As a child in the late 80’s and early 90’s I was a fan of Games Workshop. I had always been more of a Warhammer supporter than Warhammer 40k but in recent years I have received a reevaluation of the grim war torn future of mankind.
Warhammer 40,000 always seemed to have the better novels and that still remains the same. Thats not to say that the Felix and Gotrek books weren’t entertaining or that Beasts in Velvet is one of my favourite its just that there are an awful lot more 40K books, so just by the odds more of them will be good.
Perhaps the best writer of 40k and other Black Library titles is Dan Abnett who had the ability to create fascinating and deep characters. He is responsible for the creation of Commissar Gaunt and of course Inquistitor Eisenhorn.
The Magos is the most recent addition to the Eisenhorn opus that began with a trilogy, Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus. This fine books lead to a spin off trilogy following the crippled Inquisitor Ravenor.
Of all the 40k books I like the ones without the Space Marines the best. They tend to be sprawling epic battles with master warriors slugging it out, I prefer the smaller set pieces, the little guy. The people who have to survive in the millenium in which there is only war. I liked the Inquisition for its demonic depths and the novels concerning the Adeptus Arbites. These showed us no less heroic people but also gave us a taste to what mere mortals like you and I might be doing in a world such as this. For me this is a richer science fiction than the epic set pieces of space knights betraying each other.
These books peel back the layers of life in the imperium and give the stories a greater depth. In this book, actually a series of short stories and novellas, we get to see the world through various eyes and see different peoples points of view. We follow Eisenhorn and Ravenor and we also get to see through someone less brave but no less heroic, Magos Drusher.
Although this is an Eisenhorn book it is told by Drusher, a man with a sharp intellect and an encyclopedic knowledge of nature. It is perhaps that I am no hero myself and an ecologist by training that I identified so much with this protagonist. I cannot say my knowledge of my worlds wildlife exceeds his knowledge of his but I felt an immediate kinship with the loner who we find becomes thrust into all manner of troubles including monsters, bears and ultimately cultists and daemons.
All of the short stories, there are 12 of them, all build to add detail to the final novella. One could read Magos without having read the short stories but they add so much to the narrative that it made sense for them to be packaged in one volume. They act as a precursor to the main event as it were and enrich the story in doing so.
Magos itself, the novella, has enough ideas to be a full fledged novel, it seems a little rushed in places and could have done with another hundred pages before the epic end piece which as it stands seems too large for the build up.
Abnett has a way of defining the 40k world. Its grim, its dark, its horrific but he still manages to input a little light. He shows that loyalty, bravery and sacrifice still exist and that there are good people trying to do the right thing. He shows that the battle they think they are fighting may not be the one they are really fighting and he manages to illuminate each character brightly as distinct and very much their own person.
Eisenhorn himself continues on what seems like a downward spiral that could be seen in his own trilogy. He is a dark and unrepenting character but I think it is his conviction and his determination to carry this burden that makes him likeable… is likeable a word you would use to describe Gregor Eisenhorn. Dependable, dedicated, relentless maybe?
I have yet to read Pariah, the next Inquisitor series book and you can bet I will now. The Magos sets out a lot of questions and it feels like we are reaching the end of the road for Eisenhorn and the jury is still out as to whether he will be remembered as a hero of the Imperium or forgotten as the foolish heretic bound by his own hubris.