Reviewed by David Rudden
I’m not going to lie, when this book appeared on the review list I snapped it up so quickly my left mouse-button broke in half. This is a follow-on to two of the best trilogies the Black Library have ever produced, incorporating some of its best-known characters and written by (arguably) their most consistently good writer. The ‘Eisenhorn’ and’ Ravenor’ trilogies are what got me into the Black Library; they’re full of strong character development, clever pacing and some excellent action sequences combined with Abnett’s ability to eke real horror and imagination out of the 40K universe.
So. Expectations running at an all-time high. I want daemonhosts. I want psyker battles. I want small-scale grit instead of grand-scale gore.
I don’t get either.
What we do get is a slow and measured introduction to a brand new story. Where the first ‘Eisenhorn’ and ‘Ravenor’ novels were self-contained after a fashion, this is very much the first book of a longer story. Abnett is in no rush to explain things and this suits the voice of the novel, which is still first-person but very different from the voices in either ‘Eisenhorn’ or ‘Ravenor’. This works for the novel; there’s a purposeful step taken away from what’s gone before.
I won’t go into the plot because this is a novel rewarded by the slow reveal of information, the twists and the turns. It starts quite slow, establishing the world and a whole new cast of characters, and at times this became trying. If you were looking for Eisenhorn vs. Ravenor, (which in fairness is the tagline) you’ll need to trawl through a lot of scene-setting first. However, about two-thirds of the novel through the reader is hit with a lot of plot points very quickly and while Abnett handles it skilfully enough that we end up feeling confused along with the main character rather than at odds with them, don’t expect closure when the final page turns.
There’s a lot to love about this novel. Abnett lets his imagination run wild and there’s some great characters and villains, combined with some very unexpected turns. I can honestly say I have no idea where this trilogy will end up and that’s a very good thing. I’d be very interested to see how much more confusing the book would seem if I didn’t already know about the Cognitae and the inquisitors in question, and there’s also a surprise reference to another of Abnett’s books that muddied the water further. You’ll get the most enjoyment out of the novel if you read ‘Eisenhorn’ and ‘Ravenor’ first, but I can almost guarantee after reading ‘Pariah’ that you won’t be able to help yourself anyway.