Monday, February 22, 2010

Guy Review: Only in Death (Gaunt's Ghosts)

Only in Death (Gaunt's Ghosts)
Written By: Dan Abnett

Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Black Library (October 6, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1844166627
ISBN-13: 978-1844166626

Oshie: 4.8 out of 5

Book Description: "As the crusade to liberate the Sabbat Worlds continues, Colonel-Commissar Gaunt leads the Tanith First-and-Only into an unforgiving new warzone - the fortress world of Jago. As the enemy assaults increase in fury, Gaunt and his regiment must face the terror of the present alongside the ghosts of their past, for only in death does duty end."

Only In Death stands as an example of what a truly great Warhammer 40k novel should be. The author, Dan Abnett, is in this reviewer's personal opinion one of the very best science-fiction authors in the world today. Only in Death is part of a long series of books ( twelve volumes so far) that recount the mortal struggles of the Tanith 1st, an Imperial Guard regiment, as they move from one battlefield to the next. The series is also known as Gaunt's Ghosts. What Abnett does particular well with these books is describe the battles in gritty, personal detail; and he also weaves believable dialogue blocks in the narratives, which is usually lacking in Warhammer novels. Another great thing about these stories is following the development of certain reoccurring characters over thousands of pages. Believe me, once you have read just halfway through the series you feel like these characters are real people and when they struggle, grow, and sometimes die, you will care. That alone makes Gaunt's Ghost singular in the Black Library.

In this particular story, the Tanith 1st finds itself in an almost hopeless situation. Faced with holding a remote object against the main thrust of a enemy offense. The regiment is almost totally overwhelmed. If you have followed the series up to this point, this situation doesn't sound too different from those in the past; however, this addition to the Gaunt's Ghost series does just deal with matters that are wholly of a military nature. Only In Death marks a return to the spiritual aspects of 40K Universe. The object the the Tanith 1st are asked to hold are believed to be haunted by otherworldly beings and certain members of the regiment are tormented by 'ghosts' from their own past. Abnett's interpretation of spiritual aspects of the 40K Universe are focused on addressing ideas such as 'things happen for a reason' and 'everything has a purpose' and 'there is grand plan for the universe that is too complex to explain'. This sort of story telling is rarely touched on in Warhammer literature. It is great to find it here in such a grand work as the Gaunt's Ghost series, because it enriches the story and takes it one step beyond the run-of-the-mill SF novel series.

Overall, I enjoyed this story and can't wait to see how these events shape future books in the series. It carries on the blending of futuristic warfare with spirituality introduced in earlier volumes. However, because of the way characters are introduced chapter by chapter, it would be kind of difficult for a newcomers to know exactly what is going on with certain characters. For instance there could be a reference to one character's name, yet you may not know anything more about them unless you read volume 5, and thus, miss out on the rich history and significances in the story. Still this observation is true of most stories that come from a series. This story has great character development for a war novel. If you have been following certain characters from volume one to now, you will be amazed at how far they have come. If there is one complaint I can find about the novel it would be how some of the 'ghostly visions' are explained away in three pages, and the lack of explanation of how one particular character survived certain death. In the end, if you are a veteran of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, you should read this novel. If you are new to Dan Abnett's series, start from the beginning. This is rich series that is best experienced by starting with the first novel and trudging forward.

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