Adventures in Bookland: Xenos by Dan Abnett
There are so many wonderful books out there, I seldom go back and reread a book I’ve read before. Why bother, when new worlds and new ideas are waiting to be explored? But, with Xenos, I’ve done just that: gone back and reread a book I first read six or seven years ago.
And it was great.
Xenos was the very first novel I read set in the Warhammer 40k universe. If you don’t know it, it’s a universe set up explicitly so that wargamers moving little plastic figures, often exquisitely painted, can play war games set in the far future. Given that the people playing the games are wargamers, you might surmise that the universe 38,000 years from now is not a particularly peaceful place. You’d be right. It is, however, a universe stuffed full of wonders. It turns out that all those goblins and elves and monsters that filled our fairy tales and folk stories were real – it’s just that we got the location wrong. They weren’t on earth, they were waiting for us out among the stars. In fact, that’s my only real criticism of the intricate universe that Games Workshop (the company behind Warhammer 40K) has created: with such a cast of creatures, there should be a bit of room for wonder in among the blasters and exploding alien heads.
But, no matter, for Dan Abnett manages to instil some of this wonder while remaining true to the dystopian roots of 40k and, at the same time, writing an amazingly involving adventure story. Indeed, so taken with the whole universe was I when I first read this that I immediately dived in, reading reams of the stuff, until I came to the same sort of realisation about Warhammer 40k books that I came to with fantasy and Tolkien. Back when I first read The Lord of the Rings it was actually the first fantasy novel I’d ever read. And I was completely blown away. So, I dived in, only to all but drown in Shannaras and Covenants and Belgeriads. I emerged, somewhat the worse for wear, to claim the hard-won knowledge that, with fantasy, I’d started at the summit and was busy working my way down. It turns out that, with Warhammer 40k and Dan Abnett, I’d done the same thing: I’d started at the top with Abnett and had been working my way downhill after him.
But, to return to the summit, it was a relief to reclimb the mountain to find the view from the top as exotic and brutal and breathtaking as the first time I’d found myself there. Thank you, Dan Abnett, and thank you, Gregor Eisenhorn. The Imperium is well served with both of you in its service!