Publisher: Black Library
Genre: Grimdark SF
Publication Date: 2001
Gregor Eisenhorn has spent his life eradicating the heretics who threaten the Imperium. Now he hunts a deadly foe, one who lurks within the ranks of the Inquisition itself. And beyond the world of Mortals, something is watching Eisenhorn’s hunt . . .
Dab Abnett’s second Eisenhorn novel is, sadly, not an improvement over the first. Although a lot of the pressure that comes with being part of such an iconic series is reduced, Malleus still suffers from its competition. With so many books in the Warhammer 40,000 universe focusing on Inquisitors, coming back to this early work is filled with a sense of deja vu.
Malleus is a story of subterfuge and mystery, with the finger of suspicion being pointed all over the place as Inquisitors wonder who the guilty party is. There is factional squabbling, petty politics, and the bleak depiction of how Chaos worms its way into the heart of even the most loyal servants of the Imperium. I can only imagne how much people enjoyed it at the time, when these ideas were fresh and new. The problem is that I am reading them twenty years later. I’ve read a fair few Inquisition-centric stories, and a lot of them follow the same arcs. Share the same themes. John French’s Horusian Wars series (and the associated audio dramas) spring to mind as a fine example of this. But a lot of the ground I’m seeing here has been covered elsewhere. How many Inquisitors have been tempted by the Ruinous Powers? How much corruption has spread through the Imperium? Too much to count, is the answer.
In addition, I found the pacing in Malleus quite jarring at times. It’s a book that spans years, but the time is skipped over awkwardly in the middle of chapters, and I don’t think there’s much that would have been lost by a contraction of the timeline. When Eisenhorn flees his enemies, he spends years on the run, but it’s glossed over in a matter of a few pages. What should read as a grueling exile instead comes across as a mere bump in the road. On a related note, this book makes it clear that the Eisenhorn saga takes place over the course of more than a century. In theory, I should like this. Long-scale stories are a love of mine ever since I read Foundation. But here the time doesn’t seme to matter. A century passes, yet nothing really changes. On the one hand, the cultural stagnation of the Imperium is evident, and one of the franchise’s best features, but the characters hardly change. Bequin still reads as an inexperienced young woman, Eisenhorn himself is no different to the last book. I suppose its possible that a longer lifespan would slow down maturation and personality devlopment, but that’s not how it comes across here. Hopefully these are the marks of a younger writer, and Abnett’s work will soon reach the levels of his more recent work, but for now I am unconvinced.
For all its faults, Malleus is still a decent read, though perhaps one that would benefit with even less familiarity with the grim dark future than I have. I still have hopes for the rest of this series, but they are not as high as they once were.