REVIEW: The Hidden Legion by Snorri Kristjánsson

Last Updated on February 26, 2024

Rome gets the dark fantasy treatment in Snorri Kristjánsson’s latest release, The Hidden Legion. Full of mythical creatures and action and found family, this is definitely the cozy dark monster hunting fantasy you’re looking for.

In The Hidden Legion Aemilius is a young, well off Roman noble, with few cares in the world. Playing in the hills with his friends, Aemilius is taken from his life of certainty and comfort and thrown into a world of danger when he meets a group of misfit soldiers and they charge headlong into chasing down the growing presence of monsters in Roman occupied Greece.

Aemilius’ found family are the foundation this story is built on. Thrown together from the conquered lands of Rome, and including the gruff and fatherly Quintus, to Rizkah the angry, snarky assassin, to a cold Carthaginian noble, two wizards, and a Gaul barbarian. The soldiers have an easy friendship in that common way soldiers are written—full of rough ribbing bordering on danger, knowing each other in a way bought with blood and survival. This for me is the best part of The Hidden Legion. It feels easy and familiar, and a strong foundation around which to enjoy the rest of the story.

This goes for all but Aemilius himself, who, for me was a bit of a wet blanket to the story. He didn’t feel like he had a lot of agency to the point that where he actually did something it felt a bit forced and not natural. His character is an inexperienced boy among professional soldiering adults, really, and this aspect of the character is really well put together and explains the lack of agency. But when you have this youth amongst soldiers it just seems so odd when he shouts an idea and they all jump to it and that saves the moment. His is definitely the starting of a character expected to grow in books two and three–probably in to some sort of commant and tactician role–and it makes this book feel like it’s aimed at more of a YA or cozy fantasy audience.

The fantasy aspect of The Hidden Legion is really imaginative and a little Tolkien-esque, with a focus on monsters and food and fey-like characters. One scene about food, in particular, had me salivating for lunch a mere 30 minutes after having breakfast. Kristjánsson deserves the very crispest of high fives for his magic system and world building in this one. As a history fan of all things Roman, I massively enjoyed this aspect of the book.

For the grimdark fan, I’m afraid there isn’t much in The Hidden Legion for you. The antagonist is quite comical in the end, the lines are clearly drawn between good and evil, with the only aspect maybe worth looking at being Aemilius’s understanding that the Rome he thinks is the world’s saviour, isn’t in the eyes of those he thinks they are saving. However, if you’re just a fan of Roman legions and history, like I am, and a cozy dark-ish fantasy seems up your alley, which isn’t really my jam, then this might scratch an itch for you.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.