Animus Malorum by L.J. Goulding. A Legion of the Damned short story, originally published by The Black Library, October 2013. Approx. 18 pages.
HachiSnax Note: Just in time for Halloween last year, The Black Library released six shorts featuring everyone's favorite ghost Company, the Legion of the Damned (nice idea). Unfortunately, the roster of authors tapped to contribute was a mixed bag at best. We have Joshua Reynolds and David Annandale (yeah!), Graeme Lyon (first time for me), C.Z. Dunn (might be good), and L.J. Goulding and Nick Kyme (uh-oh). I also feared that a bias would taint my enjoyment of these shorts; that being the belief that none would reach the lofty standard set for the LotD by Rob Sanders in the novel of said name. Recently, however, I gave myself a reality check. It is my sworn duty as a book reviewer to be objective at all times (aren't I noble?). So, even if it is a year late, I'll be peppering this month with these ghostly tales (posting them in alphabetical order). Are they horrifying, or simply horrible? Let's see.... Cheers, Hach.
On an unnamed planet, an unspecified Astartes Chapter is locked in battle with an ork horde of immense size. The forces trying to hold off the green wave are led by one Captain Erice, who is rallying his troops around the Cathedral of the Emperor's Undying Magnificence. Meanwhile, below the foundations of this holy relic, Techmarine Marco has been charged with a grim task; to set charges to detonate the cathedral, along with the xenos scum, but unfortunately also with the withering line of Space Marines.
But, while awaiting the order from Erice to detonate, Marco is visited by some spectral guests. The Legion has come.
The Legion does what needs doing. They are the force that reverses the tide. But, although the cannot be killed, they are not invincible. It has been speculated that gods will die if there is no longer any faith in them. And, for every service rendered, there are debts to be paid. These are the ideas that Goulding tosses around in Animus Malorum. The result is a mixed-bag. Part of my assessment lies with how I responded to his actual presentation of the Legion, and part lies with the overall execution.
Goulding does the scene-building very well. Even though we know neither the world where this takes place, or the Chapter involved, he creates a tense battlefield that sucks you right in. The fight scenes with the orks is well done also, with the highlight being a masterfully choreographed duel between Erice and an ork warboss. Finally, watching the Legion in action is a very satisfactory payoff.
However, after a nice open, Animus Malorum falls apart in the second half. This is where Goulding goes for his "big twist", and the overall crux of the tale. The main moral here regards debts and obligations, and how those obliged to honor them have begun to stray from them. I am going to list the specific issues I have with this portion, but it may get a little spoiler-y, so feel free to skip to the end if you want to avoid them.
Ok, first of all, I understand that by canon, those of the LotD can speak, but I personally hate it. Goulding here presents us with Sergeant Attica Centurius, bearer of the titular fetish, an ominous thing of vast power. It would have had a better feel for Erice to feel or understand the meaning of what Centurius was conveying simply by a resonance of what he embodied. I mean, it's not only that he talks. He talks entirely too much.
Secondly, I hated Techmarine Marco. Absolutely. He is one of the most annoying characters I have encountered in the WH40K universe, and his endless blathering only compounds the issue.
Even Captain Erice, a noble and honorable servant of the Emperor, has dialogue which slides from bombastic to bloviating. Point being, Goulding does not handle dialogue well. This story, with a tone well set, would have benefited from deafening silence.
The ending here is fairly well telegraphed from the moment Erice wakes up after the battle. The best twist Goulding adds is that the Legion was not there to save the Chapter, but to preserve the Cathedral. It is, again, a symbol of the Emperor's Undying Magnificence. As is the Legion. Goulding would have done this story more justice by capitalizing more on the notion.
Here's what it is:
A middle of the road entry in the Legion of the Damned series that benefits from excellent action scenes and the soul of a true cautionary tale, but falters in poorly scripted dialogue.
All the shorts in the series have the same cover design, with varying color palettes. I might give some colors a nominal edge over others, but in the end, they all feature a variation of the Legion's logo, set against a black background. Simple, but effective.
Cover Final Score: