Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – January 2000)
Series: Gaunt’s Ghosts – Book Two
Length: 10 hours and 15 minutes
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read. For my latest Throwback Thursday, I check out another Warhammer 40,000 novel with an epic entry from Dan Abnett’s classic Gaunt’s Ghosts series, Ghostmaker.
I have been in a real Warhammer 40,000 mood lately so I thought I would continue to explore some outstanding books from legendary Warhammer author Dan Abnett. Abnett is one of the most prolific and highly regarded contributors to the extended Warhammer universe, having created a huge range of compelling series and unique standalone books, most of which are considered the gold standard of Warhammer tie-in novels. One of his most significant contributions to the Warhammer 40,000 universe is the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, which follows a ragtag group of human soldiers as they are dragged from deadly battleground to deadly battleground. Made up of 15 novels, a ton of short stories and some other intriguing inclusions, the Gaunt’s Ghosts is a very iconic series in Warhammer 40,000 lore, which has spawned some awesome spinoffs and stories. I had an outstanding time reading the first entry in the series, First and Only, and I also recently read the prequel novel, The Vincula Insurgency. Ghostmaker was another impressive early entry in this series, and I had a wonderful time listening to it last week.
Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt and the men of the Tanith First-and-Only, also known as Gaunt’s Ghosts, are some of the toughest soldiers serving the Imperium of Man. The only survivors of the now dead world of Tanith, the Ghosts bear a substantial grudge against the forces of Chaos, as well as a complex relationship with their commander who saved their lives by abandoning their planet. Now deployed to the jungle world of Monthax, the Ghosts prepare for their next inevitable battle against the Chaos host.
As the Ghosts await their next confrontation, Gaunt walks the lines, reliving the events that made his regiment what it is, while also growing close to the unique individuals he commands. Each member of the Ghosts has their own story, and all have been forged in the crucible of war alongside their fearless commander. But when battle is joined again the Ghosts find themselves in a unique confrontation that pulls on their tragic history and forces them to relive the worst day of their lives. Is this the event that will forge the Ghosts into a legendary regiment, or will the survivors of Tanith break when they are needed most?
Abnett once again showcases why he is one of the very best Warhammer authors out there with this brilliant second entry in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. Bringing together several fantastic narratives into one character-driven plot, Ghostmaker is a key and compelling entry in this wider series that I absolutely powered through in a couple of days.
Ghostmaker is a compelling and powerful Warhammer 40,000 novel that continues to explore the intriguing members of the Tanith First-and-Only regiment. Abnett spins a unique narrative in Ghostmaker, as this book reads more like a short-story collection than a typical novel. Broken up by several brief sequences in the present on Monthax, most of the book revolves around a series of self-contained, character-driven background stories that showcase the history of the regiment and its members. This includes a dive into the tragic formation of the regiment and the death of the planet Tanith, and you also get a view of some of the earliest battles the Ghosts fought in. As Ghostmaker continues, the next series of stories each contain a more focussed narrative that dive into specific members of the regiment. These shorter stories usually showcase one of these focus characters’ key battles or moments as a Ghost, while also diving into their personality and personal histories. This deep dive into the key characters really helps you bond with the cast of this series in a whole new way, and I liked seeing more of these unique figures. Everything comes to a head in the final quarter of the novel, when the story is dragged back to the conflict on Monthax as the Ghosts advance into battle. Several key plot threads and recurring characters from the previous short stories make a reappearance here, and I loved how Abnett was able to connect this storylines together to make a cohesive and captivating overarching plot. The final sequences are loaded with some of the deadliest fights in the entire novel, while also resolving a ton of character arcs and personal storylines raised in the previous entries. The end result is a powerful and compelling overall story that really drags you in while giving you additional insights into some of Abnett’s best characters.
I really appreciated how Ghostmaker came together, and Abnett really showed off his writing skill by combining these shorter stories together the way he did. I especially enjoyed how the multiple short stories gave Ghostmaker various tones as the reader continued through it. For example, while most of the stories featured battles and war, there were also some more subtle stories of politics and investigations. Abnett also featured some dark psychological stories as well as some deeply personal and brutal survival tales. This variation in narratives and settings gave the book an eclectic feel, but I think that was very appropriate considering the regiment that Abnett was writing about. All the shorter stories contained within Ghostmaker were entertaining in their own way, although a few definitely stood out over the rest. Each story was extremely well written, concise, and fast-paced, and any leftover narrative threads are clipped off in the final entry, so the reader isn’t left wondering about anything. The book also features a ton of awesome battle sequences in nearly every chapter and Abnett has a great skill at showing the horrors the men face during their dangerous battles, especially when they go up against supernatural or horrific foes. Abnett also presents this book as a gritty war novel, with many of the stories focusing on the damaged and traumatised common troops who have been dragged into a series of terrible situations. I have often said that some of the very best Warhammer novels focus on the common human soldiers (for example Steel Tread or Krieg), and Ghostmaker was one of the better examples of this I have seen in Warhammer fiction. You really can sense the characters pain through the various chapters, especially when reminded of their home, and this makes for quite an emotionally rich read at times.
As I have mentioned a few times above, one of the major strengths of this book, and indeed the entire Gaunt’s Ghosts series, are the outstanding characters that Abnett focuses his stories around. Throughout the course of the series, Abnett has introduced a great core of complex central protagonists who you really grow attached to. However, Ghostmaker perhaps gives the best look at these characters, as it showcases their histories while also chucking them into deadly and deeply personal situations. You really grow attached to these protagonists as the book proceeds and Abnett crafts some outstanding and wildly entertaining narratives around many of the cast, which are really fun to read.
As with most books in the series, a lot of Ghostmaker’s plot is focussed on the central character of Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, the Ghost’s commander. Abnett continues to paint Gaunt as a caring and charismatic leader who recognises the sacrifice his men have made and is determined to keep as many of them alive as possible. Most of Gaunt’s personal history before the events of Tanith was covered in the last book, and Abnett doesn’t rehash that in Ghostmaker. Instead, you get to see Gaunt’s actions during and after the fall of Tanith, and I loved the examination of the guilt and responsibility he feels for abandoning the planet. While the first chapter of this book primarily focuses on Gaunt, he also appears as a major figure in all the other protagonist’s stories, and it was fascinating to see the other Ghost’s opinions of him, especially as many have both resentment and respect for him.
Ghostmaker also spends a ton of time exploring several other key Ghosts, and Abnett does an excellent job of perfectly utilising all these great characters. There are some brilliant tales surrounding these figures, and many also appear as supporting characters in other chapters, with some storylines crossing over. Naturally, some of the characters stand out a little more than others, due to having personal plots that were particularly fun or intense. Colm Corbec, the regiment’s second-in-command, is a major figure throughout most of the book, and I liked how Abnett expanded on him and focused on his different leadership style to Gaunt. The story surrounding the seemingly stupid Trooper Bragg was extremely funny, especially with the slow-burn reveal of the character’s deep cunning, and you must love how funny and likeable Bragg is. The story around the Ghosts’ medical officer, Tolin Dorden, was also very good, as it not only highlighted his position as the oldest Ghost, but also his refusal to sacrifice a life. Other highlights include the trippy story of ace sniper Hlaine Larkin, who loses his mind during a mission, or the intense and compelling tale of elite scout Sergeant Mkoll, whose keen senses serve him well in the most hostile of environments.
However, I felt that the best two stories in Ghostmaker revolved around the characters of Major Rawne and Brin Milo. Rawne is a murderous and slippery character who bears a great deal of hate and disdain towards Gaunt following the destruction of Tanith. His story sees himself and Gaunt trapped together on an ice planet, which forces the two to work together. Seeing the hateful Rawne trying to work out whether to kill Gaunt in cold blood or resolve their differences another time, makes for some compelling reading, and Rawne is probably one of the most complex and intense figures in the series. Milo on the other hand is Gaunt’s young adjutant and the only civilian who survived the destruction of Tanith. Milo serves a unique position in the Ghosts, and I really appreciated how Abnett explored how the rest of the regiment views him. Milo’s story was particularly good, as politics sees him getting investigated by an Imperial Inquisitor for potentially having psychic abilities. The scene where Milo manages to outplay the Inquisitor during his interrogation is one of the best scenes in the entire book and it really shows you just how clever he is, while also hinting at a potentially deeper secret. All these characters, and more, help to turn Ghostmaker into a particularly enjoyable and fun read and I was very glad that Abnett gave us a closer look at the main supporting cast in this novel.
I felt that Ghostmaker was a great addition to the wider Warhammer 40,000 canon, as well as a great entry in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. While it is the second novel in the series, readers can easily get into Ghostmaker without any knowledge of the prior books, especially as Abnett spends so much time exploring the characters and the unit’s history. While some of the narrative is set after the events of First and Only, Abnett does a great job reintroducing any relevant elements again in Ghostmaker and you don’t need too much pre-knowledge to enjoy the plot. Ghostmaker would also serve as an interesting entry point for those who aren’t familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. Abnett makes his novel very accessible to new readers, and I liked how he carefully and subtly introduced key elements of the wider universe, mainly those that concern the common soldiers. The continued expansion of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade made for an interesting background to the book, and Abnett introduces or references several factions or regiments here that will go on to have a bigger role in later novels. For example, Ghostmaker introduces readers to the Royal Volpone regiment (better known as the Bluebloods), who serve as rivals to the Ghosts and who recently got their own novel. I had an incredible time diving back into the Warhammer 40,000 universe in Ghostmaker, and Abnett did a great job of expanding this already elaborate universe.
As with most Warhammer novels I enjoy, I chose to listen to Ghostmaker’s audiobook version, which was an excellent way to dive into this compelling read. The audiobook format really allows the reader to get transported into the middle of the epic fights that are the hallmark of this fantastic series, while also ensuring that the reader absorbs all the key information about the surrounding universe. Coming in at just over 10 hours in length, this is an easy audiobook to get through quickly, and I tore through the Ghostmaker audiobook in short order. It helped that Ghostmaker was narrated by the very talented Toby Longworth, who voices most of Abnett’s Warhammer audiobooks. Longworth has an excellent voice that fits the intense, character-rich tone of Ghostmaker extremely well, and he can move the plot along at a fast and compelling pace. In addition, he has a brilliant take on all the key characters featured within the series and he provides everyone with a unique and fitting voice. He also has the fantastic ability to capture the emotions and personality traits of the various characters with his tones, and you really get inside their heads when he talks. This was an outstanding audiobook and I would strongly recommend it as the best way to enjoy this amazing novel.
Overall, Ghostmaker was a fantastic and impressive read by Dan Abnett and I am really glad I took the time to read another Gaunt’s Ghosts novel. Featuring a distinctive format and some amazing character-driven stories, Ghostmaker beautifully expanded on the groundwork Abnett laid down in First and Only and this serves as an excellent and powerful addition to the series. I deeply enjoyed this book, and I can think of no better way to illustrate this than to mention the fact that the moment I finished Ghostmaker I immediately started listening to the other Dan Abnett audiobook I had loaded on my phone, Xenos. I really cannot recommend this series enough, and if you are interested in trying out some Warhammer 40,000 fiction, then the Gaunt’s Ghost series is the perfect place to start.