“So,” Boad said as he eyed her bandage,” what’s the other guy look like?”
“I left him facedown,” McKee answered truthfully.
Boad looked surprised. “You’re serious?”
“He attacked me.”
“Well, that’s what we’re looking for,” the NCO said. “People who aren’t afraid to fight…What kind of training are you interested in?”
McKee thought of the Empress Ophelia. “I want to learn how to kill people.”
Boad’s eyebrows rose, and he nodded slowly. “Well, young lady…If that’s what you want—we’ll sure as hell teach you. Welcome to the Legion.”
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: January 3, 2014
When Princess Ophelia Ordanus decides it’s time for a little “regime change,” she doesn’t do it by half measures, proceeding to drop her brother, Emperor Alfred Ordanus III, from the nearest observation tower of the Imperial Palace and immediately embarking on a massive purge of anyone whose loyalty to the former ruler might deem them suspect. Her synthetic troops, “synths” for short, are both methodical and ruthless, decimating the foremost families of the Empire, including that of Cyntarch Dor Carletto, whose close relationship with the Emperor seals his fate, and by extension his family’s. In the ensuing slaughter, Dor’s younger brother Rex manages to elude the death squads and send a warning to his niece, allowing her to avoid a similar fate—if she moves quickly.
Lady Catherine Carletto isn’t your average socialite, spending her days luxuriating in her family fortune. She’s learned the family trade (cyborg technology, in case you’re wondering); she’s smart, resourceful, and fueled by both her desire to live and to avenge her family. To achieve either goal Cat must disappear, remaining unnoticed within an empire whose agents have earmarked significant resources to her capture. Bereft of options, her one chance at survival lies in joining the Legion, a military organization where they don’t ask questions about your past. Criminals, dissidents, those who want or need to disappear, the Legion takes anyone as long as they’re willing to fight. With her signature on a contract, Cat Carletto the wealthy socialite dies, and Andromeda McKee the legionnaire, is born. If she can evade the Empress’ assassins and survive her time in the Legion, Andromeda McKee just might find a way to exact revenge.
William C. Dietz is known for his military science fiction, most notably the Legion of the Damned series, chronicling the exploits of a futuristic military force modeled along the lines the famous French Foreign Legion. Made up of human soldiers and their cyborg counterparts, the Legion attracts the underbelly of the Empire, molding them into a superior fighting force whose loyalty is not so much to the Empire as to their fellow legionnaires. Consisting of nine novels, The Legion series wrapped up in 2011 with A Fighting Chance. Since then, Dietz has embarked on a prequel trilogy: Andromeda’s Fall, Andromeda’s Choice, and most recently, Andromeda’s War. Being a latecomer to the series, Andromeda’s Fall seemed a most excellent place to begin.
Andromeda’s Fall is an origin story, introducing the reader to the life of a legionnaire as we watch Andromeda train in the ways of war, fast rising through their ranks. Andromeda is the prototypical strong female character, blending intelligence and cunning to further her goals, and Dietz portrays her in a realistic manner, at least as realistic as anyone can in a science fictional setting. She’s not the stereotypical “man with boobs” trope that a lot of authors tend to get wrong when they overemphasize the “strong” part of “strong female character.” Her strength comes from her intellect rather than her ability to throw a punch, and it makes Andromeda all the more interesting. Her personality is no-nonsense without being overbearing, none of the trademark “snark” that seems to define a lot of characters these days when they mistake an obnoxious personality for good leadership skills.
A good portion of the novel deals with Andromeda’s training with the Legion, and while it felt somewhat abbreviated for the level of competence she exhibits, it also gives us a good introduction to the Legion, how it operates, and to the cybernetic troopers (organic brains controlling robot bodies) that make up a significant portion of their fighting force. From there, the newly minted legionnaires whet their newfound skills fighting insurgents on Orlo II, one of the many worlds unhappy with their new Empress and her repressive policies. Once on planet, the rest of the novel consists of a series of combat situations for Andromeda and her compatriots leading up to an invasion by the alien Hudathans.
The Hudathans are the principal adversaries in the Legion of the Damned series, and this is perhaps why they aren’t fleshed out as a race particularly well in this prequel. My guess is that their motivations, psychology and society have been discussed in detail within the regular series, yet as someone coming to it fresh, the lack of back-story detracted somewhat from my enjoyment of the novel. However, the introduction of a series of synthetic assassins hunting down Andromeda/Cat added a nice “cat and mouse” aspect to the novel.
Andromeda’s Fall is not without its faults. Apparently in the far future, no one can administer DNA testing or facial recognition properly. I rolled my eyes while reading a scene where one of the hunters couldn’t identify Andromeda as Cat Carletto, not because she’s had massive plastic surgery, but because she had recently broken her nose and received a facial scar not on the official record. In another, the tension mounts as an FTD (fugitive tracking device) goes through the ranks, stops to sniff McKee, but then simply decides not to take a DNA sample. It was a little bit of unnecessary deus ex machina that felt contrived. However, this isn’t so much a complaint as it is a quibble.
I do find it interesting that Dietz decided to set his far future narrative in a universe where the dominant form of government is the Monarchy, a ruling system that seems quite anachronistic in this day and age. But, there is plenty of precedent. Frank Herbert did it in Dune with the reign of Emperor Shaddam IV, Asimov did the same with his Foundation series and Flash Gordon (okay, I might be stretching the analogy here) had Ming the Merciless, ruler of the planet Mongo. It’s an interesting throwback to the past thrust into a futuristic setting much as the fleet actions of many a sci-fi novel hearken back to the naval traditions embodied in Horatio Hornblower.
Andromeda’s Fall is an excellent starting point for those fans of military science fiction looking to explore the world of the Legion of the Damned.