Thursday, February 28, 2019

REVIEW: Gaunt's Ghosts - Anarch

I have been a huge fan of the Gaunt's Ghosts series since I started in the hobby back in 2000 and this is probably one of my favorite entries in the series so far. Anarch is the culmination of every book in the series that's come before it, with some huge emotional moments and plot payoffs. What surprises are in store for the Tanith First and Only in this outing?

So right off the bat, you pretty much need to have read Warmaster before starting this book. I mean, really you need to have read the whole series or you'll be more than a little lost, especially with the huge cast of characters, but in a first, Anarch starts literally five minutes after the end of Warmaster. They're really more one giant book that was split up into two smaller ones. This is really interesting, since usually each of the Ghosts books is a self contained event. Sure, there are definite through lines and plot elements that crisscross all of the books, but usually the main event has been self contained. Here we get to see the immediate aftermath of the events of the previous book, so I think this should go without saying, SPOILERS FOR WARMASTER will be included in this review. It's impossible for me to talk about Anarch without directly talking about its predecessor.

A quick tally of the major plot points from the end of Warmaster that are picked up right away here: Gaunt is now essentially second in command to the Warmaster himself; Mkoll has been captured by the Sons of Sek; Kol Golea is under investigation by the Inquisition for suspected Chaos taint; Gaunt's son Felix has been revealed to actually be his daughter and the murder attempt on her life was botched, leaving several others dead; and Yoncy is being extra creepy. I think that more or less covers the major things, though there's definitely more. With the major attack from the Sons of Sek repelled, the Imperial forces are now essentially mopping up the stragglers and attempting to analyze the situation. It seems as though the Chaos forces retreated voluntarily when by all accounts they had the upper hand and should have pressed their advantage. This has everyone a bit suspicious. Gol is brought before Gaunt by the Inquisition who uses his new power to clear his name. Kolea is starting to have doubts though. Even though he has a son and a daughter, Dalin and Yoncy, he's starting to hear rumors as well as some fuzzy memories of that fact that he had two sons and no daughter back on Verghast before his head injury (again, it really benefits from having read the whole series here). Gaunt reassures him that Dalin has never mentioned anything about Yoncy being weird, and surely a brother would know his own sister. With this, Gol heads back down to the barracks in the palace's undercroft, where all of the regiment not currently out on the front lines is stationed.

In a moment that I've been waiting for ever since Gaunt arrived on Urdesh, we get to see him reunite with Saint Sabbat herself, the first we've seen of her since the book Sabbat Martyr. Unfortunately she relays to him that Brin Milo was lost in the previous assault upon the Chaos forces. This is especially bitter since it had been so many years since the young Tanith left to travel with the Saint and he is lost literally the night before he would have been reunited with his regiment. Meanwhile, Mkoll is brought before his captors, who realize he's a Ghost and are going to take him to Sek personally. Mkoll being Mkoll though, turns the tables on them, murders all of them but the captain, and then forces the Son of Sek to take him to Sek, but in a disguise and not as a prisoner.

Here is where everything starts to hit the fan. In the undercroft barracks all of the power suddenly goes out, the fabric of reality begins to shift as walls and doors move, essentially trapping the Ghosts in an ever changing maze, and a mysterious power with a disturbing bone saw sound starts tearing though the Guardsmen it finds. This whole section is super dark and creepy and once again shows how amazing Dan Abnett is at writing Chaos. He knows how to really nail the supernatural, disturbing aspect of it. The whole time I was riveted as I literally had no idea what was going to happen next. I hope you didn't have many favorite characters in this part, because it's a blood bath for the Ghosts. Since this is in the undercroft of the palace that High Command is stationed in it becomes a big deal, but no one can get to it since the door to the stairs has disappeared! At the same time, power is knocked out around the whole city as the Chaos assault begins anew. Out on the front lines Rawne is tasked with securing two objectives, the Eagle Stones, the mysterious Chaos artifact the Ghosts brought with them, and Mabbon, the Sons of Sek prisoner who has been helping them try to defeat his former masters. Personally I love Mabbon, so I was really happy to see him make a return to the story. At the same time, the Chaos forces have sent a crack team of operatives to secure those same two objectives.

I can't really talk more about what happens without ruining all of the surprises and twists along the way, and there are plenty of those. This is one of the most dark, depressing, tragic, and yet uplifting and happy books in the whole series so far. I know that may be a contradiction, but the Ghosts will have to go through a lot of misery here before they have a chance of coming out on the other end. The Mkoll storyline is amazing, and has a few twists that I pretty much expected from the setup for it, but were exactly what I wanted to see happen. Everything in the undercroft section is amazing. I've never felt so much tension and dread while reading a Warhammer novel. The parts with the Ghosts taking on the Chaos operatives over the stones and Mabbon is more of a straight forward war section, but they are absolutely brutal. The whole time I was wondering just how many of the Ghosts were going to survive.

The body count in this is insanely high. I think this has the most prominent characters killed off of any of the books in the series. Before you crack this open I would make peace that there is a good chance some of your favorites won't make it through to the end. There were some moments where I had to stop and double check to make sure that, yeah, that character that has been with the series for 10+ years really did just die in an offhand way. There's so much death and misery that not everyone gets a heroic sendoff. This is one of my favorite things about the series to be honest. It treats war like war. Not everyone dies in some heroic manner, people just die, like they would in a warzone. Sometimes you're facing down a huge charge, sometimes you just get clipped by a stray las bolt.

The climax of all of these storylines in this novel are all equally epic and amazing. It's hard to pick a favorite since this is basically the culmination of the entire series to this point. Almost every major storyline and character arc set up since the first book was printed is tied up in some way here. It's an incredibly emotional roller coaster if you're invested in the series. Once I finished the last page I literally had to take a few moments to just sit and reflect upon everything I had read. The Ghosts have been with me since I started in the hobby almost 20 years ago, and like I said, there is a lot of tragedy here, but also a lot of really uplifting and happy moments. Well, as happy as it can get in the Guard.

Dan Abnett has already stated that this won't be the last book in the series, but it could definitely act as it and I would be happy with how it ended. Now I'm excited to see where it goes from here. I know it's a bit of a cliche, but everything has changed and nothing will ever be the same for the Tanith First and Only. If you're a fan of the series this is a must read, but prepare yourself for it. It's going to take you on a ride. If you haven't been reading the Gaunt's Ghosts series then I highly recommend you start. It's hands down the best series of books from Black Library. I think maybe only the Eisenhorn and Ravenor series rival it in its impact.

Straight silver,

Tyler M,

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