Monday, July 23, 2012

Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow is the fourth book in The Horus Heresy series published by The Black Library. It is a book of transition-- from the opening acts of the Heresy to the middle acts, from Imperial Truth to Lectitio Divinitatus, and from the tightly scripted narrative of the starting trilogy to a more free-form exploration of the Heresy. It is a book of transition both literally and figuratively.

Flight opens with the assault on a Jorgall “bottle ship,” a giant, sub-light colony ship. The story quickly shifts to the events of Isstvan III. The narrative doesn’t dwell here long, as this is well worn story this point. Instead, Mr. Swallow quickly jumps into new territory with the flight proper of the Eisenstein. These subsequent events are primarily divided into three distinct phases. The first phase covers the trials endured while the ship was becalmed in the warp. The second phase details the rescue by the Iron Fists. The third phase wraps up events at Luna. It is a fast- paced narrative, rarely staying in one place long.

Flight does several things well, and there were several very smart choices in crafting the narrative. For one, it had to be a difficult story to stitch together. The opening of the book is a great example of these intelligent choices. The assault on the Jorgalli fleet is completely superfluous in terms of The Horus Heresy. Yet, it allowed Mr. Swallow to introduce nearly all of the characters and their motivations. It is in these events we see how Nathaniel Garro differs from his peers. More importantly, we see the seeds of his faith, a critical element in Garro’s future growth as a character.

Another element that I enjoyed were the brief scenes with Mortarion. The Death Guard is a very stern Legion, reflecting their Primarch, the Lord of Death. Yet, in several private scenes between Mortarion and Garro you see a very human side to Mortarion as he struggles with signing Garro’s death warrant. Ultimately, this very human sentimentality is what allows the Eisenstein, and Garro, to escape and thus alert the Emperor of Horus’ perfidy.

Flight at its core is really a story about Nathaniel Garro. The story focuses on him to such a degree that the other characters suffer as a result. Garro is defined by a few core traits: his loyalty to the Emperor, his loyalty to Terra and loyalty to his Legion. As these elements come into conflict via events in the story, there is a parallel conflict within Garro as he fights to maintain his sense of identity. The end result is that Garro is reforged into a weapon of the Emperor.

The supporting characters get much less attention and for the most part serve as little more than foils to Nathaniel. But, that is not to say they are not interesting. In particular I liked Kaleb Arin, Garro’s housecarl. Kaleb is pivotal in two important ways. Kaleb’s faith helps steer Garro down the path of the Lectitio Divinitatus, and Kaleb’s backstory as a failed aspirant helps bring a human touch to the story. Both side stories are written in a very organic manner that meshes well with the story.

I also liked the introduction of the Sisters of Silence-- in particular how Mr. Swallow opens and closes the book with them. It brings a certain elegance to the narrative. It is Garro’s interaction with the Jorgalli psyker that causes his first internal crisis, and it is at the Sisters’ citadel that he completes his journey both internally and externally. The Sisters themselves are interesting being null entities in regards to the Empyrean. One can’t help wonder what becomes of them in the Warhammer 40K setting.

Lastly, I thought Solun Decius was interesting, less as a character, but more as a plot tool. Solun mirrored Garro’s doubts. As Garro’s doubts grew, so did Solun deteriorate both initially through insubordinate behavior and later due to the effects of the warp pathogen. Solun figuratively becomes a boil on Garro’s soul, finally erupting as the Lord of Flies. Only when Garro lances this infection, killing the Lord of Flies, does he purge himself of doubt.

There were a few things that I think were less successful. First, I was disappointed in the cursory attention given to Euphrati Keeler and Kyril Sindermann. They did not grow as characters nor did they add much to the story, only appearing when Garro’s character development needed them.

The story sequence involving the Iron Fists was also disappointing, again because they seemed so very unimportant. Other than a key scene with Rogal Dorn, there was not much of note happening and bordered on boring. I wished this section had been fleshed out a bit more in some way. But, given the tenseness of the previous section in the narrative, being trapped in the warp, perhaps this slow pace was purposeful; giving the reader a rest before the climatic finish on Luna.

Flight of the Eisenstein is a strong entry into The Horus Heresy series. It was a book that could have failed in numerous ways. Yet it successfully transitioned from the scripted opening to a more open stage. It presented a character in Garro that represents the soul of the Imperium. In him you see the Imperium transition as well, from the ideals of the Great Crusade, to something new and not yet defined. Flight matches the bar set by previous novels and it is an easy recommendation.

Memorable Quotes:
“‘No’ he spat, ‘this is my vessel, and you have boarded it without my authority!’...’You will stand down, you will identify yourself, and you will answer to me!’” Garro page 320
“‘The Emperor protects,’ said the Sigillite slowly, as if he were reading the words from the page of a book. ‘He does indeed, Astartes, in ways that you cannot begin to comprehend.’” Lord Malcador the Sigillite page 402
“‘I am an Astartes, but now I am a brother without a Legion. Alone, I stand unbroken amid all the oaths that lie shattered around me. I am the Emperor’s will, but I am nothing if He will not task me!’” Garro page 404
The Black Library: Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow
Image Source: The Black Library
Review Copy: Self Purchased Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-1844164592

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