Book Review – Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett

Book: Eisenhorn

Author: Dan Abnett

Genre: Fantasy, Thriller, GrimDark, Warhammer 40k

Part of a Series: Yes, Eisenhorn

Spoiler Warning.

Eisenhorn is a trilogy by Dan Abnett that follows the life and career of Imperial Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn and set firmly within the Warhammer 40K universe. It begins with Xenos and the investigation of a mass murder on a remote planet in the Helican Sector. Using his position as Inquisitor to inspire fear and gather information, Eisenhorn tracks the clues of the murder back to the capital planet of Gudrun. There, he uncovers a plot by the ancient family  Glaw to resurrect one of their ancestors, Pontius, through dark rituals, and their efforts to make contact with an alien race in order to secure a copy of an ancient text of destruction. Along the way, Eisenhorn gathers a team of companions to aid him, fights a daemon from the warp, and eventually saves the day. The dangerous and heretical text is destroyed, the Glaw family is broken, and Pontius’ soul is still trapt in a mystic orb.

The second book, Malleus, sees Eisenhorn come under a charge of heresy. The daemon he fought with in Xenos returns to wreak havoc while dropping Eisenhorn’s name to another Inquisitor. Eisenhorn learns of this after surviving another mass murder and assault on Thraxcian Prime. In attempts to track down the perpetrators of that assault, he uncovers another daemon as well as the evidence of what was assumed to be long dead Inquisitor attempting to perform a grand act of heresy. With Eisenhorn also labeled heretic, he must track down this rogue Inquisitor alone. This forces him to turn to Pontius Glaw in order to learn the secrets of the daemons and their weaknesses in exchange for creating Pontius a robotic body. With the help of a friend from the Adeptus Mechanicus, Eishenhorn fashions a staff that will amplify his psychic powers. Armed with this new weapon, Eisenhorn obliterates the second daemon, severely weakens the first, and kills the rogue Inquisitor. He is found innocent of his heresy and reinstated as Inquisitor. The book ends with Eisenhorn in secret possession of a dark text for controlling daemons and creatures of the warp as well as the first daemon trapt in Eisenhorn’s bunker.

Hereticus is the final book in the trilogy. While presiding over a trial, Eisenhorn learns that the man who killed a friend of his was on the planet. Eisenhorn abandons the trial to track the man down only to find himself confronted with a battle titan. With very little time or good options, Eisenhorn summons the daemon he trapt to kill the titan. While recovering from the event in his home on Gudrun, his entire organization is attacked by mercenaries. He manages to escape with a handful of his people, flees the planet, and pieces together the fact that the attack was conducted by non-other than Pontius Glaw. Glaw seems to be searching for some hidden treasure of a daemon king and wants the dark text Eisenhorn saved while also eliminating all evidence of Glaw’s continued existence. Through much sacrifice and the loss of friends, Eisenhorn is able to defeat Glaw with the help of his daemon and disappears from Imperial record.

In addition to these three books, there are also two short stories of various adventures and investigations Eisenhorn had. They are fun and fine for what they are, but as a whole, they are not necessary. These stories merely explain some of the plot points of the following books. The explanations are not necessary for understanding, but including them in the main texts would have likely killed pacing and been non-important.

First things first. I know that there are going to be some Warhammer fans who are going to disagree with calling this book fantasy. Just because it is set in space doesn’t make it sci-fi. It has all the trappings of a fantasy story. Like Star Wars, it is fantasy in space. This is not to detract from the book, and at the end of the day, label the genre however you want.

That being said, I have always been fascinated with the lore of Warhammer. It is a dark world where millions can die in a cold, unforgiving universe. The works of The Black Library, Warhammer’s publishing house, are proof of the fact that when anything is an existential threat to society, any means are permitted to eliminate that threat.

This philosophy is exemplified in the Inquisitors. Agents of the Holy Emperor, they have near unlimited social power. Many of them are extremely strong psychics. Through the use of the law, fear, and psychic will, they impose the moral right and fight against the corruption and heresy that would destroy mankind in whatever way they see fit.

Eisenhorn is a great case study. He says he begins as a puritan, but in reality, he is more of a moderate. True, Eisenhorn destroys the first dark text in Xenos, but even other moderates within the Inquisition agreed with him on that. As he progresses through the stories,  Eisenhorn makes decisions that pull him more in line with the radicals and closer to a true heretic. The trilogy ends with the reader wondering if he is still the hero that they have followed or the threat that was shown in Malleus.

There are some thematic oddities to this trilogy, however. First, it is definitely a thriller. The mystery aspect does not feel like it is played well enough to warrant calling it that. Yeah, the surprises can be figured out, but they aren’t what provides the underlying drama. The tension and threats are. It also feels very strongly of a noir type story. A private detective in search of truth in the world of corruption.

The problem is that those stories work best when the detective is just outside the system. Everything Eisenhorn does is within the scope of his authority. Sure, he spends long parts of one book labeled a heretic, but that did not affect how the rest of society saw him. To the world outside the Inquisition, he was still an Inquisitor. With the sheer enormity of the universe presented, the ability to disappear and still maintain one’s lifestyle does little to impart the impact of the character’s decisions on his fate.

All in all, though, these books are a fun romp. They are tense, well-paced, and tell a continuous story. The details are interwoven well and despite the massive size, over 770 pages, nothing is really out of place or forgotten. Eisenhorn is great if you enjoy a good thriller or intrigue, as well as a non-threatening introduction into the world of Warhammer and its books. The generally depressing nature of so many people dying so unceremoniously does make it hard to give universal recommendation. And so, I award Eisenhorn with the Iron Stash (4/5)…(really a 4.5. Like I said, tough to give more when I can’t tell everyone to read it.)

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