Wednesday, March 14, 2018

REVIEW: Gaunt's Ghosts - Warmaster

I have been a huge fan of the Gaunt's Ghosts series since I read my first book for it, which was actually Sabbat Martyr back when it came out. Since then I went back and read the rest of them and have eagerly awaited each new installment in the series. To say I was excited for The Warmaster is a bit of an understatement, and man oh man, it did not disappoint.

There are some minor spoilers ahead. I tried to avoid saying as much as I could, but I had to talk about some to even talk about the start of the story. I recommend reading the book first if you want the full impact of it.

The last main book in the series, Salvation's Reach, came out in 2011, which is a pretty long time ago when you think about it. The title for the follow up has been out there for awhile, and a release date for The Warmaster was announced a few times only to be pushed back. Well, the wait was definitely worth it, since this novel lived up to all of the expectations I've built up over the past six years. The story picks up pretty soon after the end of Salvation's Reach. They're actually still on the ship they used for the mission, making their way back to the main Imperial war effort. Disaster strikes though and the ship's warp engines malfunction, catastrophically throwing them out of the warp and into real space. When everyone starts coming around they find their ship dead in the water, with chaos raiders boarding it. This is the kind of in media res that Dan Abnett is famous for. We're thrown right into the action from the get go. In fact, the very first chapter actually starts with a member of the Tanith First and Only waking up aboard the ship already thrown out of the warp as he slowly regains his memory, and deals with the invaders, before the story jumps back in time a bit the explain how we got there. These are some great action scenes, and once again, continues to build the world of the Sabbat Worlds area even more. We learn that the raiders they're fighting are a faction of the arch-enemy whose specialty is transporting the various ground forces. This is information we learn from Mabbon, a character I very nearly forgot about, but whom I love. He's such a great use of the enemy, and a very humanizing look at them. For those who don't know, Mabbon is a defector from the Sons of Sek. Formally a high ranking officer in the Chaos forces, he defected over to the Imperial side in Blood Pact to try and help stop the war, and has been instrumental in the Salvation's Reach operations. I digress here though.

Once the Ghosts get a handle on the situation another great plot twist is revealed. As is to happen every once in awhile when dealing with the warp, when they fell out into real space they somehow jumped ahead a full ten years! I thought this was a brilliant move. First off, it's something we hear talked about a lot, but never actually see. Secondly, it allows us to move forward in the story to the plot points that have been promised to us for so long. Essentially skipping over the slog the Imperial forces had to get through to get to a point where they can actually threaten the Sons of Sek and the Blood Pact. This also gives us some great fish out of water moments once the Ghosts arrive at the new frontline in the Sabbat Crusade, the forgeworld of Urdesh. This is, again, a location that's been talked about for a long time, and now we finally get to see it.

Once on Urdesh the plot really starts to move forward. Gaunt is taken to the Imperial high command, where a bunch of the lords militant and the warmaster himself are stationed, while the rest of the Ghosts are billeted in a run down hab block. Though the city they're occupying is in Imperial control, the whole world is still a warzone, so insurgents are able to slip through, meaning that no where is really safe. This leads to some truly tense moments for the Ghosts. At high command, Gaunt faces a test he never saw coming, while some of the other Ghosts, including Gol Kolea, must deal with the consequences of handling chaos artifacts when the Ordos comes knocking. I can't talk too much more about the plot without giving away even more twists, but the finale is amazing, the reveals are great, the deaths are as tragic as we've come to expect, and the note the book ends on will have you on the edge of your seat until the next installment.

I love Gaunt's Ghosts. Absolutely love it. It's probably, hands down, my favorite book series ever. While the stories and action is great, it's the characters that really carry the story, which is why it's so sad when they die. This is the 14th book in the series, and some of these guardsmen have been with us that entire time. If there's one thing you learn quickly in this series, it's that no one is safe. If you've been reading the whole series, everything in here feels natural and earned. I could really go on and one about all of the characters; Gaunt, Rawne, Mkoll, Ezra, Criid, Gol, Larkin, Hark, Ludd, Ban, Domor, the list goes on. You end up caring about each and every one of them, and knowing that any page could be their last has you enthralled throughout. This isn't a series to always give a big heroic sendoff to a beloved character, sometimes it's just a random shot, or a knife in the dark, or even an unexpected sickness. It feels real, it feels earned. Blenner is quickly becoming a hated character for me, and in a way that I expect is entirely intentional. He's weak and a coward, and because of that other's get hurt. There's another Ghost in here who I think will give Lijah "fething" Cuu a run for his money as most hated Ghost. Gaunt continues to be the rock that it all revolves around, and I'm truly excited to see how he develops as the series goes on. I love the relationship between him and Rawne, with how it's developed from Rawne hating Gaunt to the two genuinely respecting each other. My only complaint is that there wasn't enough Larkin. There can never be too much Larkin. Criid, Meryn, Gol, Blenner, Dalin, Chass, Ezra, Domor, Mkoll, Rawne, Gaunt, and a few more are the ones who really get to shine in this outing. That is the one down side to having such an extensive cast, there's no way you can give them all the spotlight every single time. Although as I read I did pick up on who everyone was again and what their situation was, I think it would have been nice to have a list of characters. There are so many of them, and it has been six years. Maybe Black Library can release a "Last Time, on Gaunt's Ghosts" recap before each major new installment. I'm joking. Kind of.

If you're a fan of the series, then you already know how great it is and how great all the characters are. Well, that just continues here, and it really feels like maybe we're finally winding down towards the end of the series. I know the original plan six years ago was to release The Warmaster, followed by The Archon (for the enemy leader, Archon Gaur), and have that round out this arc. This is the fourth story arc in the series, which started with Blood Pact. There has already been the arcs of The Founding, The Saint, and The Lost. I can tell there's definitely at least one more book in this arc, but whether that's the end of the series or not, who can tell. I can honestly see it going either way. I love this series and would love to see it keep going, but at the same time I want to see it wrapped up and not drag on into obscurity. Though the Ghosts are physically fighting the forces of Chaos in this novel, the plot is more the Ghosts against themselves and the inevitability of fate. I can see this as a setup novel for the next one, but that's not taking anything away from this one. I would say it definitely ranks up there as one of my favorite Gaunt's Ghosts novels, which in no particular order also includes Necropolis, Sabbat Martyr, Only in Death, and Blood Pact. As a quick aside, I love the cover of this. It's so understated, yet perfect. Plus, I think it's the first time they've gotten the color of Gaunt's hair right. If you're a fan then you've probably already read this. If you haven't started the Gaunt's Ghosts series yet, then I recommend you go back and start at the beginning. It may seem like a lot of novels to read through, but trust me, it'll be worth it. The characters, the regiment, and the setting will mean so much more to you once you've fought through the alleys of Vervunhive, stalked through the shadows of Gereon, and scurried through the metropolis' of Balhaut all under the command of Ibram Gaunt and beside the brave soldiers of Tanith, Verghast, and Belladon. If you can't tell, I highly recommend this book. It delivers on everything promised, and continues to promise a lot more for the future.

Straight silver, soldier.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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