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The two genres may be closely linked, but there aren't many writers who can boast series in both the fantasy and science fiction genres. Dragons and star fighters may both have wings and both breathe fire, of a fashion, but most authors write about one or the other. Anne McCaffrey's "Brain Ship" books mark her out as an exception and, with a "Dragonmaster" series behind him before this, the first in a "Last Legion" quartet, so is Chris Bunch.
Njangu Yoshitaro is a small-time criminal who is captured going about his work and given a chance to join the Army as an alternative to jail. Garvin Jaansma is a young man who seems sign up on impulse. Petr Kipchak is a former soldier who preferred being in the Army to being out of it and so has re-enlisted.
The three are thrown together on their Troopship out to the distant Cumbre system, managing to escape when space pirates capture it. They make it to Cumbre and start their service at the worst possible moment; the planet has recently lost contact with the Confederation, the 'Raum who do all the menial work are starting to revolt and the Protector of neighbouring system Larix and Kura is keen to extend his empire.
We follow the recruits through their basic training and as they discover that the old saying about nice girls loving sailors also applies to Confederation soldiers. It's not all fun, however, and when the real work and the real danger starts, we get to see that as well. The Army has to try and put down the rebellion with ancient equipment and insufficient numbers, as well as a lack of support from the Confederation.
"The Last Legion" is a fast paced read pretty much the whole way through, although it does start a little slower and there is a part in the middle where it does drop a little. For much of the book, however, there is barely time to draw breath, much as it must feel in the heat of battle. The recruits are thrown from situation to situation and we're carried along for the ride.
There were a couple of points where things were less than ideal, however. The copy I read had a number of spelling and printing errors, which was quite distracting but is hopefully just an issue with a single copy or print run and would be rare. The other issue was that Bunch has a habit of switching between characters forenames and surnames at will, irrespective of who is addressing them and often within the same paragraph, which can get a little confusing. I did have to check back a couple of times to make sure the two names that were being used did refer to the same character. This does become less of an issue the more you read, as you get to know which names go together to form a single character.
The nature of the book makes it one to borrow rather than buy, as once you've read it, there's not enough depth to make it worth re-reading, although with copies available from eBay for as little as 99 pence or from the Amazon Marketplace from £1.39, even a purchase wouldn't cost too much. However, it is so much fun, that it's definitely worth reading that once, especially if you've enjoyed Bunch's "Sten" and "Star Risk" series or something like Jack Campbell's "Lost Fleet" series. I'd suggest that this is aimed more at teenagers than a more adult audience, although there are a few sex scenes that may make it unsuitable for younger readers.
This isn't high literature, but it certainly is high entertainment. Whilst not the best writing you'll ever see, it's a gripping enough story to keep you reading and enjoying yourself. Bunch has also done very well in leaving enough open ended that the reader ends up knowing that there are situations needing resolution and setting them up perfectly for the other books in the quartet. You can read this book on its own, but Bunch has ensured that you don't really want to and if the rest of the quartet can keep up the level of pace and excitement, it will be a very entertaining series.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk
In the turbulent age of the human Confederation empire, a forgotten branch of the Army patrols the farthest reaches of civilisation. And as the volatile Confederation begins to implode, they become humanity's hope for the future - the men and women of the Last Legion. A fresh batch of recruits are shipped to the frontier planets of the Cumbre System. Their job is to keep the peace - among the ruling class, the local aliens, and a terrorist faction bent on revolution. But when the Confederation falls silent - and the hit-and-run violence of the rebels escalates - the army becomes the law. And a planet on the edge of nowhere will set the stage for the crumbling empire's final stand ...