The Bastard Legion: War Criminals by Gavin Smith
Gollancz, pb, £10.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Hired to protect some colonists against corporate bought mercenaries, Miska Corbin plans on bending the rules of engagement to build her legions reputation and replenish equipment through the time-honoured tradition of looting. But after the first few missions go easier than expected, Miska suspects other motivations for the assault on the colonists. Then, when some colonists and non-military personnel are murdered, and fingers are pointed at Miska and her penal conscripts, she realise she is just a pawn in a bigger plan that involves forces beyond Miska’s tech and understanding. Can she navigate her way through the corporate traps set out for her and can she keep her legion of violent criminals from giving into their baser natures, killing everyone including herself?
This is the third instalment of Smith’s Bastard Legion series and it starts in the middle of a conflict that demonstrates the Legion’s potential. These men are intelligent and have spent years honing their skills in criminal gangs. Miska’s plans border on the insane and rely on her opponents’ self-preservation to stop her from going too far. On the surface, the two should work well together, criminals with a license to kill and loot, and a highly functioning psychopath with a plan to use them, but they don’t. Whatever Miska’s mental health, she is a marine working a deniable black ops mission and is using bombs implanted in the criminals’ necks to control them. Who do you trust when your soldiers want to kill you and your commanding officers are serving you up as bait?
Although there is lots of futuristic mechs and medicine, Smith also relies heavily on references to the 20th Century, as well as a few nods to even earlier centuries, for weaponry, clothing and the separate gangs that make up the Legion. This is a particular issue for me as the book is set four hundred years in the future, yet it doesn’t appear that anything worthy has happened culturally. I will believe in god-like AI’s in nanotechnology bodies, I won’t believe that music hasn’t progressed in four hundred years and everyone is still listening to rock music.
Sometimes I found Miska’s behaviour inconsistent. She orders the Ultra, the worst of the worst aboard her ship of convicted felons, to return to his prison pod rather than engaging in any more fighting because she is worried how people will react when they find out about his super-enhanced DNA, but almost straight away tells him to hunt down someone who has betrayed her, letting her emotions get the better of her.
While this is book three, you don’t need to have read the previous two books. Although they are linked together, a new reader gets enough background information to understand the in-jokes, the past betrayals, and Miska’s personal mission which underpins everything. In fact, my personal view is this is the best of the series so far. It is a lot of fun as the criminals start to enjoy their lives as mercenaries, their access to new tech and, more importantly, the chance to utilise their particular brand of life skills. From the first bullet to the last stabbing, this is a thrilling ride for anyone who enjoys military sci-fi.