Review – The Flight of the Eisenstein – James Swallow

The heresy unfolds

The Black Library are literally releasing these books as fast as I can read them. Since I reviewed Horus Rising a few months ago, two more have been released (in the new Siege of Terra series/sub-series) with a third due in March. I really need to pick the pace up!

This is the fourth entry in the series, and the first to deviate from a purely linear narrative. With the notable exception of Saul Tarvitz’s representation of the Emperor’s Children, the initial trilogy focuses entirely on the Sons of Horus (or Luna Wolves) which is no surprise considering the primary antagonist is Horus himself. The Flight of the Eisenstein is the first to take a step away from Horus’ legion, and instead we turn our attention to Mortarion’s 14th Legion, the Death Guard.

The new protagonist is Battle-Captain Nathaniel Garro, who structurally takes the place of Garviel Loken. Not the only similarity he holds with Loken, in fact, characteristically they seemed fairly interchangeable. Garro/Loken is a completely typical military hero, a noble warrior of almost unparalleled skill whose principles are true and willpower indomitable. Both are deeper thinkers than their comrades, both associate with non-Astartes in a non-conventional manner, both captains in their legion, but not the first captain.

It is undoubtedly difficult to create differences in character between the Space Marines due to their very nature. Their genetic modification, their training, and their military experience mean that there will understandably only be slight differences between their characters. But despite trying to make excuses for the author, Garro really may as well have been Garviel Loken in different armour.

I mentioned above that The Flight of the Eisenstein deviates from a linear narrative, but it only does so in the context of the series as a whole. We pick up the story of Garro, himself mentioned as a bit-part player in Galaxy in Flames, before the convergence of the 63rd fleet at Isstvan and the events of the heresy covered in the previous book. We briefly see the Death Guard in action in a separate engagement, before their Primarch Mortarian announces their orders to join up with the fleet.

The climax of the previous book takes place about half way through The Flight of the Eisenstein and the book really begins to shine after this point. We then follow the escape of Keeler, Sindermann and Oliton who, in the climax alluded to in my previous review, find themselves seeking refuge with Garro aboard the Eisenstein. Faced with the task of informing the Imperium of Horus’ treachery (or heresy, if you will) Garro is faced with impossible decisions, and must take reckless paths in order to survive.

We’re faced, again, with the horrors of the warp and the chaos that it brings forth, with the turmoil the warriors face when pitched against their own and, eventually, with the introduction of another Primarch, and legion, into the fray.

Garro himself was the highlight of this book. I stand by my criticism of him above, he may as well have been Loken reborn, but I liked Loken and also like Garro. Is he a cliché? Sure, but in this context it doesn’t really matter. The internal conflict he faced was convincing, despite it being brushed aside every time he had a foe to dismember with his sword. Yes, he uses a sword. When everyone else uses guns. I admitted he was a cliché already.

At this point in the narrative of the series as a whole, we’re still at the initial fall. The first three books explained the fall of Horus himself, and we saw the steadfast Loken witness it. This book shows the fall of the Death Guard, and the surrounding Legions in the same manner, and we see the steadfast Garro resist it.

The inner conflict such a warrior would experience when faced with the crumbling of his legion, his chain of command and his very world view is absolutely the most interesting tale to tell at this point of the war, which is why we’ve seen it again in Garro. His turning from the militarily rigid obedience to orders, to becoming an outcast and the resulting confusion, to eventual decisiveness from religious faith is gradual, interesting and well crafted. And, because this is still actually a Warhammer 40k book, there’s also a large amount of death, gore, explosions, abominations and, well, action.

I’ve been pre-warned in embarking on reading this series that there are some bad books in here. They might not be Booker Prize winners, but we’re doing well enough so far.

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