Aside from the compulsion to roll dice and maneuver vast miniature armies across three-dimensional battlefields, the one thing that continually draws me in to Warhammer 40k is the background material, or "fluff" as it's known in nerd-speak. I've played games like Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons for just about half of my existence on this planet and I have to say hands down, Games Workshop does it the best. Say what you want about their over-priced miniatures, their (sometimes) broken rules systems and their seemingly mindless economic strategy; I think their science-fiction is top shelf.
The man at the wheel of this literary juggernaut is Dan Abnett, who is responsible for many of the major works in Warhammer 40k canon. I first started reading Abnett's work back in the early 2000's at the beginning of his Gaunt's Ghosts series, which has now grown to include thirteen novels with another in the works, plus a few spin-offs. For me, these novels really set the standard for writing in the fictional universe of the far future and while I only made it four books into the series before I had to give up all hope of reading for pleasure in favor of textbooks and non-fiction, I have plans to finish what I started.
Which brings me to the Eisenhorn Omnibus. When I decided to venture back into the grim, dark future the first thing on my mind was Gaunt's Ghosts. I hopped on the internet and in the process of loading up my shopping cart, I found this little gem. I guess little is an understatement...weighing in at a healthy 765 pages, this Omnibus collects all three novels in Abnett's Eisenhorn series and links them together with two short stories not found in the original printings. I had heard good things about these novels from one of my partners-in-crime so I decided to put the Ghosts on the back burner and see what this was all about.
I really only have one word to sum this Omnibus up: fantastic.
Honestly, I can't recommend this enough. Following the exploits of Imperial Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn and his team, the series reads like something that would happen if television's Criminal Minds had a one night stand with Oliver Stone's Platoon. The first book, Xenos, begins with an action-packed prologue that is BEGGING for cinematic treatment and this pace doesn't let up until the very last sentence in the third installment, Hereticus. There's mystery, political intrigue, a dash of romance and a large serving of what everybody came to see, brutal violence.
By their nature, Imperial Inquisitors are a dark and shady lot. Picture a man who is judge, jury and executioner roaming the galaxy on a private ship (armed to the teeth, naturally) rooting out evil in the name of humanity's Emperor. Of course the lines between what's good and what's evil are often blurred as well as the methods of tackling these problems, but that's what makes for the best reading. The other aspect of these books that really drew me in was the attention to detail of everyday Imperial life.
In both the game and many of the novels, so much time is devoted to huge battles with thousands of men and aliens blasting the crap out of each other. You won't find this in Eisenhorn. Instead, Abnett paints a gritty picture of the life of the common human "amongst untold billions" in the 41st milennium. The plot unfolds in locations like a dank, smoky mutant-only drinking hole, a psyker-slave auction in a corn field, a forgotten mining outpost on a lonely planet and even a world who's inhabitants enter a chemically induced sleep state for half the year because of the perpetual darkness.
As novels go, this one doesn't pull any punches. It always feels like anything can and will happen as characters you've grown to like are killed off mercilessly, but for me, this only adds to the experience...not to mention you really hate the bad guys by the end.
Whether you're a seasoned 40k vet or a rookie looking to get into the background, it matters not. This omnibus is a great read and what's more important, a great value. Dan Abnett has done it once again and this nerd will certainly be coming back for more.