Review – Ghostmaker by Dan Abnett

Posted: October 23, 2015 in Military sci-fi, Sci-Fi
Tags: , , , ,

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a fan of pulpy, shared world fiction. I’ve also been wanting to read something from the Black Library, Games Workshop’s publishing arm, and Dan Abnett, a prolific writer, was a great place to start (lucky for me I found a stack of his Gaunt’s Ghosts novels in a charity shop). Games Workshop is a huge table top gaming company with a number of shared world franchises that include a medieval type setting (Warhammer) and a futuristic setting (Warhammer 40k) among other games. Currently the Black Library seems to be staking out a huge claim in the military sci-fi sub-genre and having heard great things about these books, I couldn’t resist the chance to read some.

Ghostmaker is the second book in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series but I never felt out of place starting here. Abnett deftly reveals details and characters with out issue, and the Warhammer 40K universe is equally and cleverly painted into the narrative. As someone with little knowledge of Games Workshop’s intellectual property, this was brilliantly handled: you don’t need to be a gamer to enjoy these books at all. It speaks volumes about Abnett’s skill as a storyteller that you don’t need any previous knowledge of the games as he sets the scene with engaging characters and fast-paced action from the get-go.

Employing a series of flashbacks to describe each major character, Abnett cleverly builds a picture of the regiment led by Commissar Gaunt. Playing back and forth between the present and the first time Gaunt took command of the Tanith First, we see how these soldiers are shaped, what motivates them and what makes them tick as both fighters and humans in a universe that knows only war. These flashbacks focus in on each of the main actors, operating as a short story within the major framework of the novel. It’s a smart tactic by Abnett as it reveals each man and his relationships to others whilst telling a number of riveting vignettes that highlight what makes the Tanith First and Only such a force in the Imperial army.

The main arc of the novel builds and gathers pace beside these shorts, coming to a roaring conclusion. Gaunt and his Ghosts go head to toe with a massive Chaos army and, though other forces are at play, they show their true colours. Driven by the loss of their home world, the Tanith troopers win a decisive victory against all odds. Abnett delivers a great showdown ending but it also sets up the unit for lots more stories as, whilst this is essentially a battle novel, it is also a great introduction for the series. Like a Dirty Dozen or even a Sven Hassel book, what we have is a core group of characters embedded in a never-ending conflict and so it becomes more than just war stories and more about the actors. A fun read and an author I’ll definitely be reading more of, and more Black Library should I come across it.

Secondhand copy
Published by Black Library

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