The Eisenhorn Trilogy by Dan Abnett

Werthead

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Eisenhorn 1: Xenos

Gregor Eisenhorn is an Inquisitor of the Ordo Xenos, charged with exposing and exterminating heretics, mutants and aliens who pose a threat to the Imperium. On the unwisely-colonised planet Hubris, where the population waits out immense periods of darkness in cryogenic suspension, Eisenhorn decisively concludes a six-year manhunt for the traitor Murdin Eyclone. But the elimination of Eyclone raises new questions and hints at fresh conspiracies. Eisenhorn and his retinue have to tackle rival factions in the Inquisition, followers of Chaos and inscrutable alien creatures as they follow the investigation to its bitter, and exceptionally violent, end.

Xenos is the first book in Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn Trilogy. This trilogy is set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe but, as with many series in this setting, is self-contained. For example, the Sabbat Worlds Crusade that features in Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts series is set many thousands of light-years away and over 500 years later in the setting's continuity. In fact, not just the immediate setting but also the subgenre is different: whilst Gaunt's Ghosts is a war series focusing on the lives and activities of soldiers, Eisenhorn is detective SF (I'm tempted to say more in the line of Richard Morgan's Kovacs books, but Eisenhorn predates Kovacs by over a year). It's a much smaller cast and a tighter focus, told in the first-person from Eisenhorn's POV. Whilst the POV structure initially appears limiting, Abnett cleverly employs it to give hints to the reader of things not being as they appear. Eisenhorn's blind confidence that he will always do the right thing is called into question by his actions, meaning that his actions and motivations have to be carefully scrutinised by the reader.

There are also some good SF concepts being explored in this book. From the complex day/night cycle on Hubris which the colonists are determined to overcome in the face of common sense to the dizzying 'tetrascapes' the alien saruthi employ as meeting places, there are some cool hard SF ideas being played with here. Abnett also continues to give good battle. Whilst large-scale war scenes are not the order of the day, there are some solid action sequences. Abnett also gives us our first look at the Space Marines in action in his work (the Space Marines play no role at all in Gaunt's Ghosts) when Eisenhorn has to team up with an Astartes of the Death Watch chapter to handle a particularly dangerous part of the mission.

This is an earlier novel for Abnett, so lacks some of the polish of his more recent work, but he handles the shift in tone and subgenre very well. Xenos (****) is a solid SF detective novel. It is available now in the Eisenhorn omnibus (UK, USA) along with its two sequels and two related short stories.
 

Werthead

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Eisenhorn 2: Malleus

After a century of hard fighting, the Ophidian sub-sector has been reclaimed for the God-Emperor. A mighty triumph is held on Thracian Primaris to celebrate the victory, but the day is blighted by a tragedy so vast in scale it shocks even the battle-weary Imperium. Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn investigates the source of the atrocity, even though his own reputation has become blighted by reports of his unorthodox methods. As the investigation unfolds, Eisenhorn discovers links with a case from a century before and heads for a showdown with the daemonhost Cherubael and his unknown master...

The second volume of the Eisenhorn Trilogy picks up the story a century on from the events of Xenos, with Eisenhorn and his allies (some old friends and new faces) plunged into a new investigation. As with almost all procedurals, there is a point where the detective is implicated in wrongdoing and has to go on the run to prove his innocence, which is the point Eisenhorn reaches in this book. Mildly cliched, but Abnett handles this storyline with aplomb, with logical use made of Eisenhorn's allies and resources. The story also pushes Eisenhorn a little bit more towards the dark side as he has to become more ruthless to defeat his enemies, which also risks cliche until Abnett throws a couple of clever curve-balls towards the reader in the closing chapters (the motivations of the antagonist are well-thought-out, making good use of the Warhammer 40,000 universe though, once again, foreknowledge of the setting is not required to enjoy this trilogy).

Malleus (****) is a well-written sequel to Xenos and continues the triloy in fine form. The book is available as part of the Eisenhorn omnibus now in the UK and USA.


Eisenhorn 3: Hereticus

Gregor Eisenhorn has survived clashes with the forces of Chaos, an encounter with a little-known alien species and internal politicking within the Order. But it may be that he cannot survive his own hubris. When his residence is destroyed and most of his staff assassinated by unknown attackers, Eisenhorn discovers that an old enemy has returned to plague him, an enemy whose actions he himself must take responsibility for. To defeat this foe Eisenhorn has to invoke the very powers he is pledged to destroy...

The Eisenhorn Trilogy reaches a satisfying conclusion in Hereticus, where some of Eisenhorn's more egregious mistakes from the first two volumes return for an accounting. The series is fairly obviously charting Eisenhorn's 'fall' from grace (if nothing else gives it away, it's on the cover blurb), but this isn't George Lucas's bull-in-a-china-shop approach to the downfall of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. Each decision Eisenhorn makes is logical and understandable on its own, with a downward spiral only discernible from a distance.

A central facet of the story is the relationship between Eisenhorn and the daemonhost Cherubael. In the first two novels Cherubael was in control of this relationship, but in the third he is Eisenhorn's captive and occasional ace-in-the-hole. Yet is Eisenhorn really in charge of the daemon or is Cherubael exactly where he wants to be to bring about Eisenhorn's total corruption? As the novel continues this question appears to have several possible answers but, surprisingly, we are not given a definitive answer. Exactly how much of what has transpired in the trilogy is random luck and how much is down to the daemon's machinations is left up to the reader to decide, which is an interesting tack, possibly taken to account for different readers' different levels of disbelief.

As the final book in the trilogy, Hereticus works well, answering long-standing questions and bringing the primary story arcs to a close. The fact that the ultimate fate of the surviving characters is unknown is a little odd (aside from Inquisitor Heldane, who crops up almost 400 years later in the Gaunt's Ghosts novels), until you realise that Abnett plans more books featuring these characters. The Ravenor Trilogy follows the adventures of some of Eisenhorn's allies and associates, whilst Abnett has plans for a further trilogy which will resolve some outstanding elements from both series.

That said, Hereticus (****) gives enough immediate closure to make this a complete trilogy in itself, and one that is well worth a look. The book is available now as part of the Eisenhorn omnibus in both the UK and USA.
 

Rodders

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Just the Ravenor omnibus and the Brotherhood of the Snake now before going on to the Horus Heresy. :)
 

BAYLOR

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This trilogy of books hooked me on Warhammer and Dan Abnett Ive read the sequel series Ravneor. He is an excellent writer.
 

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