Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 30 July 2022)
Series: Eisenhorn – Book Three
Length: 9 hours and 48 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read. For this latest Throwback Thursday, I finish off the outstanding and iconic Eisenhorn trilogy by legendary Warhammer author, Dan Abnett, by reviewing the exceptional novel, Hereticus.
I have mentioned several times in the last few weeks that one of my absolute favourite authors of Warhammer fiction lately is the amazingly talented Dan Abnett, whose works have shaped a generation of lore and extended fiction. I have really enjoyed several of the books in his excellent Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, such as First and Only, Ghostmaker and The Vincula Insurgency, which provide some captivating depictions of the common soldier in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. However, based on what I have read so far, Abnett’s best series is the epic Eisenhorn trilogy, which follows titular character Inquisitor Eisenhorn as he attempts to protect humanity from a range of diabolical threats. The first book, Xenos, served as an excellent introduction to Eisenhorn and his major supporting characters, while Malleus showed an older Eisenhorn as he attempts to unravel a massive conspiracy painting him as the villain. I absolutely loved these outstanding novels and they both got a full five-star rating from me, and I immediately dove into the third and final book, Hereticus, as I really wanted to find how everything ended.
For over 150 years, Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn has loyally served the Imperium of Men, disrupting and ending multiple conspiracies and plots by heretics, daemons, and malicious xenos. Throughout all this time, Eisenhorn has always tried to avoid the lure of the radical path that many of his fellow inquisitors tread, determined not to be corrupted by the forces he has sworn to destroy. But desperation can drive even the best man towards the brink and Eisenhorn’s previous deal with a dark figure is coming back to haunt him.
Overseeing a Inquisitorial examination of the planet of Durer, Eisenhorn receives news that an old foe, one who cost him the life of a dear friend, is active on world. Assembling his forces, Eisenhorn is unprepared for the full horror that awaits him, as his enemy unleashes an ancient evil capable of destroying worlds. Facing tragedy and near death, Eisenhorn is forced to do the unthinkable and use foul rites to summon forth a greater evil in the form of the daemonhost Cherubael to survive.
Shocked and disgusted by his actions, Eisenhorn attempts to recover and atone for his mistakes. However, before he can begin, his manor house is raided by a dangerous army of mercenaries and all his forces throughout the sector are brutally destroyed in an instant. On the run with only a few loyal followers left, Eisenhorn needs to discover the identity of whoever is orchestrating his downfall before it is too late. But to defeat his enemy, Eisenhorn is forced to dive deeper into heresy and call upon dark forces that are best left untouched. Can Eisenhorn retain his sanity and soul, or is the price of his victory his own utter damnation?
Wow, just wow. After how epic Xenos and Malleus proved to be, I knew that there was no way that I wasn’t going to love Hereticus. However, I was unprepared for just how brutal and intense Abnett made this final book in the Eisenhorn trilogy, as Hereticus ended up being an exceptional read that perfectly ends his great series on a very high note. Loaded with action, intrigue, and some amazingly complex characters, Hereticus gets another five-star rating from me, and this is honestly one of the best trilogies I have ever read.
Part of the reason why I enjoyed Hereticus so much is because it has an exceptionally epic story to it that really drags you in from the offset. Set 50 years after the events of Malleus (150 years since the start of the series), Hereticus starts off big and never really slows down. The book has a calamitous introduction that sees Eisenhorn and his comrades forced to confront a Chaos Titan which decimates them and forces Eisenhorn to call upon his captured daemonhost Cherubael. This fantastic introduction not only perfectly continues the story from Malleus but also shows Eisenhorn’s progression towards radicalism as he uses his new knowledge in some pretty dark ways. Following this introduction, which splits his main team up, the story continues strongly, as there is a major and extended battle sequence in the heart of Eisenhorn’s sanctum, which sees him forced out on the run. Becoming a fugitive from new enemies, old foes, and the Inquisition itself, the rest of the novel is a very captivating and intense character-driven read that shows a desperate Eisenhorn continue to make radical decision after radical decision, all in the name of defeating his enemies, no matter the cost. There are some extremely moving and powerful scenes scattered through the second half of the book, as Eisenhorn comes to terms with many of his long-running comrades, many of whom do not agree with his methods, as well as some deadly confrontations. Everything leads up to a trippy and action-packed finale, as Eisenhorn finally faces down an old enemy. While the ultimate confrontation is short and the main antagonist only has a brief appearance in the book, the real joy of the story is the hunt to find out who they are and what they are after, with a focus on investigation, intrigue, and ethics. The conclusion leaves everyone extremely satisfied, and Abnett leaves the series open for follow-up, even if a ton of character-centric storylines are permanently closed by a series of deaths and destruction.
The author once again does an amazing job presenting the complex story contained within Hereticus and I have a lot of love for the writing style that Abnett utilised in this series. Blending tense galaxy-spanning intrigue with the hunt for dark forces, massive mysteries, complex revenge plots, and a focus on the corruption of the spirit, there is a ton of fun for a lot of readers in this book, and I loved the elaborate conspiracy that was the fantastic focus of the plot. I especially enjoyed the overall theme of Hereticus that saw Abnett try and bring a lot of storylines and character arcs full circle back to the original novel in the trilogy, Xenos. The history of all the characters in the book, as well as multiple prior events, are essential parts of Hereticus’s plot, and I loved how the author was able to tie together a ton of compelling overlying storylines that really highlights the importance of the first two novels. The primary storytelling method, a chronicle style from Eisenhorn’s perspective, adds a lot of power and flair to the overall book, especially as it enhances the character-driven aspect of the story and gives you some intriguing insights into the conflicted protagonist’s mind. There are a ton of great scenes showcased as result of this first-person perspective, from multiple massive battles, to intimate conversations and even a very well-written psychic interrogation sequence. Abnett has a great eye for detail and some of the resulting action sequences and unique locations are painted in such a way that the reader fully grasped every action or cool element of the setting. This, and so much more, really helps Hereticus’ exceptional story shine through and I had so much fun seeing how this entire novel unfolded.
Like most of Abnett’s books, Hereticus can be read as a standalone novel, especially as the author does an exceptional job of recapping key events, characters, and relationships from the previous Eisenhorn entries. However, to get the full emotional impact of epic narrative, I would strongly recommend checking out Xenos and Malleus first, as you really understand how the character has changed over the course of the series, as well as how well the storylines have continued. I also felt that Hereticus proved to be a particularly good entry into the wider Warhammer 40,000 canon as Abnett continues to explore some of the most intriguing parts of this grim universe, including the dark cults that are constantly a threat to the Imperium’s stability and the Inquisitors who hunt them. The fantastic dive into the different types of Inquisitors and their different ways of fighting the enemy is pretty cool and I loved seeing the various rivalries and discussions that eventuated, especially as Eisenhorn has an opinion on everything. This book also takes the reader to a variety of unique locations within the Warhammer universe, with several unique planets becoming key settings for the plot. I loved seeing the variety of worlds out there in this massive universe, and Abnett has fun tying the events of this book into some of the wider canon aspects of the franchise. I would say that overall the Eisenhorn trilogy really is one of the best series to start reading Warhammer 40,000 fiction with, especially as you get a completely different and more elaborate story than the classic military fiction plots that make up the majority of the genre.
As always, I can’t go away from an Eisenhorn book without talking about the exceptional character work that Abnett brings to the table. This is especially true in Hereticus, as Abnett brings so many compelling character arcs to a tragic and moving end, while also ensuring that his impressive protagonist is changed forever.
As you would expect, the focus of Hereticus is on protagonist Gregor Eisenhorn, who serves as the book’s primary narrator. I mentioned during my previous reviews of these books that I have loved the complex and powerful story that Abnett has woven around Eisenhorn. Starting off as a relatively innocent and uncontroversial Inquisitor who was just trying to do what is right, Eisenhorn has slowly slipped down the path of the radical by employing the methods and powers of his heretical foes. Abnett has showcased this gradual fall perfectly in the first two books, and while he made some questionable decisions out of desperation in Malleus, you still believed that he could be redeemed. Hereticus really has you doubt this as he begins to employ darker methods during this book, which not only cost him but impact the people around him. However, this is not entirely his fault, as forces outside of his control drive him to do so. Pretty much every mistake that Eisenhorn has made in his past seems to come back to bite him in Hereticus, and these events, and more, force him to make hard decisions to survive and defeat foes who are even worse than him. While he does bad things, you can fully understand and appreciate why he feels he needs to do so, even if you don’t agree with them. Despite these bad things, Eisenhorn remains a sympathetic character for most of the book, and his own realisation that what he is doing is wrong just makes the entire story that much sadder. However, there is a layer of arrogance over this that makes you slightly concerned about Eisenhorn’s actions, and you’re never quite sure just how far he has truly fallen. Abnett covers Eisenhorn’s overall character arc pretty damn perfectly, and while the author throws the protagonist’s decline into overdrive in this book, it felt pretty natural and showcases just how destructive desperation is as his good intentions lead him to hell.
On top of Eisenhorn, Hereticus features a bevy of compelling supporting characters who add their own complex spin to the story. Many of the supporting characters from the first two books are once again featured in this third Eisenhorn novel, and I really appreciated how Abnett sought to bring many of their arcs and storylines full circle here. Unfortunately for fans of the series, wrapping up their storylines results in most of the supporting character’s deaths or severe injury, and quite a substantial number of supporting figures from the first two books have their final appearance here. While I won’t go into too much detail, several of these deaths are pretty damn tragic, especially after they follow on from some noble self-sacrifices or major character moments. I was honestly shocked at how brutal Abnett was when it came to killing off his supporting characters, but all of these instances really worked in the context of the story and ensured that Hereticus ended up being particularly memorable. Before these major deaths, though, the author dives into the powerful relationships that each of these supporting characters has with Eisenhorn, and there are some deeply emotional moments scattered through, especially as each of them have their own opinion about Eisenhorn’s recent actions and whether he has gone too far. Watching his oldest friends become disgusted or outraged by his actions really hammers home how far Eisenhorn has fallen, especially as he drags several characters down with him. Throw in some outstanding central antagonists, all of whom have a complex history with Eisenhorn, and some intriguing cameos from the previous novels, and this was an exceptionally character rich novel designed to hit you in the feels.
As with all of Abnett’s books to date, I grabbed the audiobook version of Hereticus, which was once again an exceptional way to enjoy this amazing novel. Coming in at just under 10 hours and featuring the impressive narration of Abnett’s go-to audiobook narrator, Toby Longworth, this format was an excellent way to enjoy this book, and I managed to power through this entire story in no time at all. Longworth really brings the entire story to life with his excellent narration, and he makes sure to infuse all the characters with a ton of personality, while also tailoring their voices to match their history and physical (or metaphysical) attributes. I also thought that several of the best scenes of this book, including some desperate battles, a cool interrogation scene, and some particularly poignant character interactions, were made even more epic in this format, as the exceptional acting from Longworth showcased them in a way they truly deserved. I was utterly enthralled the entire way through Hereticus’s audiobook and this was easily the best way to experience Abnett’s compelling tale.
Overall, I felt that Hereticus was a pretty amazing book and a suitably epic finale to Dan Abnett’s original Eisenhorn trilogy. Bringing together a powerful story with some unique Warhammer 40,000 elements and an exceptional dive into the mind of a fallen inquisitor, Hereticus was utterly addictive and ended up being one of the best Warhammer books I have ever read. I was really impressed with how Abnett concluded this incredible trilogy, and I felt that Hereticus was an excellent final entry that tied together some of the complex storylines from the first two books. I cannot recommend this entire trilogy enough; it truly is one of the cornerstones of Warhammer 40,000 fiction. I look forward to reading more from Abnett in the future, especially as there are several spin-offs associated with this trilogy, as well as a recently released fourth Eisenhorn book in The Magos. However, I think I will try and get through some Gaunt’s Ghosts books first, before diving back into Abnett’s Inquisitor stories, although if I ever want a powerful Warhammer thriller, I know where to look.