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.