Gaunt's Ghost: The Founding by Dan Abnett

(2009-12-21)

Published by Black Library
2002
Paperback 768 Pages
ISBN 9781844163694
The first Gaunt’s Ghost omnibus

If any writer has achieved superstar status in the Black Library/Warhammer line of publishing, then it is Dan Abnett.  He’s sold millions of books, which many readers (both hardcore BL fans and atypical BL readers) say, is a tribute to his great storytelling skills.  The books that helped to put him on the map are the Gaunt’s Ghost novels, which tell of a regiment of Black Ops soldiers in the Emperor’s vast armies which span the cosmos.

Although the novels contained within this omnibus (First and Only, Ghostmaker, and Necropolis) tell of the exploits of the Tanith First and Only, each novel is slightly different stylistically speaking. This is one of the strengths of the book.

Led by Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, the Tanith First and Only are the last survivors of their homeworld, which is how they were dubbed “Ghosts.” The first entry, First & Only, details one of the early campaigns of Gaunt’s Ghosts, hinting at the history of their founding.  It is something of a cold start as Abnett gives readers a story of the Ghosts in action.  Intertwined are episodes from Gaunt’s past as a teen and young man being educated at Schola Progenium, a military school for orphans of Imperial Officers. Abnett effectively introduces the regiment and what to expect in these stories – action, nice character interaction, and fast-paced plotting.

Ghostmaker is the second entry in this omnibus and it differs slightly in tone and style from the first.  Abnett reveals more about the Ghosts and what it means to them to be the only survivors of their world. One thing that becomes abundantly clear in Ghostmaker is that one need look over one’s shoulder for enemies and not just at the opposing army.  Ghost Rawne in particular blames Gaunt for the death of his home world and feels the Tanith First and Only should have stayed behind to make an attempt in defending the world. This despite Gaunt’s rightly held belief that they would have died had they stayed.

The novel felt more episodic than First & Only as it illustrated a sampling of the characters who take orders from Ibram Gaunt. What also helps to make this work is that as a story with an origin-feel, is how it follows the first novel where we see the Ghosts in action.  The action takes place on a forest world which is quite reminiscent of Tanith.

Ghostmaker features Eldar, space elves– one of the longest lived and most powerful races in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  As a relative newcomer to the WH4K universe, I felt that Abnett did a very good job of conveying the alien nature of these powerful creatures. Another powerful figure Abnett featured was female inquisitor Lilith.  Her arc and character were both handled well, particularly her scenes with Gaunt.

The last novel in the omnibus, Necropolis, doesn’t even begin with the Ghosts themselves. They don’t make an appearance until well into the novel in the midst of a civil war on one of the many Sabbat worlds.  Again, Abnett plays tricksey by showing how others in the Emperors vast army of the Sabbat Worlds view the Tanith First and Only.  This outsider view lends weight to how respected, and perhaps more importantly, how much disdain is felt for Gaunt’s Ghosts. Necropolis ends with a terrific siege that shows how capable and impressive a force Gaunt’s Ghosts truly are.

I came into this novel knowing of Abnett’s reputation for telling entertaining, thrilling stories.  I’m pleased that after reading the book, I can share in that knowledge.  The book is fun and works extremely well for readers unfamiliar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  I would recommend this book to readers looking for solid, entertaining military science fiction. I think the best way I can vouchsafe for the quality of Abnett’s writing in general and the Ghosts in specific is this – I will be following Gaunt into battle in the future volumes.

 

© 2009 Rob H. Bedford

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