Book review: THE BASTARD LEGION by Gavin Smith

THE BASTARD LEGION is Gavin Smith’s latest novel, and part one of the new BASTARD LEGION trilogy. Smith’s debut novel was VETERAN, but many readers will recognise him from the acclaimed AGE OF SCORPIO. A penal legion in space, a crazy Marxist computer virus, and corporate espionage: this is quality SF, with Gavin Smith’s trademark twist.

Set in the far future, the protagonist of BASTARD LEGION is Miska Corbin. A former US Marine Corps corporal with a chip on her shoulder, Corbin has recently taken command (in somewhat dubious circumstances) of a penal legion – compromised of some of the worst criminal elements of human space. Aboard the starship Hangman’s Daughter, Corbin convict army are tasked with taking the errant Faigroe Station. The station’s mining staff have seized control of the outpost, and their corporate overlords aren’t at all happy with that. Corbin’s team is the ideal choice for the mission: disposable, deniable and outside of the usual chain of command. This should be an easy job – a test for her new army, an opportunity to show exactly what her team is capable of. However, Corbin quickly discovers that her intelligence on Faigroe Station isn’t as reliable as she has been lead to believe…

BASTARD LEGION is a highly enjoyable SF adventure. This is quality space opera – engaging and accessible. I was a big fan of VETERAN, and BASTARD LEGION revisits that universe (although you don’t need to have read any of Smith’s previous works to enjoy this: this is a stand-alone series, although the connections are there if you look for them!). There are many, many SF ideas here, but don’t let that put you off. Smith’s writing is sufficiently accessible that it never feels overwhelming. Gavin Smith’s debut, VETERAN, had this element in spades, and BASTARD LEGION continues in the same vein. The tightly-drawn cast gives Smith space to explore these elements of his universe, and to delve into deeper SF tech. I actually feel that BASTARD’S LEGION was a bit more accessible than VETERAN or AGE OF SCORPIO, but if you’ve enjoyed any of Smith’s previous works, then I’m sure you’ll like this too.

Main character Miska Corbin makes for an interesting protagonist. She’s a competent soldier, but also a troubled character; struggling to deal with the responsibility of commanding her penal legion, whilst living up to the ideals of her father, Gunnery Sergeant Jonathan Corbin. The Miska-father dynamic is an interesting one, made all the ore complex because Corbin Senior is actually dead. He was killed in a botched home invasion, and is now reduced (or elevated?) to an electronic reproduction aboard the Hangman’s Daughter. Her confidante, friend and (in military terms) also her subordinate, the relationship between father and daughter is a complex one. At times, Miska is vulnerable and wounded by her father’s criticisms, but at other points in the story her father is the protected party. That Corbin Senior was murdered by someone on the Hangman’s Daughter, explained and examined in flashback throughout the main story arc, provides an additional element of tension. Hopefully this is a plot thread that Smith will explore further in the rest of the Bastard’s Legion series.

The frenetic pace is typical Smith, and despite the wealth of SF ideas in BASTARD LEGION the plot is always driving onwards. There’s just enough detail here to give you an insight into the world beyond the veil – Smith teases the various criminal organisations of his wider universe, as well as the universe in which the story is set. The world-building, as you’d probably expect, is well done. BASTARD LEGION will leave you eager to sign for another tour with Legion – I’ll certainly be looking out for book two in the series.

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