Black Legion – Aaron Dembski-Bowden

The long-awaited sequel to The Talon of Horus, Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Black Legion continues where its predecessor left off in terms of tone, style and characters. Once again narrated by Iskandar Khayon, it picks up some time after The Talon of Horus and sees the burgeoning Black Legion asserting their strength within the Eye of Terror. While rival warlord Thagus Davarek opposes them at every step, despite Khayon’s assassination attempts, Abaddon’s gaze turns to a power that will set him on his fateful path. A path that leads, inevitably, out of the Eye and to a confrontation with an old enemy.

You’ve read The Talon of Horus, right? If not – go read it now! It’s been a three-year wait for the sequel, but thankfully a worthwhile one with a second novel which feels instantly familiar. Many of the same characters are present, but this time around there’s a little less of characters like Lheor and Telemachon and, unsurprisingly, a bit more of Abaddon and some new faces. Seen through Khayon’s eyes, and with his prejudices and opinions, Abaddon is a changed man compared to where we last saw him. Khayon sees him changing and dislikes what he sees, while at the same time warning us that worse is to come, and ominously referencing the daemon sword Drach’nyen. If you’re hoping to see the moment Abaddon claims that fateful weapon you’ll be disappointed, but its influence lies heavy upon the story.

Khayon is also changed, both on the surface – a new weapon, and a new daemon – and beneath it, as he notes his standing within the legion. It’s worth remembering that this is a series about Abaddon but told by Khayon, which is part of what makes it all so interesting. As the story progresses we meet Moriana (there’s a great moment when Khayon points out her origin to his Inquisitorial jailer) and Sigismund, whose inevitable meeting with Abaddon is cleverly handled (and probably not what you expect), but it’s Khayon and Abaddon at the heart of the story, along with Davarek. As an antagonist he’s largely effective, despite a lightweight backstory and the knowledge that one way or another he’s not going to win. What he provides is contrast with the Black Legion, and an interesting friction with Khayon which develops nicely as the story progresses.

Like Talon… this isn’t what you’d call a ‘fun’ book, but it’s darkly fascinating and beautifully crafted, with a deceptively simple plot providing immense scope for character development. It’s also, as you might expect from Dembski-Bowden, remarkably lore-heavy…but in a very good way, adding detail and depth to the characters and story without ever dominating. Don’t expect huge strides forward in the overall narrative – this is the build-up to the first Black Crusade, not the detail of it – or an action-heavy plot with Abaddon in the thick of things. There’s plenty of fighting but it always serves the story rather than dominating. While this instalment perhaps doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first book, it’s clear that the series is developing into a slow-burning, character-led story that should please anyone looking for insight into one of the fundamental elements of 40k.

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