Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 1 May 2001)
Series: Eisenhorn – Book One
Length: 9 hours and 55 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. In my latest Throwback Thursday I continue to review the awesome Warhammer 40,000 works of Dan Abnett with his impressive and dark space thriller, Xenos.
For my Throwback Thursday last week, I talked about legendary Warhammer fiction author Dan Abnett and his Gaunt’s Ghosts series, which is one of the pillars of Warhammer 40,000 fiction. I have already had a lot of fun reading several of the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels (including First and Only, Ghostmaker and The Vincula Insurgency), so I thought I would take the opportunity to check out one of Abnett’s other major Warhammer entries, the Eisenhorn series, which I have heard some extremely good things about. Set in a different area of the Warhammer 40,000 universe than the Gaunt’s Ghosts books, the Eisenhorn books are a darker and more intense series that follows a troubled Imperial Inquisitor hunting down a deadly conspiracy at the heart of humanity.
In the dark future, the Imperium of Man is under constant attack from aliens, monsters and daemons who seek to destroy or corrupt all within. However, the greatest threat to the Imperium comes from within as diabolical heretics, witches and cultists work from the shadows to weaken the Imperium, worship the forces of Chaos, and bring humanity crashing down around them. The only protection humanity has against these nefarious and hidden threats are the members of the Inquisition, deadly agents who wield great power and authority to pursue their investigations by any means necessary.
Gregor Eisenhorn is a talented and experienced Inquisitor who has long fought against the shadows constantly threatening stability and order. When he finally corners and kills an old adversary amid a dark ritual, Eisenhorn hopes that his actions have permanently ended an ongoing source of Chaos and despair in the Imperium. However, evidence he recovers from the crime scene hints at a greater conspiracy that threatens several local systems.
Travelling to a prosperous system hub, Eisenhorn restarts his investigation, determined to get to the bottom of this new danger. However, he is unprepared for the full scope of the hidden forces of Chaos that wait for him, as a massive and hidden cabal rises in opposition against him. As multiple planets within the system burn due to the action of the Chaos cultists, Eisenhorn works with a series of unique allies to bring this cult to heel before they cause irreparable damage to the Imperium. However, the more sinister danger may come from the prize that his enemies are seeking, an ancient and dark tome of knowledge, known as the Necroteuch, which has the potential to burn the universe and turn the entire Inquisition against Eisenhorn.
Xenos was another exceptional novel from Abnett, and one that really showcases his ability to tell a varied and complex tale. This is a dark, powerful, and impressive character-driven read, and I loved the switch to dark intrigue and heretical investigations, which made for such an incredible story. I was an instant fan of Xenos’s clever and highly addictive plot, and I must give it a full five-star rating for how awesome it was.
I was deeply impressed with the outstanding and compelling story that Abnett featured in Xenos, especially as it was very different in style and substance to his previous works I have enjoyed. While the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels are gritty war stories that focus on the common soldier, Xenos was a powerful and twisty space thriller that saw a determined Inquisitor attempt to root out the manipulations of Chaos far away from the battlefields. The story itself is extremely clever and well-paced, and it swiftly draws you in with its dark events, especially its intense and action-packed introduction. Despite killing his nemesis early in the story, Eisenhorn is forced to keep digging even further as he uncovers more conspiracies and plots. Utilising undercover methods, interrogations, obscure evidence and a series of bloody fights, Eisenhorn and his unique comrades follow the trail across the sub-sector, attempting to discover the true plot of their enemies. This leads to several large and memorable set pieces, and I loved the constant change of locations, especially as it allowed you to get a whole new idea of the scope of their foes plans and the desperate battles being fought to stop them. I also enjoyed the quieter scenes that were laid out between them as they not only added some great intrigue, but also highlighted the personal nature of the protagonist’s quests and the bonds he forged along the way. The plot is eventually resolved after several major battles, including some very trippy sequences, and I came away from this book very satisfied and wanting more, especially as Abnett laid some intriguing hints about deeper conspiracies towards the end. I was absolutely hooked the entire way through this narrative and I had such an amazing time reading this exciting and compelling story.
Xenos was an extremely well written Warhammer novel, and I really appreciated how Abnett was able to seamlessly change writing style and tone for this darker read. The author makes excellent use of a first-person perspective for Xenos, as the story is in a chronicle format being written by the central character of Inquisitor Eisenhorn. This allows for a much more personal and protagonist-centric narrative which really draws you into the hunt as you see the protagonist’s obsession with capturing the heretics and ending the threat to the Imperium. Abnett keeps the pace pretty fast and intense throughout the entirety of Xenos, even during the sequences between the main action-packed scenes, and you are constantly engaged with the hunt or the intriguing relationships between the characters. I was personally very impressed with how Abnett was able to blend a lot of distinctive story elements together throughout Xenos to produce an excellent story. The way that the author combines Warhammer, thriller, mystery, science fiction and even horror (the Chaos creatures can get pretty bad at times) elements together is just amazing, and it opens up the appeal of the book to a wide range of readers. I loved the continued and powerful hunt throughout the Imperium, especially as all the protagonist’s actions and attempts to end the threat result in major consequences for those around him. This was a deeply captivating and intense read, and I cannot empathise how addictive and fun I found it.
One of the main reasons I chose to check out Xenos and the Eisenhorn series, aside from generally loving Abnett’s writing, is it is generally considered to be one of the best series to start a dive into Warhammer fiction. After powering through Xenos, I can confirm this as Abnett uses the lore and the darker side of the Warhammer universe to its full advantage throughout this fantastic thriller tale. While some slight knowledge of the large Warhammer 40,000 universe might be helpful to understand parts of Xenos, new readers unfamiliar with the franchise can easily dive into this book and follow the story with no problem, and any science fiction fan can have an amazing time reading it. Abnett patiently and competently explores key details of the Warhammer universe as the story continues, although never in a way that interferes with the captivating flow of the book. As such, you get a good view of the overall state of humanity and the Imperium during this novel, with a particular focus on the Inquisitors and their mission. The Inquisitors have always been a fascinating and complex part of Warhammer 40,000 lore, and this series really highlights just how dangerous their tasks are, as well as the fine line they walk in their hunt for justice and purity. Naturally, this dive into the Inquisition will also make this book very appealing to experienced Warhammer readers as well, and Abnett is considered to be one of the best franchise authors for a reason. I have a deep appreciation for all the cool lore elements that were featured here, and I particularly enjoyed how Xenos offers a very different story to many of the other Warhammer 40,000 books out there, and really highlights just how complex the universe can be.
I was also very impressed by the exceptional character work that Abnett featured with Xenos, as this compelling read features some great characters. The primary figure of this book is naturally Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn, who serves as the main protagonist and narrator of the story. I felt that Xenos served as a particularly good introduction to this iconic Warhammer figure, and I found myself getting quite attached to his journey. A no-nonsense and extremely practical Inquisitor, Eisenhorn is seen by many as a cold and calculating man, although deep down he is a caring individual who feels great attachment to his friends and comrades. Abnett portrays Eisenhorn as a pretty reasonable figure, preferring subtle investigations, which makes him appear a bit radical to some of his fellow Inquisitors whose preferred methods are to kill anyone with any potential for evil. It was very interesting to see him as a pretty strait-laced guy in Xenos, especially as I have heard of how radical he gets in the future, and I think it was very smart of Abnett to showcase him in this way first to enhance the impact of his future actions. However, Eisenhorn does go through a lot in Xenos, including mental, psychical and spiritual tortures, and you can really see the damage done to him and how his desire for vengeance and getting the job done by any means grows. I cannot wait to see how his story advances in the next few books, as I know that Abnett has damaging days in store for him.
In addition to Eisenhorn, Abnett loads Xenos with a ton of interesting supporting characters, all of whom are seen through Eisenhorn’s eyes. This includes Eisenhorn’s eccentric entourage of follows and agents, including a data-obsessed scholar, a skilled pilot, a grim justice operative and his newest associate, Bequin, a psychic blank who is drafted into the war against Chaos against her will. This unusual team prove to be great backup to the dour Eisenhorn, and I liked the genuine connection that Eisenhorn forms with them, especially as it shows that he really isn’t the monster many people think he is. Other characters of note include the varied and distinctive fellow inquisitors that either assist or oppose Eisenhorn, and the various deadly enemies he goes up against. Rather than have one specific antagonist in Xenos, Abnett featured a cabal of Chaos worshipping foes, each of whom despises Eisenhorn for what he represents. While there isn’t a massive focus on any specific villain, each of the major players in the cabal are pretty distinctive, and I liked the overall effect that Eisenhorn is fighting a multi-faced beast in Chaos, rather than a specific evil. These outstanding characters really enhanced this epic and captivating narrative and I look forward to seeing what other insane figures show up in this series as it progresses.
Unsurprisingly, I chose to enjoy Xenos in its audiobook format, which is frankly the best way to experience any Warhammer novel. With a run time of just under 10 hours, I absolutely powered through this audiobook and I found that it perfectly conveyed all of Abnett’s elaborate and compelling story elements. This was partially due to the brilliant narration of veteran voice actor Toby Longworth, who has lent his fantastic vocal talents to most of Abnett’s Warhammer books. Longworth did another remarkable job here with Xenos, and I loved his take on this slighter darker narrative. I deeply appreciated all the voices he provided to the characters in Xenos, especially as he is not just recycling the voices he uses in the Gaunt’s Ghosts books. Each of the voices here are pretty fitting to their respective character and there is some fantastic variation based on plot details such as the speaker’s planet of origin, species, inclination, and personality. This excellent voice work really enhanced my enjoyment of this captivating read and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone interested in reading Xenos.
The first entry in Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn series, Xenos, lives up to all the hype surrounding it as it proved to be an exceptional and highly addictive read. Perfectly combining an elaborate thriller story with the dark Warhammer 40,000 universe, Xenos was a joy to read from start to finish. I cannot recommend this novel enough and my plan is to listen to yet another book from Abnett in the next couple of days.