Publisher: Black Library
Series: Eisenhorn (#3)
Genre: Grimdark SF
Publication Date: 2002
Gregor Eisenhorn has spent his life chasing heretics in the name of the God-Emperor. Now he faces his greatest challenge, as a threat from his past resurfaces. Will Eisenhorn prevail, or will he give in to the temptation of the Ruinous Powers . . ?
After two novels that suffer from the grandness of their legacy, Dan Abnett’s third Eisenhorn novel (for the longest time, it was the finale of the series) proves why Abnett is so highly regarded, and delivers in almost every regard. While a lot of the beats of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read an Inquisition novel before, here it is the delivery that matters.
I’ve written before that Warhammer 40,000 can suffer from repetitive storytelling. Eisenhorn’s moral wrangling over the ethics of using daemons to fight heretics may have been original at the time, but nineteen years later, dozens more have followed in Abnett’s footsteps. Especially having already read Ravenor and various short stories, some of the drama a first-time reader should experience is taken away. Though not in detail, I went into this story knowing roughly how it would end. Usually, knowing the ending of a story is a killer for me. I read to be surprised (the occasion reread notwithstanding), and yet Abnett had me turning pages all night, desperate to see what would become of Eisehorn and his companions. Truth be told, it could well be these companions that are the reason I enjoyed Hereticus so much, because although I know Esienhorn’s future, those of his companions are less familiar to me. And by the end of this book, there is quite ahigh body count.
One thing the Eisenhorn series has always done better than its successors is showing the inner workings of an Inquisitor’s mind. While others have fallen to darkness, we’ve always seen it at some remove. Abnett’s incredibly tight first-person narrative gets us in close to every tough decision Eisnhorn must make, showing us every justification he makes on his slippery moral journey, and the novel is all the stronger for it. There are some moments where Eisenhorn brushes the fourth wall, seeking answers from the reader as to how they would have acted in his place. It’s hardly deep philosophy, but it’s a fair bit more than most Warhammer 40,000 books take us. By showing the constant doubt and internal debate that Eisenhorn has, his progression from loyal son of the Emperor to radical, and possibly into the outright heretical, is etched out in detail.
Building on the events of the past two books, Hereticus brings back familiar faces both good and decidedly evil. Ravenor plays a key role, hinting at the events of his own trilogy, and all of the Inquisitors’ staff get their moment in the spotlight. The daemon Cherubael also gets a lot more to do this time around, establishing itself as one of the more nightmarish of Abnett’s creations. Anyone familiar with his Malus Darkblade series from Warhammer’s fantasy line will know just how well he can write the inhumanly evil, and Cherubael is another fine example.
Though I’ve arrived at Eisenhorn too late to view it as the masterpiece others see it to be, it is certainly one of the stronger series in the Warhammer 40,000 canon, and one of the best entry points for a new reader.