Book Review 14 // Ghostmaker by Dan Abnett
Sometimes you pick up a book and you just enjoy it so much that you can't put it down. That is what happened here. I picked up this book in a thrift store for a dollar which is amazing and better let it written by Dan Abnett one of my preferred authors. So let us not waste more time and get into the view.
Book Title: Ghostmaker
Author: Dan Abnett
Publisher: Black Library
"The origins of Gaunt's Ghosts are revealed. Tanith's First and Only are put through the wringer as they overcome their home world's destruction and battle the forces of Chaos. The story's packed with action and suspense with a unique focus on single Imperial Guardsmen performing acts of heroism that will go uncelebrated and unremembered by the Imperium at large."
First up these tales are all from the short stories written for Black Library's Inferno magazine (a now out of print short story magazine). These stories are all then linked together with the over riding Monthrax mission. I feel the easiest way to do the review is to explain the overall tale then the short stories and then finish the main arc off.
The Gaunt's Ghosts are stuck on Monthrax, a heavily covered jungle world with a mysterious secret at it's heart. With elements of the guard facing off against a chaos splinter cell that has fled from their defeat at Balhaut. Before each tale a page is dedicated to Gaunt as he moves around the encampment meeting up with different characters and with each encounter sparking a short tale about the character in question. Then the final chapter is all about the Monthrax mission. I enjoyed this style of storytelling, not only does it give us the chance to learn and build some backstory for the main characters, but it also shows they aren't a newly formed regiment and have battle experience.
The first two stories are set up by Gaunt himself as he surveys the planet Monthrax. His personal flashback heads back to the Founding fields of the Ghosts. As the newly promoted Colonel Commissar, Gaunt is sent to what seems like a backwater forest world that has a hint of chaos about it. As far as Gaunt is concerned Tanith is hardly better than a feral world. With the men looking pale and darked hair, covered in tattoos. Then during the day of the muster a splinter Chaos fleet attacks Tanith, a faction fleeing from their Balhaut defeat, but forgotten about and left to pillage behind the main battle front. Facing death on Tanith, Gaunt orders that all able men be evacuated from the planet. Even Gaunt himself is nearly killed by the attackers, if not for his assigned pipe player Milo, who saves his life. Having just barely escaped, Gaunt is shocked to find out that all the assigned officers have perished on the planet, having stayed till the end trying to save troopers. What we are then left with is a regiment that has no officers and a hatred for Gaunt. But this soon all changes as Corbec, Rawne and Milo face off against Gaunt about leaving their world to burn. Expecting punishment for confronting Gaunt they are instead promoted to Colonel (Corbec), Major (Rawne) and Adjutant to Gaunt (Milo). We then get to see the new regiment in action at Blackshard and how the newly appointed officers: the charismatic Corbec and the bitter Rawne play out as well as handling their first outing in charge.
The next flashback started as Gaunt watches the Ghosts play a game, has the Tanith battling Chaos (unsurprisingly as it is the Sabbat Crusade), this time on the world of Voltemand. It's in this story that we get introduced to the Volpone Bluesbloods for the first time. A heavy elite mechanised regiment from a rich world, but they are also the operational theater's leadership and view the Ghosts as little more than barbarians to be used up, thus they deploy the Tanith into some of the most dangerous forward positions. Ultimately the enemy position falls, thanks to the work of a Ghost Sergeant named Cluggan. The Ghost's rejoicing is short-lived, as the Volpone commander orders an artillery battalion to fire on the Tanith's route back to the main of the Guard; 300 men, including the hero Cluggan, die in the bombardment. This is the beginning of a growing resentment that builds through the series.
Then we follow Mkoll, the most skilled scout in the regiment, leader of the scout detachment and a pure woods men at heart. Whilst searching for remnants of Chaos traitors on the dangerous world of Ramillies 268-43. A mistake by one of his scouts sets off the planet's deadly flora (think cactus that can shoot it's spines!) and attracts the attention of a damaged and visually impaired Chaos Dreadnought. Mkoll, thinking quickly, is able to use an overcharged Lasgun and the pointy cactus plants to overcome the much-larger Chaos brute. This was a highlight tale for me as Mkoll takes pride in his work and refuses praise. A true hero.
Then we reach Corbec's tale set on Caligula. Gaunt, Rawne, and several others are separated from the main of the Ghosts during a landing action gone wrong due to enemy sorcery. Whilst Gaunt struggles to lead his companions to safety through enemy lines, Corbec has to take command fearing he is the only surviving officer. Whilst the Ghosts clear out the target city block by block, Corbec and his command squad stumble across a Chaos Daemon! Guard issued weapons prove ineffective against this Warp spawned monster so Corbec is forced to retreat. Corbec soon realises this is the reason for the storm that rages above and calls in a favour from a navy friend stationed above the planet. Using Corbec's coordinates they launch a battery strike against the deamon, utterly destroying the beast and bring an end to the storm raging above, restoring sensor equipment a locating Gaunt and his team.
That Hideous Strength returns us to Caligula and "Try-Again" Bragg's tale. "Try-Again" is the biggest Ghost in the company and the strongest able to carry a heavy bolter solo, only problem is his aim sucks (hence the nickname). He comes across as a gentle giant and most people view him as simple. So when Gaunt places him in charge of protecting a convoy everyone assumes that Gaunt has written them off. Soon the convoy is attacked crossing a desert and we get to see Bragg in action fending off the attackers until the Imperial Navy is able to deploy bombers to end the threat of the bandits forever. It's at this point Bragg reveals that not only was the convoy a feint to draw out the criminals (devised by Gaunt and Bragg), but that he was also able to determine the identity of the traitor with the convoy who sold the information on the raiders in the process. Fun tale that helps make Bragg more than a walking gun.
The next short is Gaunt and Rawne trapped behind Orkish lines on the ice world of Typhon Eight. While Rawne contemplates killing his hated foe Gaunt, the greenskins attack, forcing the two to work together to survive. The pair commandeer an Orkish vehicle and make a danger-fraught escape. As they do so, Rawne loses his traditional Tanith knife saving Gaunt life from boiling chemical liquid. Gaunt then gives Rawne his own knife and asks the major why he saved him...Rawne's reply is that one day, he will be the one to kill Gaunt, on equal terms, not in a cowardly way.
The old Medic Dorden is the focus of the tale. Set on the world of Nacedon, the Ghosts encounter an abandoned farmhouse filled with the Volpone Blueblood's wounded as they are preparing to retreat from a Chaos counter attack. Gaunt whilst preparing to pull out the regiment, claims they can do nothing for the injured soldiers (their own regiment has already left them to die). Medic Dorden insists that he be allowed to stay and try to defend the wounded with a small detachment of ten Ghosts. Gaunt barely agrees, and Dorden and nine other Ghosts dig in. As night comes, the Chaos Cultists begin to attack. The Ghosts and those of the Bluebloods able to fight stage a desperate defense, fending off an initial attack. But when the enemy forces begin to position artillery support, the battle seems lost, until Gaunt, who has united with the main line of the Imperial forces, directs the Guard's own artillery to target the Chaos unit, inflicting heavy causalities and breaking the assault.
"A Simple Plan" features Caffran, the youngest of the Ghosts at eighteen years. Follows the Ghosts as they attack a refinery on a planet called Sapiencia. After the navy boys mess up the landing, the poor Ghosts have to first survive the deadly waters before hitting the beaches. Having arrived first they are then told that they are to act as reserves for the heavier units. Pissed off by the thought of this Caffran and a small detachment follow a set of tunnels behind enemy lines and ignore the order to retreat. Here they face the enemy on their own completely unsupported. During a brutal firefight they demolish a refinery tower barely escaping it's destruction, but the enemy commander Sholen Skara, convinced his lines had been overrun, begins sacrificing his own troopers to Khrone, weakening his lines and allowing an easy victory for the Guard units pushing up the beach. Caffran is offered the opportunity to execute Skara, but Caffran believes forcing Skara to live with his shame is the worse punishment they could dish out.
We then reach Brin Milo, Gaunt's adjutant and the only non military personal to survive the destruction of Tanith. His tale begins with Gaunt thinking about how his adjutant uncanny ability to anticipate events, will get him in trouble again one day. Hence begins "Witch Hunt," were Milo's ability, as well as his participation in a gambling scam, puts Milo under the scrutiny of an Imperial Inquisitor called Lilith. As the unit prepares to disembark on Monthrax (yes we have caught up to the main story), the Inquisitor, who has been sent to investigate reports of witchcraft on Monthrax, is put onto the scent of Milo by the Ghosts' Blueblood rivals. In an interrogation, it initially seems that Milo's odd talents might lead to his execution, but instead, he reveals a more mundane explanation for the rigged game, saving his life, for now.
Now we have hit the last chapter and it is all about Monthrax, as the Ghosts ready for a counter attack as the enemy over commit themselves leaving their flanks exposed. As the Ghosts start to engage with Chaos throughout the jungle, Mkoll seeks out a ruin he glimpsed in passing while scouting earlier. To his surprise he finds it under heavy siege by a vast horde of Chaos Cultists. Meanwhile, an unnatural storm has let rip, confusing the minds of the troopers and spawning Chaos abominations within the Jungle. Although Lilith and Gaunt are initially worried about the storm being a filthy Chaos magic trick, it is soon discovered the true source of the storm is a group of the ancient Eldar race, who seek to close one of their Webways entrances on this world. Using their own mind tricks the Eldar are able to convince a group of Ghosts, led by Major Rawne, that they are on Tanith, fighting to save their world from Chaos! With Rawne's Ghosts working with the Eldar they are able to hold of the initial attack, giving Gaunt and Lilith time to figure out that the storm originated at the ruins. Mkoll is also found surrounded by dead cultist and reports of the activity at the ruins. The Ghosts and Blueblood forces join up and push against the flanks of the Chaos horde at the ruins, allowing themselves to also fall under the Eldar's spell to bolster their efforts. Once the horde is dispersed, Lilith finds the Farseer, now too weak to close the Webway. She uses her own power to seal the gate forever and passes through with the Eldar survivors to the Craftworld beyond. Gaunt and his Ghosts regroup, worn but strangely filled with pride at the opportunity, however falsely-created, to reverse the retreat at their Founding and seemingly fight for their homeworld.
And with that the book ends. I really enjoyed this, the short story format helped keep the story going whilst giving us the ability to build up the characters in our heads without having to read twenty books. Dan Abnett has a way of writing that I find enjoyable and absorbing and I can't wait to read the next book.
Mkoll's tale was properly my favourite closely followed by Caffran's and I look forward to reading more about these characters! As always thank you for joining me and reading this entire post. Hope you enjoyed it and if you want this book get in contact, maybe I can send it your way! Now to start Decembers book...