In Matt Wallace’s Savage Legion, book one of the Savage Rebellion trilogy, the nation of Crache is a paradise of innovation where all who contribute to society may benefit from its wealth. However, beyond its walls in the shadows its citizens are so far removed from that they know not of the dark’s existence, Crache uses the poor and disabused people of society to fight the bloodiest moments its wars. Where once only those judged to have committed the worst crimes were sent to their violent ends fighting Crache’s foes, now Crache needs more and more people to be thrown into the grinder, and one such person who should not be there ends up on the front in the titular Savage Legion, kicking off an action-packed story of war, corruption, and friendship.
In Savage Legion Evie has been pressed from a barroom brawl and into the Savage Legion, the condemned rag-clad wall of flesh the Crache empire throws at its foes before sending the real soldiers in. In the capital city of Crache itself, Lexi has a week to clear her husband Brio’s name from the charge of treason, lest the leaders of Crache scrub out her Gen (guild / union), the only remaining voice in parliament for the poor people of the Bottoms. Dyeawan has been taken from a dungeon to an island. Her new boss invents wondrous things, and her sharp mind and ability to detect all lies has her soon questioning just what he is inventing, and for what purpose. Daian is an Aegin (a member of the Crache policing force), super human fast with a blade, and interestingly indifferent to the laws he is supposed to be enforcing.
Savage Legion is primarily centred on Evie’s time in the Savage Legion as she and her fellow Savages are thrown into battle after battle, Lexi as the new the leader of Gen Stalbraid as she searches for her husband Brio and realises that she can be so much more than just a host to her husband’s guests, and Dyeawan’s induction into the mysterious Planning Cadre. Evie is the raw brutal reality of the Savage Legion; Lexi experiences the terrifying corruption of Crache’s governing and policing entities; while Dyeawan is an insight into the machinations of those driving society for the betterment of its citizens.
Crache as a nation seems modelled on democratic socialism quite heavy handily, showcasing the good and the bad (the bad obviously being the more fun to read about and having the most impact on the story). It’s an engaging world to play in for Wallace that we can all likely relate to in one way or another, and the history of Crache’s change from a monarchy-style governing approach a thousand years past to an approach that favours the people and their value to society, and how the history of that change has been controlled and changed to suit the paradise narrative, is an interesting theme that I enjoyed reading about.
With the author being US-based, it’s relatively clear that Crache is a fantastical representation of the US with all of its current problems. The allegories for police brutality, government manipulation of its population, and the downtrodden, disabused, poor, and unwanted banding together against the machine are very starkly and bluntly written, with little subtlety. Things such as Aegins needing to hit unofficial arrest quotas, and people using money and influence to become more equal than others, for example, I felt were quite heavy-handedly done. I will say, however, that Wallace’s approach to including plenty of human diversity and inclusivity was welcome, though not as smoothly done as Alex Marshall’s The Crimson Empire trilogy in my mind. It is also likely, based on how bluntly some of the other themes in this book are written, that this is entirely purposeful–after all, the time in the US of subtle messaging is years dead and gone.
For the grimdark fan, while on the surface this felt like a book where I would find plenty of gritty anti-heroes to read about, it is an epic dark fantasy. The good characters might be covered in a bit of muck and blood, but they are good characters, and by the end some of the antagonists become at times almost comically evil. There are plenty of characters in this book worth investing in–Evie, Taru, and Dyeawan, for me–and readers will likely get plenty of enjoyment from the bold themes and messaging throughout, but the nuanced anti-hero and villain the grimdark fan chases is not what I found in this book.
Savage Legion is a barnstorming and bloody adventure with plenty of modern themes amongst the medieval fantasy world brutality for readers to connect with. Dark fantasy and epic fantasy fans–especially those US-based ones–are likely to get a very big kick out of this book. I, most certainly, will be picking up book two, Savage Bounty, immediately so I can continue this story.