Black Library

The Flight of the Eisenstein

Flight of the Eisenstein

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow; Black Library

The Flight of the Eisenstein is the fourth novel in the Warhammer40k Horus Heresy series.  It was released in 2007 by Black Library and was written by James Swallow.  The cover art was done by Neil Roberts.

After the “opening trilogy” of novels in the Horus Heresy series, I was worried about beginning yet another author’s take on the Warhammer40k universe.  The first three novels really set the bar high, so to speak, and I was so impressed that I was worried the disappointment would eventually arrive. Nevertheless, I was irresistibly curious as to the next events; the third novel leaves off with so much left unfinished – all the characters in the lurch.

Instead of starting where the preceding novel left off, The Flight of the Eisenstein actually backtracks a bit in time to before the battle on IsstvanIII.   So, instead of picking up with the events of the last novel, the reader goes back to the pivotal moments before the attack on Isstvan III, which, really, is the whole crux of the Horus Heresy series.  This time, however, the reader sees the events occur from an entirely different point of view.  The Flight of the Eisenstein follows the thoughts and actions of Battle Captain Nathaniel Garro, of the Death Guard (under Primarch Mortarian).

Before I get further into this review, I want to say that of the authors of the Horus Heresy that I have read, I think James Swallow is the least among them.  However, this does not make him horrible, please understand.  Further, I think that somehow Swallow is the author most suited to be writing about/as Nathaniel Garro.  Garro is different than our old friends Garviel Loken and Saul Tarvitz. He’s different from a lot of the other characters because he is a lot more introspective, it seems. He is also a member of the Death Guard and not a Son of Horus/Luna Wolf.  So, it’s fitting that a different author is writing this character and I felt, as I read, that the writing style suited Garro.

Part of me was slightly frustrated by having to return to events that I already read about.  And that frustration is only because I am so invested in the story that I am excited to know what happens next.  However, there is nothing wrong with backtracking and giving the reader a fuller picture of the events at Isstvan III, but from a different perspective. In theory, it would have been possible to write The Flight of the Eisenstein by starting off with the refugees arrival onto the ship and taking the story from there. By backtracking, the reader is forced to see the events of Isstvan III from off-planet and from a more detached character’s viewpoint. The reader is also able to develop an interest and connection with Garro.  The backtracking allows the entire storyline to fill in gaps and explain other forces and events outside of the ones already known.  It makes the entire storyline deeper and broader by not traveling solely in a linear fashion, but expanding into other characters etc.  So, though I was in haste to find out what was going to happen, I appreciated the efforts to learn about what the Death Guard was doing when Isstvan III was obliterated.

This book does continue onward, though from the point where we left off in the third novel.  The refugee-loyalists have arrived on the Eisenstein, which Garro commands.  He and his battle brothers recognize the horror that had just played out before them and are forced to escape the traitorous fleet headed by Warmaster Horus.  Swallow takes us for our first official ride into the Warp – and let me tell you, it is not a pretty place.  Swallow fills several pages with the gore and mayhem that is the Warp.  Somehow he does it with slightly less ability than Abnett or McNeill.  It’s still gripping to read, though (but maybe not while eating lunch).  Throughout the book, Garro wrestles with what it means to have faith, how to react to Horus’ violence, and how to remain a true Astartes warrior.  Swallow also spends a lot more time with developing human characters as well. (Of course, the problematic of the Empire of Man, humanity, and Astartes kind of just hangs out there in a somewhat incomplete manner, but it’s fiction…)  Two human characters in particular that Swallow develops are the captain of the Eisenstein and Garro’s housecarl (read: manservant) Kaleb.  Only one of these two makes it out of the book alive.

One of the things that bugs me about Swallow’s writing is that he uses really “rare” words more than once. If you want to use a rare word, you can only do so once – or else it seems like you are showing off your usage too much. This occurred with Swallow’s use of the word obstreperous with regard to the Death Guard warriors. It is a very rare word, and using it more than once makes Swallow seem like a little kid who learns a new word and who wants to use it all the time.  Nevertheless, it was also fun to read a word like:  mechadendrite. And on page 275, Swallow has a villain say:  “The warp’s touch is the way forward. If you were not so blinkered and mawkish, you would see it!”  ….and that’s a pretty fun line.

All in all, compared to the other Horus Heresy novels, I think this is a three out of five stars. But out of my universal novel rating system – I give it a solid four stars.

4 stars

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Galaxy in Flames

Galaxy in Flames

Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter; Black Library

The third book in the “opening trilogy” of the Horus Heresy by Ben Counter was another fantastic read. I highly recommend the Horus Heresy series at this point – even though I have only read the first three. I definitely intend to continue reading the series. Galaxy in Flames follows after the second novel, False Gods. The first novel was written by Dan Abnett, the second by Graham McNeill. This is the first novel I have read by Ben Counter. The cover art, which is fantastic, was done by Neil Roberts.

This is an excellent read. It continues the intense, gripping storyline of the Horus Heresy, in which Warmaster Horus turns against the Emperor. Although it is just as intense as the previous two novels, I feel the first quarter of this novel was slightly off the high-mark set by the previous two novels. It is not easy to point out exactly what was “not quite as good,” but I think it is because instead of focusing on one character (Garviel Loken), Counter spreads his attention among the entire cast. This works very well, but after spending so much time in the first two books with Loken, I think I missed hanging out with Loken. The front half of this novel is slightly more superficial than the previous two books. However, this matters less and less as the novel proceeds, because the tension and drama increase enough to make up for it.

Treachery, duplicity, betrayal, and rebellion end in a fierce, violent conclusion that destroys a planet (Isstvan III).  The last stand of the loyalists, including Garviel Loken, Saul Tarvitz, and Tarik Torgaddon, is done really well. Lucius the swordsman also has a role to play that will make readers cringe and wail.

Meanwhile, the non-warriors (the iterators and scribes) scurry through the Vengeful Spirit, working to maintain their loyalty to the Emperor while trying to stay alive. Lots of Space Marines die in this novel – and lots of Space Marines are forced to choose between sides between the Warmaster and the Emperor.  Everyone else is caught in the crossfire and has to make choices that are far from easy.

I love the Horus Heresy series.  It incorporates everything I want in a space opera, science fiction, drama, war story. The characters are great, the storyline is great, the writing is well above-average and oftentimes excellent. I love the cover art for all of the novels.  Along the way, the reader explores concepts of brotherhood, loyalty, faith, and warfare.  I find myself putting the book down at points just to revel in the dramatic tension.  Tarvitz says: “Warheads?”  – and I had to put the book down and just cringe. But on page 212, Tarvitz has commandeered a Thunderhawk – but Horus has sent fighters after him. Again, put the book down, cringe and worry. Page 268, Qruze is no longer the “half-heard” and his epic heroism shows through! Put the book down and swell with pride for Qruze. For the emperor!

There are not many books that the reader can get this invested in the storyline and the characters. If I come across such books, I am so thrilled; I definitely evangelize: hey! Read this series!  I am going to continue reading along. I cannot stop with the last words of the book (Horus speaking): “Then we strike for Terra!”

4 stars

Horus Rising

Horus RisingI have begun reading the Warhammer40k novels, and I started not with this one, but with another written by Dan Abnett.  This is, therefore, the second novel in the Warhammer40k library that I have read.  This novel is the first in the Horus Heresy series.  Horus Rising was first published in 2006 and there are (as of the time of this blog post) 18 total novels in the series. This book begins as somewhat of “pre-history,” that is, it takes place in the 31st millennium. It’s a good place to gain entry into the Warhammer40k universe.

According to Wikipedia:

Horus Rising details the rise to power of Horus Lupercal, Primarch of the Luna Wolves, after the Emperor of Mankind appoints him Warmaster, overall commander of the Imperial military and in charge of the Great Crusade. Much of the focus is on the Captain of the Luna Wolves’ 10th Company, Garviel Loken, as he becomes a member of the Mournival (an advisory body to Horus), and his involvement in campaigns against non-Imperials and aliens at the close of the Great Crusade.

The main character is Captain Garviel Loken, who the reader follows in both present-time and flashback stories. The major characters of this story are not simply military soldiers – but genetically advanced, high-tech armored warriors. These legions of warriors are called Astartes. They are governed by a simple chain of command:  Sergeants, Captains, Primarchs, Warmaster, and Emperor.  These huge legions of “men” are on the Great Crusade, which is basically an aggressive military march across the universe to subdue and conquer any world, species, race that is not man. When this is accomplished on a world, it is called bringing the world into “compliance.”  Compliance basically means being entirely subjugated to the Imperium of Man – recognizing the Emperor and his will.

Dan Abnett writes good books.  I know because of the fact that this novel is science fiction and involves space warriors in the future that immediately no one feels the need to consider it literature. All science fiction is treated as somehow “other” and even classics (e.g. Asimov’s Foundation) are only given begrudging acceptance by the “literate reader.”  I won’t go so far as to say that Horus Rising is great literature, but I do insist that it will be overlooked simply for the fact that it is science fiction.  What I love about Dan Abnett’s Warhammer40k novels (so far), is that they manage to bring out the best elements of The Iliad and drop them into the 31st millennium.

There are, at least, a dozen well-written military science fiction novels and series that would be good to read. These include the Honor Harrington, Kris Longknife, and Starfist novels. However, unlike those, Dan Abnett’s Warhammer40k novels seem to make the warfare and the characters a lot less artificial and a lot more significant. Also, there are zero instances of sex, bad language, or foulness in Abnett’s novels. I like that. I like that to tell us a gripping tale of politico-military adventure, strife, and crusading, the author does not feel the need to include some off-beat, random sexual interlude.  And even though the reader is dropped directly onto the vicious and grueling battlefield, the reader is not subjected to ridiculous dialogue, drawn-out gory scenes, or silly sound effects.

I whipped through the pages of this book. As an aside, the font is easy to read and doesn’t strain the eyes at all. However, there were times that I had to put the book down – I did not “want to see what was coming.”  You know those moments in books wherein the tension is high and you can see some of the threads of the storyline culminating – and you have befriended the characters so much that you don’t want anything bad to happen to them? Yeah, I was there several times during this book.

Lastly, one of the best things Abnett is able to do, is educate the reader on future war tactics, chains of command, army structures, planetary alignments, high-tech weapons, etc. – but without actually detailing out in multiple paragraphs the encyclopedic information.  The reader, at first, is a little off-kilter, but everything gradually begins to work it’s way out, until the reader is completely comfortable concerning bolters, lasguns, Warmasters, and iterators. The storytelling here is excellent, the characters are interesting and can bond with the reader, and the writing style is fun and entertaining. These are good books.

5 stars