Gaunt’s Ghosts is by far my favourite series from the Black Library. I enjoy series such as the Horus Heresy and The Beast Arises, but if I want guaranteed enjoyment, then Gaunt’s Ghosts is to where I turn.
I started reading the series pretty much as soon as it came back, all the way back in 1999. I remember reading the series through secondary school and in to sixth form, before taking a break during uni and then picking it up again in recent years. It has taken me through some big moments in my life and it has a big place in my heart because of it.
It does help that Dan Abnett is an excellent writer and I can’t really think of a novel of his that I haven’t enjoyed. His story-telling is brilliant and the characters are probably the best set in any of the Black Library Series. I often read the books all in a row and can find myself using Feth as a curse word in the real world when I’m in the midst of reading them; no other book/series has ever had such an effect on me!
With the release of the next in the series, The Warmaster, I thought now would be a good time to go through the series book-by-book and give my thoughts on recommendations on each of them. Part I takes us through the first two story arcs of the Founding and the Saint.
Book 1 – First and Only
I believe the title as a bit of a joke as this was the first Black Library novel…and potentially the First and Only! They picked a good book and author to have first though and obviously the Black Library has produced a hell of a lot of books now.
The book itself would be an excellent stand-alone Imperial Guard story. We have elements of trench warfare, a blood feud between commanders, the inquisition and a potentially horrifying secret at the end.
The book doesn’t necessarily make you care about the characters as much as any of the other books, but that is understandable with most of the characters being fairly underdeveloped at the time – that is except for Gaunt. He is front and centre of the book and his past is delved in to, giving you a real idea of why he is who he is, as well as his motivations.
As an introduction to 40k literature, First and Only is a great starting point.
Book 2 – Ghostmaker
If First and Only could be a standalone book, Ghostmaker can only ever really be part of a series. The book takes a different approach to the first, with a series of short stories each about a main character. The device is clever with interspersed between each story a short section following Gaunt as he wanders the trenches, meets each of the characters and then thinks about their past actions. It gives the needed the depth to get the series going, with characters that you begin to care about in coming books. The end story is then more traditional with all of the characters involved and a final interesting twist at the end. Overall it is a must-read book to get in to the series and begin to care about characters you will start to love over the next few books.
Book 3 – Necropolis
Necropolis is one of my personal favourites and I’ve read it numerous times. The story is essentially a siege, holding out against all hope and numerous tales of heroism. The story takes place in the city of Vervunhive and is the tale of its war against Zoica, a hive city that is been corrupted by chaos. The first part of the book doesn’t even feature the ghosts, with the tale being told of the opening shots of the war, with consequences for people throughout the city, from low-born to high-born. It also looks at the politics of the city and its hidebound approach to tackling problems; this will have consequences later on. The Ghosts arrive in the next part, with not long after the walls of the city start to be assaulted. From here on in it is an epic tale of the defenders holding out, whilst Gaunt becomes embroiled in the politics of the city and with his fellow imperial guard commanders. The final part of the assault on the enemies command centre and the final duels is a fitting finale for the story, with a nice little twist at the end that means the series can continue for a fair while yet. Overall I love this book and you could legitimately read it as a stand-alone epic siege story, though in the context of the series it is also very important.
Book 4 – Honour Guard
Honour Guard begins the second story arc of Gaunt’s Ghosts – the Saint. The Ghosts find themselves on the world of Haiga where Saint Sabbat originated from; thus its significance to both Imperials and Chaos is huge. The world has been taken by Chaos and the Ghosts are part of a liberation force. All goes well until a disaster, leaving Gaunt in disgrace and one final mission to save face. Events occur that result in another against-all-odds battle and the chance of salvation at the end.
The book sees the introduction of the new Verghast recruits in to the regiment and they are a welcome dose of extra character and colour in to the series. It also introduces a new commisar, Viktor Hark, who in later books has become one of my favourite characters. My highlights for this book are the wounded wagon crew, with Corbec and Bragg really shining through, as well as the epic tank battle in the middle section.
Book 5 – The Guns of Tanith
The Guns of Tanith takes a very different approach to the previous books, with the focus instead being on the Tanith’s excellent scouting abilities, as well as their fairly unorthodox approach to war. The story takes place on Phantine, a world where all the cities are above cloud level due to the toxic atmosphere. This means the only way to attack is from the sky, with obvious potential hazards. The first half focuses on the assault on Cirenholm, with the Ghosts managing to crack the city due to their specialist skills. The second half sees small teams of Ghosts being sent in to the enemy stronghold of Ouranberg to assassinate the enemy commander. There is also an excellent sub-plot with Gaunt being accused of favouring the Tanith over the Verghast’s, with a criminal trial proving the point. The dynamic between Gaunt and Hark in this is particularly excellent. For the main story, the use of the small teams gives a real focus on particular characters and really fleshes some of them out, particularly Bonin and Mkoll. The novel also sees the introduction of the Phantine Air Corps, who get their own spin-off novel in Double Eagle. Overall it is a good story, if not one of the best. It does keep the series moving though and is probably most crucial for the story of Larkin and Cuu…
Book 6 – Straight Silver
This book has recently become one of my favourites, with its overriding theme of melancholy particularly appealing. The Ghosts find themsleves on the world of Aexe Cardinal, where a WWI-esque conflict is taking place. The conflict has been trench warfare for decades with no real hope of a breakthrough. The Cardinal command hope that the Imperial Guard can make the difference, though they are seen more as new toys than anything else. Gaunt finds himself frustrated with how he is subservient to local commanders and that his troops are used as front-line grunts. He eventually gets the Ghosts used to their strengths but only half of them; one half stays on the front-line and the other is sent to scout out an impenetrable forest. With the front-line there are some interesting tales with the conflict between Dorden and Gaunt particularly well-done. There is also a better exploration of certain characters, including Daur, Zweil and Criid, though my favourite here is the local liaison Count Golke. In the forest it is mainly about the ongoing feud between Cuu and Larkin, but each of the characters in this part get a lot of ‘air-time’. Gutes is my personal favourite with his war-weariness, but Feygor, Muriel and Mkvenner also being very interesting. There are no glorious battles in this book but it is an excellent story and exploration of characters, as well as moving forward the story-arc around the Saint.
Book 7 – Sabbat Martyr
Sabbat Martyr brings us back around to a last-stand story, similar in a way to Necropolis. The Ghosts are on Herodor, where Saint Sabbat has supposedly been re-born again. As such, this makes the world a huge target for the forces of Chaos and has to be reinforced and defended. Unfortunately for Gaunt, in charge of the world is Lord General Ludo, who tried to have Gaunt disgraced in Honour Guard. The Saint initially turns out to be false but during a relatively minor assault by the enemy, she does appear and leads them to victory. Although the initial attack is beaten off, huge enemy reinforcements appear and wipe out the battlefleet cover, before landing on the planet. As part of the invasion force there are nine specialists sent to kill the Saint, in mimicry of the nine wounds that originally killed her. Each specialist moves in but our countered at each turn by the Tanith, until the final battle where treachery occurs and almost succeeds.
This book is a very easy read and shows the Tanith at their best; against all odds but also using their specialist skills. I particularly enjoyed Milo’s confusion and being taken as a sidekick by the saint, as well as Mkoll’s duel with the Dark Eldar and the Blood Pact Sniper that is beaten at his own game by the Tanith Marksman. I was also particularly pleased to see the return of Kolea; he was too good of a character to write off so soon. The book very neatly closes of the story arc of the saint and is probably the final book that I would consider a very easy read. That isn’t to say the next ones aren’t good, it just means they are more mature, and are probably more rewarding for it.