The Choppy Waters of Crafting Titles
I came across an unusual review for Legion of the Damned a couple of days ago. It's from a video review site called 'Choppy Reviews' and run by a reader / presenter called Cocolito. A great deal of thought goes into the reviews and even more into the presentation. Cocolito had many nice things to say about Legion of the Damned , which were nice to hear. It would misrepresent his review, however, if I didn't identify a key issue he had with the novel: the four words of the title. Cocolito is not the first to identify this and I've talked about this a few times. Cocolito addresses his issue with great humour and fairness. He deserves a response for that alone, even if I don't agree with him.
While considering the book very good, he doesn't like that 'Legion of the Damned' occurs on the front cover. To justify the title, he would like even more Legion of the Damned in the book. It's not an unfair expectation. We live in a world where many book publishers and authors expect little of their readers. They give their books Ronseal does-what-it-says-on-the-tin titles because they don't expect their readership's attention span to be able to handle anything else. Meanwhile, authors who respect their readership's intellectual capabilities have been using titles as literary devices in their own right for hundreds of years. How does this work in respect to Legion of the Damned? In two ways.
Firstly, there are many books and series that utilise titles that relate to forces, phenomenons and presences that are always present in the book / series but actually spend little time 'on screen' as point-of-view characters. The best example I can think of is the famous title 'The Lord of the Rings'. The 'Lord' is always present - but not always 'on screen'. The Legion of the Damned work in a similar way. They are present in almost all chapters of the novel (read it carefully) before entering and performing their literary function. I won't give away spoilers here. If you haven't read the book, let me encourage you to do so. Not all titles are Ronseal titles. Legion of the Damned isn't. Are the Legion of the Damned present throughout the book. Yes. Do they act in accordance with the background that everyone knows and loves. Yes. Their function necessitates a group requiring their intervention. This allowed me to bring in the Space Marines Excoriators Chapter. I build them from the foundations up in the novel and many readers have loved that a Space Marine chapter could be presented in depth, at the same time as narrative intrigue and action is maintained.
Secondly, the title is a metaphor. There a several legions presented in the novel that are unequivocally 'damned'. Again, without introducing anything that isn't covered in the blurb, there is the 'Legion of the Damned', the Excoriators - who believe themselves damned and doomed to failure - and the World Eaters: a Chaos Space Marine legion enslaved to the god of bloodshed and hatred. All of these legions are damned. The title could relate to any one of them but in fact relates to all three. Titles are literary devices and a good author will make four words work hard for him. A lazy one will slap a Ronseal title on their book and underestimate their readers. It also does raise the issue of the blurb. It is the blurb's responsibility to accurately convey the content of the novel it is introducing. Check it out: it does.
Anyway, Cocolito put a good deal of effort into his review and I believe that he deserved a response. I encourage you to check out his review here. Beyond his issue with the title, he says many nice and insightful things about the novel. Beyond even that, it is a funny and entertaining review that is well worth watching. I've also put a link to Cocolito's review site - called 'Choppy Reviews' - on the side bar blog roll. He deserves to be part of 'the Scene'.