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Bellarius finished off the Legion of the Damned collection with Votum Infernus by Nick Kyme.
“A solid tale of retribution and brutality, the best kind for the Legion.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
The final story on the list, Votum Infernus is definitely the one you should save for last. As well as being one of the better ones among this collection, it shows the Legion is far more of an avenging light than other tales here.
Caught in the aftermath of a horrifically failed Imperial counter assault against xenos invaders, the handful of survivors from the Vostroyan Firstborn 85th are forced to flee amid the ruins of the city they recently bombarded. Hunted by cruel figures lurking within an unnatural mist, they soon discover that someone else lurks within the ruins…
Even more so than the other stories, Kyme makes sure to waste as little time as possible in establishing the scene. Within less than a tenth of the story you are already made up to date on events with the majority of the action already having passed by. While the seeming abruptness of this action would usually undermine most tales, this is made to work here for two reasons: Firstly that the prior event is quickly established to have been a one sided massacre which did not need to be shown. It’s at odds with the actual themes of the story and any relevant information is relayed with good effect through the thoughts of the survivors. Secondly that there is a good balance between tension and the delivery of information. We’re given just enough to make the story feel satisfactory with a comprehensive introduction, but a pressing enough of a threat to excuse the tale not going into great detail. A perfect balance such a short tale needs to have an effective beginning.
A further strength comes from the fact the tale offers a little more than the formulaic styles of the other stories. The Legion of the Damned will show up at the last minute to save things, usually to the shock of the enemies and with devastating results, that’s a given. However, there is an unexpected twist within the tale you will not see coming which helps it stand out a little more. It is only introduced towards the very end, but answers a number of questions earlier on and solves what appears to be an early plot hole.
That said, there is not too much in the way of open gunfights or explosive action. Much of the tale instead focuses upon the guardsmen fleeing their pursuers and progressively being cut down Predator style. This is mostly what the story is aiming for and there’s little in the way of even fighting and every engagement is fairly one sided. Despite this, it works due to the emphasis on the guardsmen being hunted and some of the elements it is used to introduce. Unfortunately the same cannot really be said of the other characters.
Nick Kyme’s writing style can be best described as “cerebral” in its use of characters and the overall plot. The strength of his works when they’re at their best mostly stem from the ideas involved over great descriptions, memorable characterisations or great dialogue. When a story works, it’s because of the long term concept the story is built upon, and often the characters involved seem more like tools to explore these themes than individual figures. As such those involved feel very much like ciphers or feel as if they’re intentionally blank in an attempt to create everymen representations of their kind. They fulfil the role the plot requires of them, but there is little truly distinctive about them in their histories or personalities. There’s just little actually gone into within the story.
The same really goes for the environment unfortunately, but that’s much more forgivable. Obscured from sight in every direction, the characters are supposed to see lost within their surroundings but we get little even once this is dispensed with. Similarly, certain actions which are supposed to bring a sense of finality are almost skimmed over, namely the major assault by the Legion in the same manner of Ship of the Damned. We don’t get much more of a sentence to show the effectiveness of their arrival, however at least in this case we do get more individual actions to show their capabilities. One of these especially proves to be quite memorable, but it feels as if it would have been much more effective if delivered to the actual leader of the xenos hunting the guardsmen.
Still, all in all this was a good short story. While it has obvious flaws, it plays towards the author’s strengths and goes for something of a different approach than other tales. There are certainly a few questions which go unanswered unfortunately, including one especially big one following the twist, but it does feature a great pacing and handles its ideas well. Get this one if you’re a Legion fan, but save it until you’re done with one of the other good tales from this collection.