After the thrilling conclusion to the opening trilogy of the Horus Heresy in Galaxy in Flames, I was riding on a Warhammer high. Those first three books sparked a hunger to following this conflict and the main 40k timeline in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Immediately after finishing the trilogy, I picked up The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow and it didn’t disappoint. It is a direct continuation from the events of Isstvan III. We follow what happened to characters like Garro, Sindermann and Keeler whose fate we didn’t see, as well as exploring the Death Guard Legion for the first time and our firsts glimpse of Terra. If you are ready for a breakneck book that starts to show you what the warp is capable of, then look no further.
The Flight of the Eisenstein opens with what the Death Guard were up to before the events of Galaxy in Flames. We get to meet Mortarion, Primarch of the Death Guard, and Typhon, 1st Captain, who both play large roles in the main 40k timeline. As a 40k Death Guard player, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing these characters before their fall to the plague god. Mortarion’s drinking poison like it is a fine wine is hilariously disturbing. It makes him feel like a moody, grimy teenager who thinks the disgusting cider is the peak of coolness, and I love it. The Death Lord, as he is occasionally referred to, is simultaneously terrifying and ridiculous in the charming way that only Warhammer manages. And then there is Typhon who is constantly the one step ahead as he schemes and plots against his father, the Emperor and everyone around him. All of which gave me a new appreciation for him and got me intrigued to follow his story further.
Outside of these two heavy hitters, we see some of the other Death Guard who are set up against our main man, Garro. Following on from Galaxy in Flames where we were introduced to the loyalist Death Guard Captain, we see how he ended up aboard the Eisenstein and follow it as it braves the Warp in an attempt to bring its warning to Terra. I like Garro and throughout the book, he goes on an impressive character arc. He remains a fairly stoic Space Marine but he goes on an introspective journal as well as a combative one. The events of The Flight of the Eisenstein cause Garro to question everything he’s ever known including his Legion, his Emporer, the Warp and his place in the Universe. And it’s a fun ride to go on with him.
The Flight of the Eisenstein isn’t lacking for battle scenes. There are the opening scenes showing where the Death Guard were before the last book, the conflict on Isstvan followed by the events aboard the Eisenstein as it tries to escape and then battles throughout the warp that culminates in one last, meaningful battle at the end which I won’t spoil. All of which means this book is never boring. Even when we take a minute to slow things down, it all building to another crescendo and further exploring and developing Garro. And by the end of the book, you need to take a breather to consider all of the implications, foreshadowing and to give yourself the chance to absorb everything. That isn’t to say the book is too fast-paced, but that strikes an excellent balance and understands how to ratchet up the tension at a moments notice.
Our last cast of characters are the Remembrancers, and while they don’t play a huge role they are still pivotal to the story. We meet them as they board the Eisenstein and each of them, but especially Keeler, play a role in changing Garro. We spend a reasonable amount of time exploring the faith of the Emperor and the idea of Keeler as a Saint. All of which throws up questions about whether the Emperor is or isn’t a god and how Euphraite got her powers. And by the end of the book, you are left with a hunger to see what happens next to these characters as they still have stories to tell.
As a Death Guard player and someone intrigued by Chaos, I devoured this book with abandon. We get even more of an insight into the future of the Death Guard, Nurgle and the Warp, all of which we have been slowly drip-fed by the previous books. With a little extra understanding, on my second time through the book, I understood a lot more of the foreshadowing and the relevance of what Warp was doing to the people aboard the Eisenstein. As with all these books so far, I enjoyed it the first time but loved it after having a little more context and understanding of this Universe.
If you thought that the opening trilogy of the Horus Heresy was as good as the series could get, then you were wrong. The Flight of the Eisenstein is a fantastic continuation of that story that ties together many of the threads that were left hanging during Galaxy in Flames. If you’ve finished the first three books and don’t know where to go next, then this is the best destination. It opens the way for so many fantastic stories and properly introduces Garro who is set up to play an important role in things to come.
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