A story about heroes and villains
Aeon Legion is a story about heroes and villains. Specifically it is a story about when people are unable to realize when they have become the villain. This theme dominates the entire book and is reflected or commented on by most of the major characters.
Main Theme - Not Realizing When you Have Become the Villain
Then how can you tell when you have become the villain then?
Terra's question she asks Alya after they capture Hanns is also the main theme. When does one recognize that they are the villain?
Hanns is a Nazi. Their status as villains is near universal in the modern world to the point where they have become one of the go to disposable bad guys for fiction. But, Hanns is polite, resourceful, the underdog, and honorable. His only negative trait is his loyalty to a poisonous ideology that he believes is redeemable. Lacking historical perspective, Hanns fails to realize that the Nazi Party is irredeemable, even with mounting evidence right in front of him.
Emmerich serves as a Foil to Hanns. Being a member of the SS, Emmerich's beliefs are much more in tune with the historical realities of the Nazi Party and they clash with Hanns's idealistic vision of what he wants the party to be. Yet this one defining feature, Hanns's status as a Nazi supporter, cements his status as the story's villain and makes all of his other positive qualities moot.
Those who deny being lost in the dark will never bother to look for light. It is the nature of being a villain.
Terra's final confrontation with Hanns reflects the above quote. And in an echo of Alya's words, Terra leaves Hanns lost: Now he stood lost in darkness as she left him behind. Hanns remains lost in the dark while Terra ascends to the status of hero and earns her place amongst the heroes of the Aeon Legion and history.
During that war, a few of us became legends. Some of us became monsters.
Another character strongly connected with the central theme is Lycus Cerberus. At first glance, Lycus appears to be nothing more than a bully. However, the chapter epigraphs reveal that his antagonistic actions all serve to challenge, unite, and test the recruits. You may have noticed that I am very good at playing the villain. Lycus is playing the part of the villain not only to unify the recruits against him, but as a warning.
Lycus was a villain. More precisely, he was a villain who realized he was a villain. His confrontation with Terra as the Captain was not a confrontation, but a confession. His guilt over his actions manifest themselves in his decision to screen potential recruits for those who might turn out like him. I despise war criminals Those were Lycus's words before he crushes Vand. However, what he really hates is being reminded of what he was. His understanding of the monstrous aspects of his personality is why he stopped this Academy from churning out broken soldiers and instead made it forge heroes.
Warning: HUGE SPOILERS
The most important character connected to the main theme is Kairos herself. Former savior of the Edge of Time, Kairos is the setting's greatest chosen one. Yet her very status as a savior and chosen one drives her to the point where she turns on her former friends and home. Kairos's unshakeable belief that she will save the world is the very thing that drives her to become a villain without realizing it. What makes Kairos so notable is that her core motivation is the same as Terra's: to be a hero and save history. Kairos serves as a Shadow Archetype to Terra by being a dark reflection of Terra's own desires, a warning about what Terra could easily become herself if she is not careful. Hanns's status as villain is easy for Terra to discern since he is a Nazi. Kairos's villainy has no such historical perspective to guide Terra.
Secondary Theme - Evolution versus Stagnation
The timeless wonder and culture of Saturn City is juxtaposed to the many changing horrors that the Aeon Legion has to fight in order to keep history safe. While Saturn City enjoys a hedonistic lifestyle of shallow pleasures, a Nazi scientist works to overcome the Legion's technological advantage. Other threats have also come close to destroying the Legion and Saturn City and each one seems worse than the last. Sero, a hyper evolving monster, even states that the Legion will eventually be destroyed by something that can adapt to counter its tactics and technology. Hanns also compares the majesty of Saturn City with that of Troy and Atlantis, both powerful cities there were eventually destroyed.
Samael also points out that the Legion's status quo has the drawback of protecting the bad parts of history along with the good. History is full of villains that the Legion does nothing about. Each of these foes has the potential the change in a way that could challenge the Aeon Legion for dominance of the Edge of Time.
Nothing lasts forever. According to Kairos, not even time lasts forever. The Legion's reliance on Chosen Ones to solve each new threat has finally backfired. Kairos's betrayal not only heralds a new threat to the Aeon Legion, but an end to the setting's stagnation. The Aeon Legion finally has a foe that has the technology and power to destroy it.
In addition to the book's overarching themes, it also has a number of motifs that occur throughout.
The story takes place in the Edge of Time, a place where all time blends together. Saturnian culture seems a blend of ancient Greek, Latin, and Arabic influences. The Aeon Legion has ranks from many different ancient armies: Tiro is a Roman Legion recruit, Strategos is a Greek general, etc. Even their use of a sword, an ancient tool of war, is mixed with science fiction style energy shields. The story itself blends futuristic science fiction technology and classic fantasy storytelling tropes. Another way this is manifest is in the characters themselves who are from various times. Terra and her three primary companions are also a symbolic reflection of the four classical elements: earth, water, air, and fire.
Terra Mason (Earth)
Terra, the Latin name for Earth. Mason, a stone worker. Terra is like earth and stone. She is stubborn just like stone and prone to standing still unless subjected to a strong force. When Alya comes to recruit Terra after the battle with Hanns, she finds Terra in a quarry and really struggles to get Terra moving. However, like stone, she is also tough. Others frequently complain during their duels with Terra because hitting her is compared to hitting a rock.
All of Terra's major choices occur around stone. She decides to join the legion while in her quarry. Her turning point during the training is when she scales a stone cliff. She draws strength from stone and earth where she is in her element.
Her journey is the journey from stone to steel. The Arc Words I have seen the steel in you. refer to Terra being like a stone ore that has yet to be refined into steel. Terra's adventures in the academy melt her down and transform her into someone far tougher.
Alya Silverwind (Wind)
Alya is Arabic for heaven. Her alias, Silverwind, gives away Alya's element. She is the wind. Terra even compares Alya to the wind several times. Alya is flighty and comes and goes as she pleases. She has no regard for rules or orders and cannot be controlled. In conversation she can be like a gentle and comforting breeze, or a cold and cruel wind that cuts right to the bone. Many of her scenes with Terra occur at hilltops, a meeting of earth and sky. A breeze always seems to follow Alya wherever she goes.
Hikari Urashima (Fire)
Hikari is a Japanese name meaning light. Hikari is like fire. She is introduced by running through a burning obstacle course and making it to the other side without a single burn. Like fire, Hikari is beautiful and exotic drawing in all those around her, but those who touch her get hurt. Her father was also a blacksmith, someone who works with fire to shape metal. Hikari burns through her competition, comparing them to tinder. However, she struggles with Terra because Terra is not tinder, but like stone. Much like how fire shapes metal (metal which is just refined stone ore), Hikari's rivalry shapes Terra into something stronger.
Roland Delmare (Water)
Roland's last name, Delmare, means of the sea. Roland's symbolic element is water. Terra first meets Roland on a bridge over a creek, a meeting of stone and water. Roland also takes Terra's point in a duel in a stoney river. The river duel is of particular note since Roland outright compares himself to water stating that he always takes the path of least resistance. His relationship with Terra is like that of the rounded stones in the creek. Roland wears down Terra's rough edges and forces Terra to ease off her blunt nature. However, their relationship changes during the Trial of War. A key exchange where Roland opens up to Terra for the first time occurs atop a glacier, frozen water. There, Terra discovers Roland's true cynical outlook.
Lycus is a name meaning wolf while Cerberus is a three headed dog from Greek mythology. He even has a 'wolf like' grin. However, Lycus also serves as the story's threshold guardian, preventing Terra from entering the special world until she proves herself to him. In Greek myth, Cerberus guarded the gates to the underworld. Given that all the recruits at the academy were people destined to die, Lycus's alias seems appropriate as he 'guards the gates'. His three distinct personae also match the three heads of Cerberus. Terra even describes his office as the gates of the underworld.