Author: Dan Abnett
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys gritty military science fiction, warhammer 40K fiction, fast paced battle scenes and dark, magical settings with demons and war.
The second novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett, Ghostmaker continues the story of the Tanith First and Only – a regiment of Imperial Guard fighting the forces of Chaos in the Warhammer 40K universe. Here we see the regiment stationed on the jungle world Monthax, waiting behind friendly lines for the inevitable enemy assault. As the troopers go about their duties, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt walks the line and checks in with his men. As he interacts with each character he remembers past actions that have led his regiment to their current place in the war. Each story is told through the eyes of a different core character, helping to flesh out the past of the characters we were introduced to in First and Only. As Gaunt checks in with his troopers the situation on Monthax is slowly brought to light, and the short stories that occupy the bulk of the novel culminate in the battle on Monthax. Gaunt must once again lead these soldiers into a deadly battle with the forces of Chaos as they work to understand the enemy’s motivations and survive both the battle and the environment itself.
I have always been a fan of short fiction, so for me this novel was a great addition to the series. I think short stories give an author the chance to showcase their abilities as they have to begin and finish a story within a few dozen pages, while also keeping the reading engaged. Abnett does not fail to deliver here; I loved every story and thought it was a nice touch to have each told through the eyes of a different trooper. We not only get a deeper understanding of the history of the Tanith regiment, but also a closer look at the characters themselves, which helped me develop connections to each. These connections will go on to make the preceding novels all the more interesting and engaging. Not all of them are equally engrossing, but none of them disappointed; my favorites included stories of Chief-Medic Dorden as he stays behind enemy lines to care for wounded Volpone soldiers, Mad Larkin as he comes to terms with his potential insanity and Try-Again Bragg as he takes his first command. There was a lot to love here for any fan of military sci-fi.
As each flashback comes and goes we are led deeper into the main storyline of the novel, a standoff between Imperial and Chaos forces in the jungles of Monthax. The last quarter of the piece brings the reader fully into this action as a massive Chaos army begins to make its way through the jungle and the Imperial Guard forces move to intercept. While the mission is clear – engage and destroy the enemy – nobody can discern the goals of the Chaos forces as they move seemingly without purpose through the vast jungle. As things unfold, secrets come to light and the reader is treated to a nice surprise as the enemy’s goals are revealed. I would struggle to think someone not familiar with the 40K universe will understand the story of what unfolds on Monthax, but Abnett certainly does his best to provide some level of backstory without spoiling the ending. Even without the knowledge to fully see what is happening, the story of the Tanith regiment is clear-cut and intriguing. Again, Abnett proves his ability to write out intricate battle scenes with surprising clarity. The ending was chaotic on every level, yet he manages to outline things in a way that allowed me to clearly imagine every scene – I almost felt like I was there in the mud with the Ghosts. This alone is reason enough to give these novels a try for those of you still on the fence. It is another action packed entry into the annals of the Tanith First and Only.
Overall, another solid addition to the series. I think the main plot was overshadowed by the superior short story entries, but that is not to say I did not enjoy the Monthax portion as well. The nostalgia is still strong and I know things are only going to get better from here. Stay tuned for more adventures with Gaunt’s Ghosts.