sister Dialogous protecting her flock from the Plague of Unbelief. In all three of these we see the Legion as saviours but with very different motivations, and they come across in satisfyingly different ways depending on who’s observing them. For the last of the stories, Josh Reynolds shows us how the Legion might appear to an enemy of mankind, a mortal bred and engineered to be a killer of Space Marines. It’s an exciting new angle and provides probably the most satisfying story of the pack, expanding both the mystique of the Legion as well as the wider 40k universe.
All six stories are genuinely enjoyable and worth reading for any fan of 40k and Black Library, never mind the Legion of the Damned, and while some are more effective than others this is a great collection of fiction that really gets to the heart of what 40k stories should be. Follow up with Rob Sanders’ fine Space Marine Battles book Legion of the Damned for more mysterious Space Marine action.