Sunday, April 18, 2010

Book Review: "Eisenhorn" (SPOILERS)

I finished reading the entire Eisenhorn omnibus, which consists of Malleus and Hereticus as well as Xenos, which I already discussed. Now for the review...

I didn't like the later two books as much as I did the first one.  I think the extreme time-jumps played a part in that.  Both the second and the third books take place many decades apart from each other, with one character dying off-screen and being replaced by his daughter as Eisenhorn's pilot.  The first third or so of the third book also kills off or incapacitates many cast members rather abruptly, although it is necessary for the plot.

They also featured a quasi-romance between Gregor Eisenhorn and Alizabeth Bequin, which didn't go anywhere because Eisenhorn is a psyker and Bequin is a "blank" (someone who has no warp presence, whom psykers find it painful to be around).  There is one line in the third novel which describes it in a rather darkly comic manner--to paraphrase it, the pain of being separated wasn't as bad as the pain that would come with them being "together" (sex?)--and in the second book, Eisenhorn fears pain and even insanity if they were to get "together."

(If they both love each other and this issue is so much of an obstacle, more detail would have been nice.)

This didn't turn into a "romantic plot tumor" as I feared it would be in any movie based on Xenos.  However, I imagine if this were made into a film, they would find some unrealistic way of overcoming this problem just to make it more marketable.

(Although it would be interesting if there were a sex scene in a movie in which Eisenhorn is obviously in pain due to the psyker-blank situation and afterward, both of them agree that this was a bad idea.  It could even be construed as a subtle mockery of trying to force a romance between these two characters in the name of having a non-tragic romantic subplot.)

The second and third books do a good job of explaining just how factional the Inquisition is--both novels feature outright violence between different factions of the Inquisition. 

The Big Bad of the second book is a rogue Inquisitor who has consorted with the demonic powers of the Warp in order to try to create a device that (he thinks) would cause the Eye of Terror (a zone where the Warp and the material universe overlap, from which the forces of Chaos regularly attack the Imperium) to implode, while in the third novel, Eisenhorn is persecuted by rivals in the Inqusition for dealing with demonic powers himself (he had to call on a captive demon for help against a Chaos Titan that was massacring his entourage).  His rivals happen to be aided by a former member of his entourage, who is convinced Eisenhorn has become a heretic and is trying to save his soul.

Eisenhorn's arc over the course of the three books is also interesting.  He goes from being a Puritan, an Amalathian in particular (zealously fighting against Chaos in all its forms, although being basically conservative in outlook) to a de facto Xanthist (Xanthists are Inquisitors who have no problem trying to use Chaos against itself, something that often ends badly for the Inquisitor). 

This is done gradually, in a large measure due to the things Eisenhorn needs to survive (calling forth the demon to destroy the Chaos Titan) or in vengeance for wrongs done to him and his entourage (the demon had spent a century or more trying to frame Eisenhorn for consorting with it in order to provoke Eisenhorn to destroy the body he'd been forced to inhabit and free him--then Eisenhorn traps him into a new body and keeps him locked in the basement for a few decades), without any radical changes in Eisernhorn's personality.  It's all very organic and I think that's good.

One of the latter two books does contain an interesting cultural detail.  In the 40K universe, most humans worship the comatose God-Emperor of Mankind in a church that is very medieval-Catholic in style.  When he enters an Imperial cathedral in the story, Eisenhorn makes "the sign of the eagle" in the same manner as a Catholic makes the sign of the cross.

Overall, I think the Eisenhorn novels are a good read, even for those who are not into Warhammer 40K.  Thanks to the way Xenos is written, one doesn't really need to be familiar with the overall universe.

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