Book Review: Double Eagle - Dan Abnett

When the elite fighter pilots of the Phantine XX arrive on the beleaguered world of Enothis, they know this is a desperate hour. The forces of Chaos are closing in and their final push could well wipe out all human life on the planet. Thousands of refugees flee the dark armies and the infamous Chaos fighter pilot Khrel Kas Obarkon is always hunting the skies for more prey…And so it falls to the brave men and women of the Phantine fighter corps. Can they hold up the Chaos advance until reinforcements arrive? In the high-speed white-knuckle terror of aerial combat, can they defeat an enemy possessed by daemons?

Double Eagle sees the focus put on the pilots of the Imperium, specifically a group of fighter- and bomber-pilots who were first seen in one of the Gaunt's Ghosts novels. As per usual, Abnett has superior character development. This book, as with all his others, is truly a page-turner. Something of an aside to the Ghosts storyline, this novel takes place on a planet suffering from a Chaos invasion in the Sabbat Campaign that Abnett has written so much about. (In fact, there are some references to the Ghosts storyline, but not so that the reader is left confused.)

As with Abnett's other works, we see comparatively little of the enemy in terms of internal thoughts, only getting that before they interact with the heroes. There is only one such villain, actually, an ace of aces who seems unstoppable. He makes several appearances, always defeating those he faces, or driving them to extreme measures to flee. One of the primary characters is the flight commander of the Phantine XX fighter wing. She is a great character, mixing in-combat skill with concern for her wingmates. Others in the unit also provide great characters, the old nice guy, the new kid trying to prove himself. The planes are also like characters, given their jinxes and idiosyncrasies. The unit really is a whole, from machine, to tech, to pilots. Another arc of the story deals with a bomber pilot who is in another unit. He was saved by one of the Ghosts in another novel, and feels he is on borrowed time, that he should be dead. He meets a woman who has lost pretty well everything, and they find in each other that which they were missing. This is really my favorite part of the book. The human side. There is a great deal of air combat, which Abnett delivers with exquisite skill. I could feel all the losses and exult in the victories as though I were there. There are a number of close calls, tight squeezes, near-misses. All those things that make such situations interesting to read. This novel shows again that Abnett is the best of the WH40k authors, at least in my opinion. Despite the lack of a well-determined enemy, this book is a great read. After all, the reader is supposed to feel for the Imperium, not those who hate all life. In that respect, the lack of depth in the enemy is perfect.

In other way, if you want to point a fault to the book, it's that the chaos invaders are presented as a faceless, nameless horde with little character or individuality. Abnett wasted an excellent opportunity to create a small, elite cadre of enemy pilots who might have shed some much welcome light and understanding on the chaos psyche. Instead, the reader is treated to only the briefest of glimpses of the one enemy ace who is given a name. This character had a great deal of potential but sadly, that potential was never really realized. It's a shame that Abnett did not see fit to create antagonists as nuanced as the other main characters in the book.

I have read several books from Dan Abnett, Double Eagle, two books of Malus Darkblade, Riders of the Dead and several others small stories. I am now reading Fell Cargo.
In every story by him you see it all... and you feel it all as well.. in double eagle you feel you are in the air and fell cargo you see yourself in the waters... riders of the dead you change your attitude on the main characters.. you move from loving one character and hate another and in the end the inverse.
Dan Abnett is a good writer... I am glad he likes fantasy and science fiction... he makes great books.. Hope he never change..


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