Double Eagle by Dan Abnett was the Warhammer 40,000 story I never knew I needed. It might also be the reason I buy lots of models from the Aeronautica Imperialis because it got me pumped about flying machines. In all seriousness though Double Eagle is a war story focussed on the Sabbat World conflict against the Chaos Lord Anakwanar Sek. Supposedly it ties into Gaunt’s Ghosts, but I’ve not read those so cannot comment. What I can say is that Double Eagle is a thrill ride from start to finish with a wealth of compelling characters and the best book I’ve read so far this year.
There’s something about Dan Abnett’s style and flair that allows him to introduce a character and immediately make you care about their story. Whether that’s the new recruit trying to survive his first flight or the respected captain trying to keep her squadron alive, Double Eagle is brimming with characters that live and breathe within its pages. Every action scene highlights the danger these pilots are in as their lives are gone in the blink of an eye and the survivors simply need to return to base, refuel and go on the next mission. It’s heart wrenching, adrenaline pumping stuff that had me hooked to the very end.
The actual narrative of Double Eagle is essentially a sci-fi Battle of Britain with the Imperium taking on the role of the RAF and chaos worshippers the Luftwaffe. And while I don’t know if this allegory works as the Imperium are not and never will be ‘the good guys’, it serves to ease you into the story through a familiar scenario. And for this reason, I think Double Eagle is probably my new recommendation to anyone looking to get into Warhammer 40,000. It’s a more human and grounded story than Abnett’s Eisenhorn series (which I know is a lot of people’s go to story) and it ends in a single book unlike Horus Rising (which I’d previously touted as a good starting point). All you need to know to enjoy the book is that these pilots are everyday humans trying to protect their home and survive through one more dogfight.
As I’m refusing to even come close to spoiling this excellent book, I won’t go into any of the characters or story beats. However, one major plot point is the enemy ace pilot and the number of kills he wracks up. When you read a passage that includes this mysterious foe, the tension rockets as you grip the page hoping your favourite character survives. And they might not. Double Eagle has a lot of fallen pilots and danger is ever present. So while you’ll enjoy the downtime the characters have as you get to know them, their hopes, dreams and friendships, you’ll have that torn away from you in brutal aerial combat.
And it isn’t just the action scenes and character moments, but Abnett’s ability to describe the scenery and setting is breathtaking. You feel like you’re flying alongside these pilots as they view the world from above and then hit the bar at the end of the day. Double Eagle never stutters or stumbles as it pulls together an almost perfect Warhammer 40,000 story.
I say almost because I think at the start it introduces a lot of characters very quickly and in 40k fashion their names are not always easy to remember. This means that you might get a couple of characters confused or miss key information about their backstory. However, for the eagle eyed among you this won’t be an issue and it is nowhere near enough of a problem to ruin the story. It’s a testament to Double Eagle’s quality that once it’s introduced its cast never lets a single one of them down. Each has a conclusion whether in battle or elsewhere that feels satisfying and natural within the context of their character. Or they die a quick, hard death and it leaves other characters shaken and the social group never the same.
Double Eagle gets the highest recommendation I can give as it reaches the lofty heights of Black Legion, Helsreach, Horus Rising and other fantastic Warhammer stories. In fact, Double Eagle does them all one better by being incredibly approachable but not losing anything for veterans either. If you are looking to get into Warhammer 40,000 or need a good book to read, then Double Eagle should be the next story you pick up.
Thanks for reading. If you want more Dan Abnett, then check out my review of Legion which follows the Alpha Legion pre-Heresy. Alterntively, check out Tales of Heresy for a Dan Abnett short story and some other great tales.
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