When I was a child, one of my favorite activities was to browse books about fighters and bombers and envision dogfights between them. I would read all kinds of books on World War 2, and particularly enjoyed those that involved these big air battles. I’ve also been a fan of the Warhammer 40k Universe (hereafter WH40k) and its fiction. I have only played the tabletop game once, but I think the universe is extremely interesting and engaging. Thus, when I saw Double Eagle at a book store some time ago, I snagged it. A book about dogfighting in the WH40k world? What could go wrong? It’s been sitting around waiting to be read for a few years, but I finally got around to it.
Dan Abnett has written a number of engaging and realistic characters in this narrative. Each protagonist has realistic motivations and interesting development throughout the book. I quite enjoyed reading about the characters and how the reacted to the changing events.
Unfortunately, the enemies are flatly one-dimensional, in contrast to the full-bodied main characters. There is one antagonist who keeps popping up, but even this “Killer” lacks any serious development beyond a desire to toy with the protagonists. This problem is made even more obvious by the contrast with the protagonists. IT would have been awesome had even one of the “bad guys” been given some kind of backstory to flesh them out.
Another major problem with the book is the lack of description of the vehicles involved in the combat. I don’t think I missed this anywhere, but it largely seemed like the planes and carriers involved were just given names for descriptions. I understand that this is set within a known universe that involves miniatures and the like, but the lack of description for the vehicles throughout the book made it difficult to envision the combat. The combat itself is pretty well-written, though not as interesting as I’ve found other works by Abnett. There are vivid enough descriptions of how the fighters and bombers fly about in the various dogfights. However, because of the lack of in-depth description of the vehicles or even their armaments, it all collapses down into whatever readers can come up with to fill in the blanks. I even found myself surprised at one point to discover one type of plane was a bomber rather than a fighter. I think this is pretty inexcusable, even for a work set within a known universe.
A similar issue comes up with the stage upon which the story is set. There is a map in the front pages of the book, but this is about as far as the description of the planet itself goes. Little time is dedicated to letting readers know what kind of planet is being fought for, why it is in the middle of this fighting (apart from being involved in a Crusade), or why readers should care about it. This lends itself to an overall feeling of blandness that colors not just the vehicles but also the setting on which the scenes are staged.
I wanted to love Double Eagle, and the protagonists do a good job trying to sell readers on the concept, but in the end the serious lack of development of antagonists, world, and vehicles made it difficult to get into. Abnett has much better works out there.
+Realistic, full-bodied protagonists
-Little description of vehicles involved
Grade: C+ “Intriguing characters are hampered by the bland backdrop upon which they are set.”