I have been out of the loop with Black Library’s Horus Heresy series for a while.
I remember reading the opening trilogy to the Horus Heresy series – Horus Rising, False Godsand Galaxy in Flames – years ago. Reading and liking them.
When Black Library released the older Heresy books in their premium hardback format, I picked the series up again with Flight of the Eisenstein. It seemed like a good change to both get back into the Horus Heresy series and to get a feel for the new hardback format (without jumping to a recent Heresy novel such as Angel Exterminatus).
The New, Premium Hardback Format
It was the first time I read a “full” Black Library novel in the hardback format.
The format shares width and height with the thin hard-back version of Flesh of Cretacia, for example, but is of course much thicker, as it comes with a higher page-count.
It also comes with a nice dust-jacket, which the smaller hardback books do not have.
It is certain a good deal bigger than the trade paperbacks, as you can see above in the comparison with my trusty copy of Soul Hunter. The difference is mainly the use of a larger font in the hardback books. There are also 4 or 5 grey-scale colour-prints of Warhammer 40K art in the book (featuring lots Garro in this one, for obvious reasons).
Overall, I like the “big” hardback books much more than the smaller ones. 20 quid still isn’t cheap, but you do get a nice, hefty and quality book with a proper dust-jacket, some interior art, etc… That does make it feel like something I could actually see “collecting”.
A series of these on the book-shelf would definitely look the ‘library’-collection part.
Flight of the Eisenstein: The Review
As much as I liked the hard-cover format, the book itself was simply awful. It really was.
Here are three reasons why the book is mostly crap.
#1 – Istvaan III Reloaded
First of all, nearly 2/3rd of the book are derivatives of key scenes and set-pieces from the opening trilogy surrounding Isstvan III.
I can see the appeal of having a story that glimpses, from a different angle, at scenes and characters the reader saw before. I really do. The problem is that Flight of the Eisenstein, in playing “look-we’ve-seen-that-in-Galaxy-in-Flames“, forgot telling a story of its own.
I dare you tell me what the story of Flight of the Eisenstein is for the first ~250 pages!
There is none. It literally is just a collections of scenes and random events that happen to always allow you a glimpse at some location, character or event from the first three Heresy books. There really is no story of its own.
Granted, somewhere after page 250 or 260, once the Eisenstein actually leaves the Isstvan system, the reader is treated to a nice little “short story” of Nurgle-action in the warp. Yet at this point, there are hardly 120 pages left in the book.
I feel that Flight of the Eisenstein would have worked far better as a 120 page ‘novella’, starting with a brief prologue along those lines (spoilers):
Garro, a Terran-born Death Guard Captain loyal to the Emperor was meant to die in the purging of Isstvan III. By a twist of fate however, he wasn’t on the surface when the traitors struck. With a few loyal men, he fled the Isstvan system aboard the ‘Eisenstein’ to warn the Emperor of the Warmaster’s treachery.
All that was really needed.
#2 – Horrible Characters
Not only the story felt like a re-hash, so did the characters. And not in a good way.
Typhon largely occupies the same role that Abaddon does in the opening trilogy. There is a token human acolyte. The conflicted squad-members. The lodges. It’s all there again with little variation and even less that would make it memorable.
The absolute worst, however, is the lead-character: Nathaniel Garro.
Not only is a poor-mans Loken, he is also by far the most perfect and least interesting character I’ve so far come across in a 40K novel.
He is skilled and he is honorable. He is the perfect embodiment of the Death Guard and yet easy to identify with. He’s biggest weaknesses are that he likes his sword and doesn’t think himself above others, even his human servants. He reaps accolades and rewards (including from the Emperor), though he blushes when he receives any praise…
And people still claim Kaldor Draigo is bad? I guess they never read Flight of the Eisenstein.
I know ol’ Garro has many fans, partly (I think) because pre-heresy Death Guard is a rather popular army.
But this is bullshit.
Maybe Garro gets a bit more texture in later books, but in Flight of the Eisenstein, it reads as if Swallow wanted to parody of the worst kind of Space Marine fan-fiction.
#3 – Too Much, Much Too Fast
Finally, even as a mirror to the tale of Garviel Loken, Flight of the Eisenstein doesn’t work.
There was – in parts because it had more space to develop – a sort of sincere, believable struggle to Garviel Loken in the original trilogy. His inner conflict between loyalty to his Primarch and his legion, as well as to his principles and his friends, felt sincere. When he finally breaks with his legion and Primarch, he does so coming out of a long, hard struggle.
The same basic story unfolds in a far less convincing way for Nathaniel Garro.
In the span of just a few pages, Garro goes from being the most steadfast, utterly loyal Death Guard Marine to becoming a rogue-Captain that refuses orders, jumps ships and blithely accepts that 4 Primarchs just turned traitor, as if he had known it all along. Indeed, Garro even refers to the ‘Horus Heresy’ at one point, having barely escaped from Isstvan.
By some miracle, Garro manages to
- always expect the best of everyone around him,
- being time and again utterly shocked and “shaken in his core beliefs” when one of the other Death Guards indulge in some secrecy, yet
- see the Heresy of the Primarchs (including his own) coming from a mile away.
Indeed, the entire Death Guard legion appears neatly divided into the “good guys” (who will follow Garro or die) and the “bad guys” (who will follow Typhon/Mortarion) from page 1.
There is absolutely no ambiguity. No struggling characters, as there were in the first 3 books, whose inner conflicts were palpable and real. There is not a single characters, who could have gone “both ways”, so to speak.
All in all, it just screams lazy writing.
Why Two Stars?
Lots of ranting so far. At this point, you might even be asking yourself why I gave it two stars, not only one?
For one, I did enjoy the last chapters a lot more. Once the Eisenstein is off by herself, the book actually morphs into a story revolving around the main characters (who still suck), and not a story about the main characters peeking into the story of earlier books.
And while James Swallow seems a bit too much in love with fancy and exotic words at times, the (loyal) Death Guard vs. Proto-Plaque-Marine fights that keep the action rolling towards the end are suitably icky and gory. Plain old Nurgle-fun.
This is probably a book that could have safely been left out of the series. There are surprisingly few parts that are relevant to later elements of the series (as far as I am aware of them) and the better, later action parts feel more suited to a short story (or added as early chapters to a later Garro-story).
Still, the final chapters were probably enough for me to give another story with Garro a try.
Having finished Flight of the Eisenstein, I feel like I have gotten a first taste of the “bloat” that many people fault with the Horus Heresy series.