The Horus Heresy: The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow – Dual Review [Bane of Kings & Lord of the Night]
Bane of Kings and Lord of the Night revisit book four in the awesome Horus Heresy series, The Flight of the Eisenstein, by James Swallow, published by Black Library.
“A gripping and tense novel that really ups the ante for the entire Horus Heresy series and expands on one of the most important, yet overshadowed, pieces of lore.” – The Founding Fields
“An awesome addition to the Horus Heresy series, Flight of the Eisenstein is a very strong read from veteran Blood Angels author James Swallow .” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Lord of the Night’s Thoughts
Flight of the Eisenstein is one of James Swallow’s best work, in fact it’s his only Horus Heresy work that has been near universally well-received. And it’s not hard to see why, FotE is a classic of the series and is based on a piece of lore that while being, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, as important as Calth or Prospero, is not as popular as those famous events. But Swallow takes this lore, that has often been revised and muddled with conflicting accounts, and tells a great story with it and introduces one of the most important characters in the entire series.
The betrayal has begun. As the loyalists of the Traitor Legions die in fire and betrayal at Istvaan III one loyalist is given his most important duty yet. Captain Nathaniel Garro of the Death Guard, once loyal to Mortarion and now loyal to Emperor and Emperor alone, is charged with a single duty. To warn the Emperor of his most favoured son’s treachery. But Garro’s mission will be far from simple, with barely a hundred of his fellow Death Guard at his side, a group of humans praising the God-Emperor in his charge and one damaged frigate to carry them all to Terra, it isn’t bad enough that Garro is outnumbered, outgunned and that his mission seems impossible. But someone else wants to stop Garro, someone with a vested interest in seeing Horus succeed, and this being intends to use all of his dark power to make sure that the Eisenstein’s current flight, is it’s last.
FotE is the first part of Nathaniel Garro’s story, a name that will be familiar to readers of older editions of Warhammer 40k and the Heresy lore. And while some details have changed, such as the number and type of Garro’s fellow loyalists, the story itself has been expanded and I really enjoyed the entire odessey. The journey of Garro and his crew from Istvaan and into the void is a really enjoyable one and one fraught with peril on every chapter. Swallow doesn’t play down how much danger the Eisenstein crew is in, or how critically important their mission is to the wider Imperium and to the Great Crusade. I particularly enjoyed that Swallow expands on the story by adding what happened to Garro prior to the flight and shows how this once-loyal Battle-Captain chooses Emperor over Legion.
The characters are a very strong point of the novel. Garro himself is a very interesting character, a loyalist traitor but unlike the previous such characters he is one who has time and the opportunity to really think about what has happened to him, his Legion and those he once called brother, and about what all this will mean for the Imperium. Secondary characters include several returning characters such as Euphrati Keeler who continues to keep the reader engaged with exactly what she is becoming, the Emperor’s Child Saul Tarvitz with whom we see a familiar scene from a different point of view, and Iacton Qruze who continues to impress as a solid and reliable character. Swallow writes good and interesting characters, but it’s their interactions with each other that really make them good as each character affects others differently and some characters reach conclusions that without another character present they would not have reached.
The action is very good, for the most part it is while well-written and enjoyable rather standard considering what has happened before. However when the flight begins that is when things take a much darker turn, both for the book and the series as we see the first real sight of what is coming in the future to be a common occurence through the entire Horus Heresy, and Swallow handles the scene brilliantly. The characters are suitably horrified and the perils that face them when fighting these types of enemies are well shown with what happens to one character in particular. I think these scenes really show just how bad things are becoming in the series and of course make the journey for the characters all the more perilous as they are up against enemies they cannot fight conventionally, which makes the novel stronger.
The pacing of the book is nicely done, the first third of the book or so covering the prelude to the flight, and then the next third covering the flight, and then the final third covering what happens after the flight. Each section is well written and easy to read, I was never bored during this book either through the character growth and interaction, the battles that take a darker turn very quickly or the surprising story twists and turns that really kept me moving through the book until before I knew it, I was done. Swallow also continues with the strong world construction, although by this point it’s more world deconstruction as everything begins to fall apart and 30k starts taking it’s first real steps towards the grim darkness of 40k.
Now for my favourite quote, quite a few good ones in FotE but this one sticks in my mind the most,
“Fool. The Death Guard are already dead. It is ordained.”
The ending is a harsh one for people who were hoping for a certain kind of ending, though it does come with the promise of more with some of these characters, and for 40k fans the ending contains a promise and teaser of something monumental for the series and a possibility for how something very important in 40k came about in 30k. Swallow ties up this part of the story with Garro but does leave room for more with him, and sets the scene for the next pivotal moment in the Heresy which will be explored for the first time in book five, Fulgrim by Graham McNeill.
For a really good story with strong characters, some very dark action scenes and the story taking an impossible-to-forsee twist at the end I give Flight of the Eisenstein a score of 8.8/10. This is a must-read for fans of the Horus Heresy, a fascinating piece of lore that is expanded into a great novel, and holds the potential for much more and for the series to take even more steps towards 40k using these characters in particular. There is a reason that FotE is Swallow’s only near universally loved HH novel, it’s damn good and one that I don’t think anyone regrets reading or thinks was handled poorly.
That’s it for this review. Next time Bane of Kings and I will be dual-reviewing book five in the HH series, Fulgrim by Graham McNeill. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!
Bane of Kings’ Thoughts
Having witnessed the terrible massacre of Imperial forces on Isstvan III, Death Guard Captain Garro seizes a ship and sets a course for Terra to warn the Emperor of Horus’s treachery. But when the fleeing Eisenstein is damaged by enemy fire, it becomes stranded in the warp – the realm of the Dark Powers. Can Garro and his men survive the depredations of Chaos and get his warning to the Emperor before Horus’s plans reach fruition?
The fourth book in The Horus Heresy is the first to be set outside of the initial Trilogy and tells the story basically leading up to the Flight of the Eisenstein from the battle on Isstvann III, as a group of loyalists from the Death Guard and the Sons of Horus flee the wrath of the Warmaster’s new Crusade in an attempt to alert the Emperor. Like Galaxy in Flames beforehand, The Flight of the Eisenstein is a tale against impossible odds. However, the book itself benefits from having a smaller dramatis personae from Counter’s first novel in the series, or at least once the action reaches the Eisenstein. First, we’re given a portion of the book to focus on the Death Guard Legion and who better to have our eyes and ears than Nathaniel Garro, the Loken-esque figure of The Flight of the Eisenstein and now the lead character in his own series of Audio Dramas. As a result, there are places where Garro can sometimes come across as a bit too similar to Loken in character, and it’s as if Swallow saw what characters people liked about the first three books and decided to incorporate some of them into his own.
The action in this book, like it has been for Galaxy in Flames, is epic. We get a variety of battle scenes here, ranging from Death Guard Pre-Heresy conflicts to space combat. Swallow is one of Black Library’s authors who you can often count upon to produce a strong, solid Bolter-Porn novel and whilst The Flight of the Eisenstein may not be all bolter-porn, it certainly does have a considerable amount of action. However, Swallow pulls off some strong characters including Garro, managing to deliver some memorable scenes such as Mortarion signing Garro’s death warrant, helping to prevent the book from becoming your typical Bolter-Porn book. However, for every good character that Swallow writes he also seems to neglect a few. Solun Decius for example comes across as more of a plot tool and less of a character and the human cast fail to grow as characters and don’t really add all that much depth for to the story unless Garro needs them to be there.
That’s really the main flaw that I found in The Flight of the Eisenstein, for the rest of this book manages to still be enjoyable, for reasons that I’ve already mentioned. The action, certain aspects of the characters, and the plot are all entertaining. The tension is kept high throughout the novel and the pace is pretty fast.
Dark and atmospheric, The Flight of the Eisenstein also deals with some interesting developments – how do other legions than the Sons of Horus react to the Warmaster’s betrayal? The Death Guard are of course the main focus here and it is through them, and the new vs. old concept, that we learn about their reactions to the Heresy. The whole new/old theme has been prominent throughout the series so far, particularly with the lodges, new beliefs, and the fact that anybody can turn against you. A nice look in particular with the whole “old” concept was looking at Space Marines who were so old that they couldn’t fight any longer. If you’ve ever wandered what happens to them, then this book might provide some of the answers in the form of Voyen. Regardless of any flaws though, The Flight of the Eisenstein is a sold entry into the series and one that you shouldn’t really miss.
THE HORUS HERESY SERIES: Horus Rising by Dan Abnett, False Gods by Graham McNeill, Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter, The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow, Fulgrim by Graham McNeill, Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon, The Dark King and the Lightning Tower by Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill (Audio), Legion by Dan Abnett, Battle for the Abyss by Ben Counter, Mechanicum by Graham McNeill, Tales of Heresy by Various Authors, Fallen Angels by Mike Lee, Raven’s Flight by Gav Thorpe (Audio), A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill, Nemesis by James Swallow, The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Garro: Oath of Moment by James Swallow (Audio), Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett, Garro: Legion of One by James Swallow (Audio), Age of Darkness by Various Authors, Promethean Sun by Nick Kyme (Limited Edition), Aurelian by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Limited Edition), The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill, Deliverance Lost by Gav Thorpe, Know No Fear by Dan Abnett, The Primarchs by Various Authors, Fear to Tread by James Swallow, Shadows of Treachery by Various Authors, Brotherhood of the Storm by Chris Wraight (Limited Edition), Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill, Garro: Sword of Truth by James Swallow (Audio), Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden