Earlier this week, I finished reading The Emperor’s Legion by Chris Wraight, which I have to say now, was absolutely cracking!
The story is told from the point of view of three characters – a Custodian Guard, a Silent Sister, and the Chancellor of the High Lords of Terra. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has more than one point of view character where each chapter is in their own first person! It was really interesting to me, I must say!
The Emperor’s Legion takes place around the time of the Great Rift, which initially gave me some pause as I have read quite a lot of novels set during this time, and the coming of Guilliman etc. However, two-thirds of the book is set firmly on Terra, which gives the book a different flavour on it, as we’ve not yet seen what happens there. Turns out – quite a lot goes on!
The Chancellor of the High Lords, Tieron, is quite the interesting character, as we see something of the power behind the throne at first. This is, perhaps, where the advantage of telling the story in the first person comes to the fore, as we see Tieron’s attitude to his own position degrade as the novel progresses. We learn that Tieron has been attempting to reverse the decision that was taken to keep the Custodian Guard bound to the walls of the Imperial Palace. There is a lot going on in the politics of this decision, and I found it fascinating to learn about all of those goings-on, I suppose in part because of the way in which we learn about it.
From the Custodian Valerian, we see more of the Adeptus Custodes and their own attitudes towards their long vigil. Something I found quite intriguing was seeing the history of the Imperium from the golden boys, as they clearly know more of the history of the universe than we’ve seen from, say, the Space Marines of other novels. The story told from the point of view of the Silent Sister, however, is much more interesting to start with. Aleya is a very capable warrior, who dismantles a Chaos cult when we first meet her, only to return to her convent to find it has been decimated by the Black Legion. This drives her to return to Terra, wherein ensues a hectic race through the Warp as she attempts to defy the constant daemonic incursions through their failing Geller field.
It turns out that the Silent Sisters have been allowed to become forgotten over the thousands of years since the Heresy, as many cannot abide their anti-psyker presence. Aleya burns with the injustice of this, and the narrative from her perspective is really quite vicious at times as a result! Since the Silent Sisters were a part of the Burning of Prospero game back in 2016, it’s been a bit weird to me how GW would attempt to re-integrate them into the 40k game. We did see something back in 7th Edition, with the Talons of the Emperor box set, but it was really quite disappointing as it turned out. When the Custodes made their appearance in 8th Edition as a major force, and subsequently the Adepta Sororitas, I know there were plenty of folks who were a bit put-out by the fact the Sisters were left out of things.
At any rate, the book brings all three of the main characters together when the Great Rift has opened across the sky, when Cadia has fallen, and things are looking even worse for the Imperium than ever. Enter – the Grey Knights! Oh man, I was so excited when these guys turned up, not least because I’m currently back to working on these guys! I definitely had a bit of a tingle when they first mentioned turning to Titan for help, and when they arrived in force – oh, man!
The arrival of the Grey Knights poses an interesting insight into how the Custodes are meant to fight. I think both Aleya and Valerian talk of how the Sisters and the Custodians pair up, as there is no physical enemy the latter cannot defeat, but in the case of the Archenemy, they require the null-maidens to deny any demonic nonsense, anchoring them to the physical plane for the Custodes to then destroy. By contrast, the Grey Knights fight against the Ruinous Powers on their terms, making things that much more difficult. It’s really quite incredible when they Grey Knights win, because the odds are so stacked against them even before battle has been joined!
Another thing that I really like about this novel is how it seems to blend a lot of things that we’ve seen up until now – the attack on Fenris, the fall of Cadia, etc. We get something of the mechanics of news in the Imperium here, as the fall of Cadia might have happened months ago, or worse. It’s something that we’ve had hints of in other books, of course, seeing the perils of having an Imperium held together by telepathic thought-impressions or physical messages being sent.
The book culminates with a massive daemonic incursion on Terra itself, which brings all three of the protagonists together. Guilliman appears on Luna, and takes command of the Council of the High Lords, some of whom had suspected as much and attempted to prevent it – serving as a kind of metaphor for how stagnant the Imperium has become, really. Valerian and Aleya discover that the Ruinous Powers have been attempting to cut off Terra from the rest of the galaxy by using the Cadian pylons to essentially nullify the Warp at strategic points. They head off to the only remaining conduit through the Warp from Terra, and thwart the forces of the Black Legion before they can carry out their nefarious plot.
It really is a great book, giving a tremendous look at the Imperium at the time of the Great Rift. In many ways, it serves to sum up so much of my love of 40k right now, taking a look at the various aspects of the Imperium, predominantly the Adeptus Ministorum. They’ll never really make an army for these guys, of course, but it’s always fascinating to me seeing the inner workings of the Empire like this.
Wonderful stuff, definitely recommended!