Sunday, January 13, 2008

REVIEW: Xenos (book 1 of the Eisenhorn trilogy)

Review This bit doesn't give the plot of the book away

Dan Abnett is the most prolific and popular Black Library author, and the Eisenhorn trilogy (of which Xenos is the first book) is his most highly regarded work. It's not hard to see why. Abnett uses the first person perspective of Inquisitor Eisenhorn to draw the readers into the book, and he is a confident and assured narrator. His authorial tone is consistent, smart and playful and he really makes you feel as if he is in total command of his creation.

The other characters in the book are very well drawn, in a very economic manner, with sharp dialogue, so that they all seem to have very different personalities (something that can't be said for many other Black Library books). He particularly manages to avoid the 'pantomime' stereotypical black and white heroes and villains of similar fiction, instead portraying them in shades of grey. The book gives a satisfying finale, while leaving a few loose ends for the next book.

Xenos is very well plotted, pacy and the book is rich with ideas and conflicts. It doesn't feel thin or stretched, like other 40k fiction I have reviewed. Nor is Xenos simply an extended battle report; it is not just a two hundred and fifty page fight scene. More than any other Warhammer 40,000 (40k) fiction it really gets under the one dimensional military veneer and into the inner workings of the Imperium. Abnett conveys the internal politics of the Inquisition superbly and sets it's personalities against each other in a credible manner, fleshing out the galaxy behind the battlefields described in the 40k rulebooks.

If I have a minor quibble with the book it is in some of the detail of the background and worlds. Although I have described Abnett as a writer in total command of his creation, his vision doesn't always match the one already established for the game setting. Dan jettisons some of the spiritual/fantasy/religious elements of the 40k universe in favour of a more science based approach. Characters don't regard their technology in a mystical way, praying for it's safe function, but have a more pragmatic, late 20th century, practical outlook. Everyone flies around in speeders, when gravitic devices are quite rare in the Imperium. And some of his ideas and descriptions of psykers and untouchables don't stack up over the course of the series.

Nevertheless, Xenos is a very accomplished work and I would have no hesitation as recommending it as an excellent place to begin one's exploration of the 40k galaxy.

Xenos is a well plotted, pacy read with good characterisations and offers a unique glimpse into the inner workings of the Imperium.

Score 9/10


All of my reviews end in a score out of ten for the product. The table below explains what that score means.

  • 10/10 Perfect, absolutely nothing better
  • 9/10 Excellent, highly recommended
  • 8/10 Very good, recommended
  • 7/10 Good
  • 6/10 Above average, some problems
  • 5/10 Average, some good points some bad points
  • 4/10 Below average, some redeeming features
  • 3/10 Poor, major flaws
  • 2/10 Very poor, avoid if possible
  • 1/10 Absolutely appalling

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