The first in Chris Bunch's "Last Legion" series was a fast paced far space shoot 'em up that drags the reader along for a wild ride. When I reached the end of that book I suspected that if he could keep up the fast pace for the rest of the series, it could be an exciting read. "Firemask" is the next in the series and gives me a chance to find out if my suspicions were correct.
Following directly on from "The Last Legion", life on Cumbre is calming down following the 'Raum uprising and life has returned to something approaching normal. On another distant planet, however, the Musth who fled Cumbre during the civil war now plan to return in greater numbers, with the intention of taking control of the system themselves.
The Legion are no more keen to be killed by Musth than they were to be killed by 'Raum, so they do what all good soldiers should and fight back. With the heroes from last time around, Garvin Jaansma and Njangu Yoshitaro once more to the fore, this is a war to be fought on several fronts as the Musth have an air force, which the Legion didn't have to deal with last time around.
The pace of events isn't quite so hectic this time around, as we are also introduced to the world of Musth politics. The decision to overthrow Cumbre was not unanimous and we get to see some of the posturing that has resulted in this decision and the discussions as to whether continuing with the assault is the right thing to do. This makes for an interesting diversion, but does move away slightly from Bunch's strengths.
When he is concentrating on the action, however, this has all the hallmarks of what made "The Last Legion" so much fun. Once more, this is an enjoyable and mostly fast-paced read that will never be a classic piece of literature, but will satisfy anyone who wants to read for entertainment. It's essentially the written version of an action film; a lot of fun if you like that kind of thing and I certainly do, although it does mean the book is better borrowed than bought, as it won't stand up to reading more than once.
The only downside to "Firemask" is that it is written as a sequel and so if you've not read the preceding volume, it can be a little difficult to follow. Bunch continues to switch between referring to characters by forenames and surnames at will, which can be a little bit difficult to follow and this book assumes you're immediately familiar with the events of the previous books and wastes no time explaining what has gone before. This will mean that the prior relationships between some of the characters may confuse you, particularly between Jaansma and Jasith Mellusin. If you can put this aside and just enjoy the fighting, this would be less of an issue.
For me, reading this as a sequel, this wasn't a problem and I was easily able to follow all Bunch's threads and names. I found it slightly less enjoyable than the first book, purely because there was more going on that took the focus away from the fighting, but it was still pretty exciting and Bunch makes a point of showing that the Musth are not the only enemy Cumbre has to keep the intrigue high for further books in the series.
"Firemask" may not be quite as good as "The Last Legion", but it's familiar enough to be welcoming and still entertaining enough to be enjoyable. There are more in the series and nothing here has made me want to stop reading just yet, not while Cumbre is still potentially vulnerable. However, the very nature of the story makes this one to borrow rather than to buy, especially with prices around £5.49 from Amazon, although if you can find a copy from eBay from 99 pence, it could be worth a purchase, but only then.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk
The Cumbre system is in a highly vulnerable position. Weakened in the aftermath of a vicious civil war, this collection of far-flung worlds is short on supplies and shorter on support. And the distant human Confederation government remains ominously silent. Now they stand in the path of an alien race bent on universal domination. Only the never-say-die members of the Legion stand in their way ...Previously driven from this planetary system, the alien Musth have returned in force. Outmanned and outgunned, the planetary government soon surrenders. Escaping capture, the surviving Legion soldiers scatter. Now, Garvin Jaansma and Njangu Yoshitaro conduct their own war - their way. Under their leadership, the troops take their fighting to the streets in a brutal guerrilla war against their oppressors - and against the odds.