I think I’m slowly getting somewhere with the new house after The Great Move 2017 – still waiting for someone to come fit a new kitchen, but these things can’t be rushed, it seems… Anyway! I have the internet again, which is a joy, as trying to write blogs on my phone is a nightmare, so less of that now!
While waiting for everything to fall into place and whatnot, I’ve been reading a few things I’d been putting off for a while. Sure enough, they’ll no doubt all make their merry way onto this here blog in due course, as I ramble inanely for a while, but today I wanted to talk about the Gaunt’s Ghosts series that I’ve just started to read anew, starting with the opening novel, First and Only.
This book series, by the venerable Dan Abnett, was originally published all the way back in the mists of time known as the 1990s, and I have memories of picking my way through it sometime after starting work in the early 2000s. Not really being a 40k enthusiast at the time, I didn’t really get a lot out of it, and it’s therefore small wonder that it had been the first and only 40k novel that I read for about a decade.
However, I’m back now, and I’ve been buying up the books in the series ready for my glorious return to it! Ever since Horus Rising, I’ve always had a real soft spot for Dan Abnett, and look forward to starting any of his 40k novels with gusto.
First and Only is the introduction to the Tanith First & Only regiment of the Imperial Guard, led by Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt. The novel is told in pretty much linear fashion across six Parts, each separated by a single chapter entitled “A Memory” that usually then foreshadows something in the subsequent Part. The structure is quite novel, to me, as I don’t really think I’ve read a full-length novel told in the same manner.
The story follows the Tanith regiment, nicknamed Gaunt’s Ghosts, and their rivalry with the Jantine Patricians as they take the forge world of Fortis Binary, which has been tainted with the warped powers of Chaos. After the battle, Commissar Gaunt comes into possession of a memory crystal that provides the catalyst for the main thrust of the story. Gaunt and his Ghosts become pawns in the ambitions of Lord General Dravere’s efforts to become Warmaster of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, and the Ghosts eventually learn that the crystal holds information that could provide the tipping point for Dravere’s bid for power.
Dravere is helped along the way by the Inquisitor Heldane, who has appeared since in Abnett’s Eisenhorn trilogy (for me to know – he may also be elsewhere, of course, but I was excited to see a familiar face pop up!). I thought the handling of the antagonist group of Heldane and Dravere, and the Jantine Patricians, was actually quite interestingly done – the story pits the Imperium against Chaos, but Heldane and Dravere aren’t truly on the side of Chaos, yet remain viable threats to Gaunt and the “good guys”.
While this is definitely military sci-fi, there’s also the sniff of a spy thriller around the central act, and I particularly enjoyed the almost le Carré-like inclusion of Gaunt’s spy-friend Fereyd. There is definitely a lot going on in the book, and once I’d managed to get into it, I have to say that I really enjoyed it and devoured the story in no time. (It helped that I was stuck on a train for a couple of hours on Friday).
I have to say, though, it did take me quite some time to get into the book. Quite early on, we’re introduced to what feels like the entire regiment, and it felt like a lot to take in. As time wears on, however, it’s relatively straightforward to keep track of who everybody is, but having a cast of 20+ people from the off, and trying to keep them all straight in my mind, did prove a little difficult at first!
But that’s a minor quibble. The book is fantastic, with a really well-told, cinematic story that is totally worth picking up. I know a few people who re-read them every so often, and I can definitely see myself joining those ranks as time goes by!