Publisher: Black Library (Trade Paperback – 27 December 2001)
Series: Eisenhorn – Book Two
Length: 10 hours and 13 hours
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 week’s Throwback Thursday, I continue my extensive dive into the Warhammer 40,000 universe with the awesome, galaxy-spanning thriller, Malleus by Dan Abnett.
For one of my latest Throwback Thursday reviews, I took a look at one of Dan Abnett’s iconic Warhammer 40,000 novels, Xenos, the first book in the incredible Eisenhorn trilogy. This fantastic book, which followed Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn, a hunter of dark influences in the Imperium of Man, was a clever and compelling read that saw Eisenhorn face off against a range of terrible foes who seek to destroy humanity from within. I had an outstanding time with Xenos, which really showcased Abnett’s skill as an author (I have also really enjoyed his Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, including First and Only, Ghostmaker and The Vincula Insurgency). Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I quickly decided to continue the Eisenhorn trilogy by listening to the second book in the series, Malleus, another exceptional read that takes its protagonist on another dark and engrossing adventure.
In the 41st Millennium, the dark enemies of mankind, whether they be heretical, daemonic, or alien in nature, continue to try and destroy the Imperium of Man from within. It falls to dedicated inquisitors, such as Gregor Eisenhorn, to battle their malign influences by whatever means they deem necessary. But what happens when the very institutions that Eisenhorn has long fought to uphold are turned against him?
Whilst battling against deadly alien influences on an isolated planet, Eisenhorn is made aware of certain allegations against his character which suggest that he has been corrupted by the influence of Chaos. Initially planning to ignore the rumours and continue his vital work safeguarding humanity, his plans are put on hold when a terrible act of destruction unfolds on the planet of Thracian Primaris. Investigating its causes, Eisenhorn is thrust into another deadly conspiracy, one tied to a foe he last encountered 100 years before, the daemonhost Cherubael.
Chasing after Cherubael and his minions, Eisenhorn attempts to discover what their latest unholy plan is. However, his investigation reveals that Cherubael is just a pawn, and that the true mastermind of the plot he has uncovered may be a fellow inquisitor. However, before Eisenhorn can find and confront them, he himself is declared a heretic and renegade by puritan members of his order, forcing him to flee. Chased by the members of the Ordo Malleus, as well as other deadly hunters loyal to Imperium, Eisenhorn must work outside the bounds of his usual authority to prove his innocence and find the true culprits. But to defeat his enemies, Eisenhorn may be forced to cross a dangerous line and become the very thing he has sworn to destroy.
Damn, Abnett was on a major roll when he wrote the Eisenhorn novels, as the second book, Malleus, is getting another five-star rating from me. Brilliantly combining a taut and intrigue-laden plot with the darkest elements of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Malleus is an addictive and powerful read that proves near impossible to stop listening to.
Malleus has an incredible story that I found to be pretty damn addictive. Set 100 years after the events of Xenos, Malleus continues to follow Inquisitor Eisenhorn as he investigates several malign cults and figures throughout his sub-sector of space. The story soon ties into some of the lingering storylines from Xenos as the daemonhost Cherubael makes another appearance, framing Eisenhorn as a heretic. After a massive and suitably destructive series of events, Eisenhorn is thrust into a whole new investigation, trying to finally hunt down the figures that vexed him during the events of Xenos. Traversing the sector in pursuit of Cherubael and other rogue inquisitors, Eisenhorn finds himself thrust into battle after hopeless battle, and his constant losses war with his determination to finish the case. The protagonist faces several major hurdles towards the middle of the book, including capture and imprisonment by a fellow inquisitor for false crimes. Eventually escaping, Eisenhorn spends much of the book as a fugitive hunted by loyalist forces, which is an exciting new element that Abnett plays to full effect to enhance the plot. The overarching mystery/conspiracy plot of the book comes together extremely well, and I loved the outstanding investigation angle that follows as Eisenhorn desperately tries to find the evidence that not only ends the threat but exonerates him. This hunt for answers is actually set over a substantial period of time, mainly due to the delays associated with space travel, but this only increases the power of the plot as you witness Eisenhorn lose years of his life being hunted. Everything leads up to a massive confrontation with plenty of bloody battles and dangerous decisions that leave several fantastic characters dead or damaged. The ultimate conclusion is pretty impressive, especially as Abnett really starts to showcase his protagonist’s inevitable fall from grace here, and he leaves the book on a particularly dark note that was so damn awesome.
Just like with Xenos, Abnett has a fantastic writing style that really helps to enhance Malleus’s narrative and make the book very addictive and exciting. Perfectly utilising an excellent chronicle style that allows you to see inside Eisenhorn’s head, you are swiftly drawn into the complex plot. Abnett keeps up a swift and intense pace the entire way through, and you barely have a moment to stop and breathe before the next intriguing event takes over. The blend of intrigue, Inquisition politics, sector-spanning conspiracies, complex character development, unique Warhammer concerns, and impressive action is a heady mix and you get really get caught up in the hunt for the antagonists and Eisenhorn’s fight to prove his innocence. I loved how intense and deadly some of the crazy battle scenes got and Abnett has great skill at showcasing his characters in mortal danger. His attention to detail also results in some breathtaking sequences, and I was really impressed by that epic parade sequence, especially its ultra-chaotic ending. Abnett also takes the time in Malleus to set up some future storylines and alternate books, with some fun hints at novellas/short stories you should check out, while also quickly introducing his next major protagonist, Ravenor. All these brilliant writing elements, and more, really help to drag you into this elaborate narrative, and I deeply enjoyed the more intrigue-focused stories that are the hallmark of the Eisenhorn books. A worthy and powerful sequel to Xenos that really showcases the awesome characters and continues the outstanding and elaborate storylines.
I really loved the elaborate Warhammer 40,000 elements that Abnett featured within Malleus as the author dives right into the heart of the Inquisition and their battles. Just like with Xenos, you get a great understanding of the various internal threats that the Imperium faces in this universe, as Eisenhorn attempts to combat various conspiracies and threats. However, there is also a much deeper look at the inner workings of the often hidden Inquisition Ordos, especially as Eisenhorn is forced to work against the factions associated with them, including the Ordo Malleus, who think he has been compromised. The ensuing hunt for answers leads the protagonist, and by extension the reader, on a mighty chase around various unique planets in the Imperium, including Cadia before the fall, and Abnett has a lot of fun exploring the intriguing elements associated with these locations, as well as the general lore surrounding inquisitors, daemons and more. I did find it interesting that one of the major McGuffins of the book, the mysterious pylons of Cadia, ended up seeming a little more important in hindsight after the 13th Black Crusade, and you have to wonder if the antagonist’s villainous plan didn’t actually have some merit. I felt that this was a particularly awesome Warhammer 40,000 book and I deeply appreciated how the universe’s unique elements and lore were able to seamlessly support the elaborate tale that Abnett wrote here. Due to Abnett’s detailed and compelling writing style, new Warhammer readers could easily start their exploration of the franchise with Malleus and get a rather good idea of the universe. However, I would really recommend starting with Xenos, as you get a much better introduction to key details and characters there. An overall exceptional read that makes full use of the massive, extended setting.
A highlight of any Abnett book is always the outstanding and highly complex characters, and Malleus has those in spades. The focus is once again on series protagonist and narrator, Gregor Eisenhorn, who grows as a character with each passing adventure. I really liked how Abnett portrayed Eisenhorn in Malleus and his compelling mission for justice and redemption is pretty intense. The Eisenhorn here is a different creature to that in Xenos, especially as, after 100 additional years in the Inquisition, he is a lot more experienced and skilled in his work. Now commanding a small army of followers, Eisenhorn has different methods and resources than before, but the same determination, loyalty and kindness (at least compared to other inquisitors) is still there. However, Malleus sees Eisenhorn go through some major battles, both mentally and physically, as he is forced to confront an enemy within his own order while defending his own methods and character. Watching him declared a heretic by his fellow inquisitors is pretty brutal, and Abnett throws in a heartbreaking prison scene to keep the readers intrigued. These events, coupled with some personal losses, and the continued presence of beings far more powerful than him, force Eisenhorn to make deals and cross lines he really shouldn’t. I love how each of the Eisenhorn books show the protagonist’s slow fall towards radicalism, and Malleus is an interesting starting point for that, as you understand why Eisenhorn is forced to go down this route. While he ends the book with most of his humanity and integrity intact, that brilliant final scene shows that he is getting awfully comfortable with his feet over a line he previously feared, and I cannot wait to see how far he falls in the next Eisenhorn novel.
On top of Eisenhorn, Abnett features a pretty awesome collection of supporting characters who assist the inquisitor in his investigation and they each add their own distinctive personality to the narrative. There is a good continuation of character arcs from the first book as several of his followers from Xenos make a return here, including the entertaining Savant Aemos, former Arbites investigator Fischig and his dedicated psychic blank Bequin. Each of them is a little older, wiser and more familiar with the hardships of being an inquisitor’s acolyte, and I liked the stronger relationships that developed amongst them, particularly Bequin, who really comes into her own in this book as a veteran. There are several interesting new characters added as well, such as the bounty hunter Nayl or brash pilot Medea Betancore (replacing her father Midas), and I felt that their distinctive personalities added a fun and entertaining edge to the narrative. I was surprised that new character Gideon Ravenor, who goes on to get his own spinoff series, only had a relatively small appearance in this book, as I figured he would be a pretty major character to get his own story. Still, he gets a good introduction here and it will be interesting to see how his arc plays out in the future.
Malleus also features several intriguing antagonists, each of whom test Eisenhorn and his colleagues in different ways. While there are the usual array of cultists, aliens and other creatures, most of the antagonists in this novel prove to be other inquisitors, who are either working on their own radical plots or who believe that Eisenhorn is the true heretic who needs to be stopped. This adds a very interesting dynamic to the story and it was fascinating to see the varied philosophies and plots amongst the rival orders and factions. I did find it interesting that the main villain of the story, a mysterious inquisitor acting from the shadows, only had a very minor appearance in the book, and while you feel his presence, a bigger appearance from him might have been in order. However, this character is more than made up for by his principal minion, the daemonhost Cherubael, who returns after his fantastic appearance in Xenos. Cherubael is a brilliantly sinister character who steals every single scene they are in thanks to their menacing monologues and intriguing insights. The outstanding obsession he forms with Eisenhorn is a great deal of fun and I loved seeing this evil figure toy with the inquisitor and force him to go to great lengths to defeat him. Abnett really knows how to write an outstanding character, even in a limited amount of time, and it will be fascinating to see what happens to these characters in the next Eisenhorn book.
I of course chose to listen to Malleus on audiobook, as it is my preferred way of enjoying great Warhammer books, and I was not disappointed with how it turned out. This fantastic format once again deeply enhanced the quality of the story and you can practically see the awesome battle scenes and other breath-taking elements of the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe. Narrator Toby Longworth, who is the go-to narrator for all of Abnett’s Warhammer audiobooks, does another outstanding job with Malleus, and I loved how he was able to keep the pace of the production going. He also has an outstanding voice that really conveys the dark and dangerous nature of the universe, while also perfectly bringing the characters to life. I deeply appreciated how Longworth made sure to utilise the same character tones that he previously featured in Xenos here, and it gave the Malleus audiobook a great sense of continuation. All the new characters are also given excellent voices, and I loved how awesome he made them sound, especially the more supernatural or alien beings that the protagonist comes across. I was frankly hooked on this audiobook from the very start, and it is an exceptional way to enjoy this epic narrative. With a run time of just over 10 hours, I managed to power through this audiobook very quickly, and this is definitely the best format for the Eisenhorn series.
Dan Abnett continues to showcase why he is one of the absolute best Warhammer authors out there with the second book in his superb and beloved Eisenhorn trilogy, Malleus. Featuring a powerful and incredibly captivating narrative of conspiracy, heretics and desperation, Malleus takes Abnett’s compelling protagonist on an even darker journey of despair, compromise and hard choices. Brutal, intense and impossible to put down, Malleus is easily one of the best Warhammer books I have ever read, and I cannot get over how exceptional it was. A very highly recommended book, I plan to check out the third and final Eisenhorn book soon as I can to see how this epic series ends.