Hell’s Legionnaire by L. Ron Hubbard
Published: March 21st 2011 by Galaxy Audio
Format/Source: Audiobook from Librarything Early Reviewers
Ever contemplated joining the French Foreign Legion? Ever made a joke about them? Or perhaps listened to the Decemberists’ song, “The Legionnaire’s Lament”? Hell’s Legionnaire is two things: the title of a short story as well as the title of the audiobook containing three stories, all about the French Foreign Legion in Northern Africa.
As a collection, I enjoyed it. I liked that the stories while not connected by any kind of plot or character, were connected by the shared setting and type of character. As all of the stories were fairly short, it made sense to place them together into a single two-hour audiobook with multi-cast performance. The sound effects and the performances were excellently done. I thoroughly enjoyed the production. But, the stories were not equal in their quality.
To me, the title story was the one that fell flattest. An American woman on an expeditionary trip through Morocco is ambushed by Berbers. (Remember, this early twentieth century pulp fiction. Therefore, there is still a strong sense of orientalism and cardboard caricatures of the ‘other’.) Everyone in her party is murdered and she is taken as a captive by the Berber leader. A Legionnaire deserter finds her and they try to figure out what they can do to escape. The story was just okay; it wasn’t compelling to me and I found it too quick to resolve. I hadn’t been expecting the title story to be quite so short. Additionally, if someone has an issue with suggested attempted rape, I wouldn’t recommend this story. If I were to rate this story alone, I’d give it 2/5.
The second story was “The Barbarians”. Told primarily from the point of view of a Legionnaire infantry soldier, he embarks on a revenge mission against the Berbers for their killing of another Legionnaire. Action-packed, the main character seems to feel no real emotion other than perhaps the resentment against the Legion. “For France,” he would say, without real emotion or perhaps with a grudging tone. The action engaged me better for this story and I wanted to know more about the characters. I’d give this story 3/5.
The Squad That Never Came Back
By far, my favorite story of the entire collection. Without a doubt, 5/5. The story is told by a Corporal in the Legion. The beginning of the story has him explaining why he is now telling this story, then going back in time to explain why he got to where he is now. Stuck on a remote outpost in the desert, fighting against the Berbers and lack of food and water, his squad discovers a treasure map. The Corporal is forced to accompany his men in deserting the Legion to go on a treasure hunt. In this story, there were real characters. Their motivations were clearer, and the action exciting. At times, it reminded me of parts of the beginning of Aladdin (yes, I’ve only seen the Disney cartoon version). This was a story that I would have wanted to own separate and probably reread.
Overall, I enjoyed the audiobook. It has made me curious to read more about the French Foreign Legion and their adventures.