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.)

Advertisements

Book Review – The Completionist Series 1-2 by Dakota Krout

Book: Ritualist, Regicide

Author: Dakota Krout

Genre: Fantasy, LitRPG

Part of a Series: Yes, The Completionist

The Completionist Series by Dakota Krout is an ongoing LitRPG series following Joe as he navigates the political intrigue and dangers of a new virtual RPG after he is paralyzed in an attack while deployed. Once in game, Joe completes a series of tests to unlock his “true potential” and is able to choose the rare class of Ritualist. With this class and a need to keep his nature hidden, Joe randomly completes various tasks for the non-player characters until he stumbles upon influential friendships and a guild appointment.

Joe quickly progresses through the early levels of the game and helps his new guild to achieve “noble” status. During the course of this adventure, he learns that he has attracted the attention of the AI running the game, gained the favor of the in-game “god” who he follows, and learned that the game is essentially a type of race battle. In the first level, only the humans or wolfmen can survive.

So the first thing that jumps out from this series is the completely pointless and unnecessary prologue. An oil drilling accident causes a midlevel employee to be fired. This employee renames himself, creates an online payment company, an electric car company, and a space company….plus other bad Elon Musk jokes. Skip it. It does nothing and doesn’t matter. The closest thing to importance in this prologue is the fact that a mysterious object is found that seems to have a mind of its own. This object is what powers the AI for the virtual world Joe lives in, but doesn’t make another appearance in any meaningful way.

The next chapter is just as bad, but for different reasons. It is Joe in the real world leading up to his injuries. The soldier interactions ignore rank and customs, a soldier claims another soldier used too many acronyms despite the fact that the Army uses acronyms for everything and no one cares, and is just bad. I still haven’t read a lot of LitRPG, but it seems to be a staple of the genre for anything set in the real world to be garbage.

Once the virtual adventure starts, the book gets so much better. The leveling feels fine, though the skill progression and skill assignment seems random as hell. It is still fun. It is definitely a good entry into the genre if you are curious about LitRPGs. Joe is a fun and relatable character. It doesn’t go super in-depth into the gaming aspect, so there is little worry about getting bogged down in the minutia of gaming.

The story is well paced if a little fast. Joe moves from situation to situation with a quickness, but it never feels so fast that you can’t catch your breath. The conflicts seem somewhat random at times, but they do get resolved.

All in all, the Completionist is a fun series and worth checking out if you are curious about the LitRPG genre. I award the series and both books the Iron Stash (4/5).

Book Review – The Land 1-7 by Aleron Kong

Book: The Land 1-7

Author: Aleron Kong

Genre: Fantasy, LitRPG

Part of a Series: Yes

The Land is a Literary Role Playing Game (LitRPG) series by Aleron Kong. There are currently seven books out with the eighth due at some point later this year.

The story follows Richter, a gamer from the Earth’s near future who is transported to a fantastical place called The Land. He is deposited in the River Peninsula with nothing more than his wits, a bow, and the ability to learn any skill without penalty. In a short amount of time, he gains a new friend, a sprite named Sion, his own village sitting atop a Place of Power, and an ever-evolving to grow stronger to protect his people and his new home.

So, full disclosure, this was my first look at the LitRPG series. I’ve seen several people talking about it on various writer forums, and it seemed like it would be interesting to me. Instead of following a traditional fantasy format, this genre borrows from the RPG genre to provide levels with set experience required in order to advance. On the one hand, this is nice. One of the hardest things about traditional fantasies is understanding the power of the magic. Despite the best efforts of authors to establish rules, how do you really describe something as alien as magic in real and tangible terms? The LitRPG genre has the advantage that spells are clearly ranked, have level requirements, and need so much mana. These are all concrete figures that the characters know about themselves.

Of course, the downside to the LitRPG genre is the downside to most RPGs…the side quests. There are so many side quests in these books. There are a bunch of main quests too. It’s a little crazy how much can be going on at any one time in this story. Dangers are constantly looming. Richter’s village is nestled in the middle of a forest, surrounded by mists, and he has an army of bear creatures on his doorstep, a lich king hiding around, a blood oath to avenge his village from the first attack otherwise he becomes cursed, and a goblin army that can at any time threaten what little peace he has between these other major events. There is a lot going on, even in seven books.

Despite all of this, the storyline is actually pretty good. The characters are fine if a little sophomoric. The main plot is pretty engaging. I do enjoy it.

There are some big issues, however. First off has to be a genre convention of LitRPG. The author spends so much time on status screens and character sheets. Richter is constantly checking his current stats. Worse, it is always a block table that shows every bit of information and is rarely formatted well for e-readers despite the fact that the books are in Kindle Unlimited. Tables are constantly cut off, forcing me to either adjust my font size or open the table in a separate view. It is so hard for me to care about the constant spell and character checking as I only cared about that stuff in gaming when I leveled up. Once I assigned my points, I moved on, only to check before a particularly hard looking fight. This constant checking means there are pages that can be skipped with no consequence.

Worse than that, though, is the exposition. In addition to tables that describe the spells, their costs, and their effects in detail, they are also explained in detail in the text as the spell is used. The explaining of new concepts and how the world works I understand and get and am fine with, even if it is done in the most boring way possible as a straight up lecture. The spells are recapped every time they are used, as well as their cost. Characters are given most of their backstory over and over again in the same book.

These books are also massive. Normally, I wouldn’t complain too much about that. After all, I do like Robert Jordan and he wrote tomes as well. But these books have so much in them that could be cut or explained more efficiently. I don’t know if it is a case of the author not paying for an editor or not listening to the editor because Amazon pays per page read and longer books make him more money, but the story could definitely be streamlined. This would have fixed the massive amounts of exposition, the duplicate exposition in the same story, and the random changes of character point of view that adds nothing to the story.

But the biggest sin this book makes are the pop culture references. You can’t even call them Easter eggs because there is no attempt at hiding anything. There is a carpenter named Rowan who is stoic with a large mustache and based completely on Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec. There is an escort named Inara from Firefly. Almost every other sentence out of Richter’s mouth is from Tarantino or Rick and Morty or some other thing that was popular. At least Ready Player One had a reason for people from the future being obsessed with the 80s. This just has constant references that would be dated today but spoken from a character 50 years in the future. I get it author, I too have seen movies, tv, and read books.

To top it all off, Richter could probably be called a Gary Stu without you using the term wrong. He is good at everything. He has the ability to learn or do anything. Granted, that has to do with a special ability that he was given and there is some reason for it given in the narrative, but you don’t find anything like that out until about halfway through book 7. He is liked by everyone, but that can be explained by the charisma stat that is fairly high for Richter. The sex is equally ridiculous as it is as often as not multiple people with Richter. Luckily, those scenes tend to be fade to black as I cannot imagine they would have been written in an interesting manner.

But between Richter’s stats and plot armor, everything goes his way. Even fights that should kill him have Richter come out victorious, though at least the miracles that happen were foreshadowed or had elements laid out beforehand. Of course, the random surprises that do happen during the fight have flashback thrown into them that distract from the battle they are in the middle of.

At the end of the day, these books have a fair number of issues with them. They were my intro into the LitRPG genre, and I think I like this genre, but they are really hard to recommend. Only a couple of the books are worth it. I will probably keep reading as there is enough enjoyment in the main story for me, but also because I am a special kind of broken.

Overall, I give The Land as a series the Bronze Stash (3/5).

Book 1: Founding – Bronze Stash

Book 2: Forging – Iron Stash (4/5)

Book 3: Alliances – Iron Stash

Book 4: Catacombs – Bronze Stash

Book 5: Swarm – Bronze Stash

Book 6: Raiders – Iron Stash

Book 7: Predators – …part of me wants to give this a Copper Stash (2/5) but I did enjoy enough of it to give it a Bronze Stash.

There are probably better LitRPG books out there. I’ll try to find some and share. The first few books aren’t bad, but there does seem to be a decreasing quality. Not much, but it is there. If you are looking for a book that will last you a few days and you aren’t worried about finishing a series, give it a shot. Ultimately, however, it is a hard series for me to recommend.

Book Review – Dragon Slayer 1-3 by Michael-Scott Earle

Book: Dragon Slayer books 1-3

Author: Michael-Scott Earle

Genre: Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery

Part of a Series: Yes

Finally, a fantasy series to review. Dragon Slayer is a pulp harem fantasy series following Chicago firefighter Ethan Dapaolo. While at the scene of a blaze, Ethan gets trapped in a burning building and is pulled into a magic land by a mysterious guardian. He has been tasked with killing 25 dragons who threaten the people of this world while freeing the dragons’ magic for the guardians return.

So slight spoilers from here on out. Every time Ethan defeats a dragon they turn into a beautiful woman. It takes way to long for the series to acknowledge this, well into book 2 actually. We, the audience, know all the dragons are women after the first transformation, because it is a harem fantasy after all, but after the 3rd dragon, people are still surprised they are women.

Speaking of harem fantasy… Despite the name, these books aren’t over burdened with sex scenes. That’s great as they tend to get boring after a while. It probably works better if you don’t binge read the books, as they are decently spaced out, but if you read these all in one go, you are going to find yourself skipping scenes. It’s fine as the sex doesn’t add anything to the story. No new developments or growth, just titillation. The obvious exception is that the first time Ethan sleeps with a dragon who has been changed, she decides being human is great.

As for the story, it’s fine. The world is interesting. The author does a good job at organically expanding the scope of the conflict and the size of the world. The characters are also fun, even if they are surrounded by plot armor. The magical guardian who brought Ethan to the world is obviously evil and Ethan will obviously be protecting the world from it when he is done with the dragons. It is not hard to guess how everything in this tale will ultimately turn out.

At the end of the day, Dragon Slayer is just a fun, maybe guilty pleasure, read. It is not overly complex and does a good job at recapping the reader on key points. It is not high fantasy, but it is not trying to be. Overall, I give these books the bronze stash (3/5).

Book Reviews – The Target Practice Mysteries by Nikki Haverstock

Books: Death at the Summit

Death at the Trade Show

Death Indoors

Death in the Casino

Death from Abroad

Author: Nikki Haverstock

Genre: Mystery

Series: Target Practice Mysteries

So I enjoyed Death on the Range so much, I pretty much burned through the rest of the Target Practice Mysteries in like two days…ok maybe one. Just like Death on the Range, these books are all pretty easy reads. Nothing took more than a few hours to get through, so it is great for traveling or a lazy afternoon.

Di is back at it as murders continue to follow her at a wet notable event that she goes to. And just what is a woman to do when that happens? Why grab her best friend Mary and her Great Dane Moo and find the killer of course.

Each of these books focus on a single murder at some large event. I’m not going to lie, it did start to seem a little incredible after book 3. All six books take place within a year of each other. Six books and six murders, four of which happen in the middle of nowhere Wyoming within a year. Thankfully, the author, Nikki Haverstock, is self aware as well as her characters. They do know that life is not supposed to work like this.

The murder investigations were still fun as Di, Mary, and Moo look for the killers. The first few books are hard to call a mystery. Perhaps I read them too fast, but there were not many clues to help solve the case, and the killer just kind of outs themselves in the last chapter due to a misunderstanding. By Death Indoors, Nikki definitely hit her writing stride, though. Clues were planted, motivations were there, and killers were caught instead of blurting out they did it.

Honestly, I don’t know of the first three books were written that way by design or not. Di stumbles through the first few investigations as someone with no experience would. The more she learns, the better her investigations get. This lets me give the author the benefit of the doubt.

Ultimately, though, these books should be read for the characters. They are fun and entertaining, and they carry the stories. Fair warning, the romances are the weakest character moments as one feels rushed, out of nowhere, and full of convienance. Minor spoiler but not really: Of course Di, the main character, would fall for the son of the CEO.

That may play into one of the major casting choices for this series, however. All of the main characters, except for love interests, are women. The bosses are all women. Women run this story. So is it possible that Di’s love for the CEO’s son is a reflection of the male fantasy of falling for the king’s daughter? Maybe, maybe not. I kind of doubt that much thought went into the decision, but if you choose to read it that way, great.

All in all, this series is great. The characters are entertaining, the stories are fun, and the pages just keep turning. As before, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you have no excuse not to read these books. I give the series as a whole the rating of Iron Stash (4/5).

Book Reviews – Death on the Range by Nikki Haverstock

Book: Death on the Range

Part of a series: Yes, book 1

Genre: Mystery

Amazon Author’s Page

I just finished up Death on the Range by Nikki Haverstock today. Ladies and gents, that is a fun book.

The story follows Di, a 30 something woman who moves from her tech job in Cali to help at an archery training facility in Wyoming. The center is getting ready to open to the public and are hosting a coaches training class when the unthinkable happens. One of the class members is killed. Now Di and her roommate have to figure out who did the deed with the help of their giant mutt Moo.

Like I said, this is a fun little story. It is not a complicated read, the mystery is confined to a single location, and there are few characters. The characters feel pretty real though. The simplicity of the story doesn’t take away from the humor and a few surprising moments of real emotionality.

Fair warning, the ending is slightly disappointing and there were one or two moments that needed a little reworking. Don’t let that stop you though. Everything else is good.

If you are looking for a light, fun read, check this book out. I finished it in a few hours, so it is a good travel book or whenever you want to spend a lazy afternoon with fun women. I give it an iron stash rating (4/5) and look forward to reading more of her works.