In the Chaos-infested Sabbat system, Imperial Commissar Gaunt must lead his men through as much in-fighting amongst rival regiments as against the forces of Chaos.
For a thousand years, the Sabbat Worlds have been lost to the Imperium, claimed by the dread powers of Chaos. Now, a mighty crusade seeks to return the sector to Imperial rule. And at the forefront of that crusade are Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt and the Tanith First and Only – better known as Gaunt’s Ghosts. Trapped in the grinding trench warfare of Fortis Binary, the Ghosts find themselves drawn into a conspiracy to assassinate the crusade’s leader, Warmaster Macaroth. With enemies all around them and no one to trust, Gaunt and his men must find a way to save the warmaster and prevent the Sabbat Worlds Crusade from falling into anarchy – even if it means waging war on their supposed allies.
Title: First and Only | Author: Dan Abnett | Publisher: The Black Library | Series: Gaunt’s Ghosts #1 | Pub. Date: 1999 | Pages: 320 | ISBN: 9781841541013 | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Publisher
First and Only Review
The ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ books by Dan Abnett are one those series that fans LOVE with all the capitals and heart emojis you could wish for. I used to have a friend who was in the same work book club as me who was always trying to get us to read them, that despite the fact that the favoured books of the other members were serious, romantic dramas with a MESSAGE about how terrible some people’s lives are.
I don’t think there is a message in ‘First and Only’, which is indeed the first of the ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ books, but definitely not the only one, there are like fifteen or something. If there is a message it’s something about honour and male bonding and the importance of keeping your weapon clean. This is an archetypal Military SF book. It’s violent as hell and packed with guns, brawls, dying comrades, lazy officers and determined grunts.
The themes are borrowed from a thousand WW2 movies from the 1950s, but the structure is interesting. It’s basically a string of short stories loosely tied together by a plot. It reads a lot like the arc of a modern TV show – each section has its own story but they build together into a narrative whole. Those cliched military themes (blood, sacrifice, inter-service rivalry, R&R in lawless fleshpots) are bolstered with healthy doses of intrigue, betrayal, arcane sorcery and pseudo religious phraseology.
I was sceptical going into it, but it wasn’t long before I was a convert. The action screens (of which there are MANY) are blisteringly good and the development of the plot works really well. Part of me wants to compare it to Paul Verhoeven’s movie adaptation of ‘Starship Troopers’, and there are a lot of similarities, but there’s one crucial difference. In his take on intergalactic war and the space marines, Dan Abnett plays it absolutely straight. There’s no tongue in his cheek, but rather an absolute belief in the characters and situations he is writing about. Yes, it’s all nonsense, and I’m sure he knows that, but my word does he present it with conviction and it’s incredibly engaging as a result.
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