Monday, 12 November 2012

'Eisenhorn' - Dan Abnett (Black Library)

I've read a few books by Dan Abnett, over the past few years, and have enjoyed pretty much all of them (seriously, have a look Here, Here and Here and you'll see what I mean). Even the book that I didn't like quite as much as the others had a lot going for it. The one book I've never picked up though was the 'Eisenhorn' omnibus, the one book that everyone has said I should be reading and were surprised that I hadn't.
The reasons for this tended towards the 'Have you seen the size of it?' I can't lug that around on the tube....' end of the spectrum but there's nothing like not having a job to take that excuse away from a man. I finally decided to pick the book up a couple of weeks ago and check it out; I then kicked myself for not reading it much sooner, it's that good.

I've spent a lot of time here talking up what comes out of the Black Library, all of it for the most part very well written. I've probably even spent time telling you what you need to read first. Well, you can take that list, move everything down one place and put 'Eisenhorn' at the top. Do it right now and thank me later.

Far away from the frontlines of the forty first millennium, the ranks of the Holy Inquisition fight a constant battle to ensure that the human Imperium doesn't fall prey to the threats lurking in its midst. Heretics, aliens and daemons; all are the prey of the Inquisition who hunt them down with the utmost zeal and ruthlessness.
Chief amongst the Inquisitions number is Gregor Eisenhorn, an Inquisitor of unquestioned purity and devoted to his calling. Eisenhorn will stop at nothing to bring the enemies of mankind to justice and this will force him into some very difficult decisons. Will the demands of his calling force him into collaboration with the very forces that he has sworn to destroy? Why does the daemon Cherubael haunt his dreams...?

The 'Eisenhorn' omnibus collects the novels 'Xenos', 'Malleus' and 'Hereticus'; making it a pretty hefty looking book by anyones standards (certainly by mine anyway). At least that's what I thought until I started reading. To say that 'Eisenhorn' is very easy to get into is a real understatement; pages were turning almost without my realising it and other commitments had to be really pressing in order to get me to put the book down. Sorry life but that was just the way it went... :o) All of this is testament to Abnett's ability to assemble a plot that works superbly on a number of levels.

If you have ever wondered what the regular citizens of the Imperium do, while everyone else is off fighting, then 'Eisenhorn' is very much the book for you. Abnett paints a grim yet compelling picture of worlds whose only purpose is to provide men and machines to feed the demands of the Imperial war machine. What of those that are left behind though? Well, that's where the plot gets really interesting; dealing with people who will do whatever it takes to escape the drudgery of their daily lives, even consort with the ruinous powers. Life has got to be pretty bad to force someone into making those choices, Abnett leaves you in no doubt that life in the Imperium really can be that bad.

All of this makes for an intense plot where the stakes are always high and extreme measures are required to resolve constant threats to the galaxy. Put like that, the plot can seem a little repetitive and I'd say that it probably is. When you're in the middle of it all though it's very easy not to notice this as there is so much going on. 'Eisenhorn' is very much a grim 'James Bond in space' with cackling villains up to real evil while our hero tries to stop them. The higher the stakes the greater the spectacle and this makes for set pieces that have to be seen to be believed. I'm talking about the confrontation with the Titan in particular.

'Eisenhorn' isn't just a 'shoot em' up' action piece though. Abnett takes time to show us who Gregor Eisnhorn really is; in particular how most of the bad stuff that happens to him is through bad choices that he can't help but make. I don't want to give too much away but I'm thinking about the Titan again... Eisenhorn is a deeply flawed character (and credit to Abnett for revealing this gradually rather than all at once) but also a man who believes in his vocation and won't flinch from making those tough choices in order to get the job done. Even at the risk of his very soul. Eisenhorn is a character where you will find yourself telling him not to do certain things but you can't help but respect him for the price that he is willing to pay. Having said that, you can’t help but hate him a little bit for the price that he is willing to have certain of his friends pay…

‘I stared at him levelly. I won’t kill a man just to provide a host.’
‘You did on Miquol,’ he hissed softly.
‘What did you just say?’
‘You did on Miquol. Verveuk wasn’t dead. You sacrificed him for the good of us all. Why would you flinch from doing it again?’

Shame on me then for not reading 'Eisenhorn' a whole lot sooner. I'm already well into the 'Ravenor' omnibus though so I won't be making that mistake again. If you haven't read 'Eisenhorn' already then I'd say don't hang around. It's a masterful chunk of dark sci-fi that anyone will get a lot out of.

Ten out of Ten


Mike said...

I alway see your reviews of the Warhammer books, and I've always been intrigued but this universe.

No need to have any sort 'experience' in the RPG eh? That's what has held me back. I do have Gaunt's Ghost in the omnibus, just haven't cracked the spine yet.

Milo MJ said...

The Eisenhorn Omnibus is brilliant, one of my all time 40k Favourites, it's a shame that I didn't enjoy Ravenor as much as this. We'll see how Pariah turns out though, as I've got a copy on my shelf waiting to be read, hopefully sooner rather than later...

big_cheddars said...

I loved eisenhorn. The last book especially, when everything starts to come crashing down, shit hits the fan and it's an awesome climax to an awesome trilogy :)

Can't wait to read ravenor eventually :D

turin said...

The Gaunts Ghosts books are also excellent, for the most part, and would serve as a solid introduction to the 40K universe. Personally I would go with the Eisenhorn books as your intro, since they are more "traditional" in that they don't involve entire armies and the stories are a little more intimate, if you know what I mean.

Graeme, I just want to thank you and commend your work here, I read all your Black Library reviews before I read the books, and you are nearly always spot on, with both accolades and criticism.

keep up the good work, and thanks again,


Taztic said...

Wow! I blogged about this one just yesterday. Am dying to dig into it but the sheer massiveness of it is putting me off!

Blitzspear said...

Welcome to the Dannyverse as it's known at BL towers :) I too kicked myself for waiting for the omnibus to read them.

Bob Milne said...

Okay, you've convinced me. I've been looking for my way into the Black Library for a while now, and while I'm not a huge fan of lugging around massive tomes, this sounds like it's worth the heft.

Anonymous said...

The Eisenhorn omnibus was the first thing I ever really knew about the Black Library and GW, since Warhammer wasn't well known at all in the US 7 years ago. I picked it up randomly from the Scifi section of a mall bookstore and loved it. It got me intrigued about the rest of the Warhammer universe, and since then I've read almost every novel. Most can't compare to Abnett at its best, but there is something addictive about the grim darkness of the 40th millenia.

Doug M. said...

I too, read Eisenhorn a lot later than I probably should have (rather recently, in fact). My reaction was nearly identical to yours. ;)

Mike said...

You should do a post about just the Warhammer novels, what to read, where to start, etc. I've loved the video games, and I have the Omnibus of the Gaunt's, but, never really sure if I should start there, or somewhere else.

Lord of the Night said...

@ Mike

There are plenty of places to start in Warhammer. Eisenhorn is a great starting place, as is Gaunt's Ghosts. Also the Ultramarines series, or the "****" of the Space Marines short story anthologies.