Have you ever had a bad day? I'm talking about the kind of day where the best case scenario is that you've ruined your life for the next five years and the worst case scenario is that you end up dead or maimed? We're talking about the kind of day where you involuntarily leave behind the career you've spent years building because you got a little too drunk last night. Oh and, just to make it worse, you were promoted last night. I mean, I've had some bad days in my time but this might legitimately be the worst day in history. It's okay though. If Paul Mullins hadn't had the worst day ever then he wouldn't have joined the United States Foreign Legion and there would be no Legion by Leo Champion. That would make me sad because Legion is a really good book.
Our hero is Paul Mullins. After he somehow managed to get so drunk at his own promotion party that he ends up enlisting into the military without wanting to he struggles. His goal is initially to get out of a contract that he was tricked into signing by an unscrupulous recruiter. He eventually ends up just trying to keep himself and his buddies alive. At the beginning of the story he's not used to struggling. By the end it's all he knows.
I find myself liking Mullins. He's hardcore. He made a bad decision but he decides to roll with it. He does try to get out of his contract because he was tricked but he simultaneously pushes himself to be top in his class and survive. He works hard on missions that he never would have been on if he hadn't been tricked. Basically, Mullins finds himself in a situation where he would be perfectly justified in throwing a whiny bitch fit worthy of a Stephanie Meyers protagonist but he never does. I mean, if I ever accidentally joined a branch of the military and then found out my odds were what they are in the USFL I think I'd freak out. Mullins holds it together though.
Mullins matures a lot in other ways as well. At the beginning of the book he's some business guy with better things to do. By the end he has accepted responsibility for his entire unit and called in air and artillery strikes. He has been promoted to radio man, knowing and accepting the fact that his new assignment is even more dangerous than his old one. The only part he seems to worry about is that it'll get him shorten his hitch. He is promoted once and is being looked at for going further. He really seems to have it all put together by the end of Legion and I respect that,
The titular Legion is more properly known as the United States Foreign Legion. It's based on the model of the French Foreign Legion, which recruits anyone but mainly gets convicts and foreigners. French convicts are offered a chance at redemption in exchange for their service. I like the concept. As a matter of fact, offering a convicted felon a choice between imprisonment or service used to be fairly common in the real world US. (True story. My grandfather got arrested for running shine and was offered a choice between prison and the military. He chose prison, but not everyone did.) It has since been ruled unconstitutional by a partisan court. I wouldn't mind seeing the practice brought back though and Champion posits a very realistic way that it could return.
The USFL lives up to its reputation as a bunch of trouble-making convicts as well. Whether they're stealing equipment from the Army or participating in a brawl that is several blocks long, they're always up to no good. They loot places as well. It's weird though because on one hand they're thieves and brawlers but on the other hand, these are the guys who take on the toughest assignments and succeed.
The relationships between the characters in the book are amazingly well done. Not everyone gets along, but that's life in any large organization. They all manage to pull together when it's their asses on the line though. It just works. The NCOs are mean when they have to be and helpful when they can be. The officers (and one lieutenant in particular) give orders knowing that it's going to get their men killed and then agonize about it afterward. And yes, there is the inevitable shirtbird but that happens in every unit too. I'm not sure if Champion has served or not but his unit reads as true to life as it gets.
His use of tactics makes sense as well. The Legion gets all the most dangerous assignments and is not the most well equipped branch of service but they do things in an intelligent manner. There is no lone wolfing. The soldiers work together toward the goal and they have each others backs. They use suppressing fire and grenades when it makes sense to. Kudos to Champion for being the one guy who writes members of the military as having enough brains to fight well. They call for artillery and air support at the right times. They accept help from wherever they can get it when it's their asses on the line. Everything about the way they fight makes sense.
Fans of diversity done right will love this book. Legion is a good story featuring characters of color. The minority characters are believable and they serve a purpose in the story. There is mention of suffering due to racism but it's not the focus of the book. There is no navel gazing here. This is a book with plenty of action to keep things moving that includes minority characters who do things for their own reasons and not necessarily to follow bullshit rules as lain down by Social Justice Bully assholes.
All in all, I really enjoyed Legion. I couldn't find any real problems with it either. There was no jarring moment that threw me out of the work. It didn't shy away from the world's problems but it didn't focus on them to detriment of everything else. This thing just worked.
Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Signed Contracts
Argilla Tabula Publishing, 2013
Legion is available for purchase at the following link: