Animus Malorum by L J Goulding – eBook Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius begins looking into the series of Legion of the Damned short stories released by Black Library, starting with Animus Malorum by L J Golding.
“Proof that an interesting idea cannot make a good story on its own.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Since Rob Sanders’ penned the book largely focusing upon the Excoriators, a constant criticism of Legion of the Damned is that the titular chapter was not the core focus. They did not have a speaking role, did not directly interact with the characters beyond haunting and occasionally helping the protagonist and only appeared in force at the end. This short story seems like an effort to address those criticisms, but it only ends up proving just why giving the Legion such a prominent role is wrong.
Fighting on an unnamed world, the warriors of an unnamed chapter fight to hold swarms of orks at bay as they make a last stand upon the planet. Falling one by one, Captain Erices orders Techmarine Marco to detonate multiple charges beneath them and find some form of phyrric victory. Before he can, pale skinned warriors with skeletal iconography claiming to be of the Legion arrive and combat the orks. However, the defence of the Emperor’s world is not all that has brought the Legion there…
Many initial points of the setting play out in a similar manner to Legion of the Damned, only condensed into short form and with certain details changed. It’s set on an apparently holy world with a desperate chapter facing insurmountable odds, but with the actual involvement of the Legion changed. When they strike, they strike with the force of an unstoppable hammer blow but there is little sense of that here. While their seemingly inhuman levels of endurance are emphasised, rather than completely turning the tide the battle just seems to peter out as they turn up. It doesn’t emphasise just what a battlefield changing event their arrival truly is, only that they turned up and a few hours later it was over.
The short story also tries to return to the original idea of the Legion of the Damned itself. Whereas other incarnations had taken to presenting them as warp ghosts or spectres of dead warriors, these versions are distinctly physical. This effort to return to what they were is especially emphasised by the prominence of a sergeant a few long-time players will undoubtedly recognise among their number. While an admirable choice as little was actually done with the original Legion, the issue comes from certain details. Many points made it outright clear that the Legion consisted of the remnants of the Fire Hawks, whereas many new stories leave that detail much more ambiguous. Here however, the story never manages to go all the way with this point. Many Legionaries are still noted to be spectral ghosts and the Legion itself is set up to be some secret force known within many chapters and well established within the Imperium of Man. This ultimately robs them of the strengths of either interpretation.
What made the original Legion of the Damned work was the fact that they were a dying breed who had witnessed the absolute worst that the galaxy could throw at them and suffered beyond the point of sanity. Despite that their loyalty still endured and they would fight until the last of them were slain. The fact a proud chapter like the Fire Hawks could fall so far yet remain loyal was a oddly hopeful tale, yet their decaying numbers reflected upon the Imperium’s own plight. This element is undercut by the fact that they are set up as a long standing force and have existed long beyond the Fire Hawks’ existence. Not to mention the exact reason they are on the world and the fact their number beyond their leader are all spectral figures.
The new incarnation of the Legion of the Damned worked because of the mystery build up around them and because they were used sparingly. Rarely appearing and never taking a direct speaking role, with the authors who used them managing to avoid making them a direct Deus Ex Machina by integrating them into the core of the book’s plot in some way. Here they do have a good reason to be on the planet, but remaining around the space marines after their foe has been defeated and openly speaking with others robs them of a great deal of what made the force work.
This might sound like harping, but beyond the Legion itself there is very little the story actually has going for it. The space marines on the world go completely unmentioned in terms of which chapter they belong to avoids giving them characteristics which might identify them. This makes them unengaging and seem less like the Emperor’s angels of death than generic redshirts. A matter hardly helped when it comes to some very un-astartes behaviour from Marco and the fact the world they are fighting on goes both unnamed and largely described beyond occasional mentions of religious elements. As a result it just comes across as lacking a great deal of immersion or drive to keep the reader involved, with even the final twist being one which is fairly predictable for those paying attention to what is being said.
It’s obvious what L J Goulding was trying and it’s an admirable story idea. To show a generic setting where the Legion appears but to put a very dark spin upon it, while at the same time unifying the two versions of the Legion. Unfortunately none of this changes the fact the story here just did not work in the end. Skip this one and find a better short story to spend your cash on.