Quick Review: THE WARMASTER by Dan Abnett (Black Library)

AbnettD-GG-WarmasterA return to the ongoing saga of the Tanith First & Only, Gaunt’s Ghosts

Returning to the crusade’s heart after a dangerous mission, Colonel-Commissar Gaunt is thrust into intrigue while his Ghosts face a threat to their very existence.

After the success of their desperate mission to Salvation’s Reach, Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and the Tanith First race to the strategically vital forge world of Urdesh, besieged by the brutal armies of Anarch Sek. However, there may be more at stake than just a planet. The Imperial forces have made an attempt to divide and conquer their enemy, but with Warmaster Macaroth himself commanding the Urdesh campaign, it is possible that the Archenemy assault has a different purpose — to decapitate the Imperial command structure with a single blow. Has the Warmaster allowed himself to become an unwitting target? And can Gaunt’s Ghosts possibly defend him against the assembled killers and war machines of Chaos?

There was a seven-year gap between Salvation’s Reach and the release of The Warmaster. For some reason, despite reading each of the previous novels pretty much immediately after publication, it took me quite some time to get around to reading this 14th Gaunt’s Ghosts novel. I’m very glad I did, however, as it reminded me how much I enjoy the characters and Abnett’s writing. Another great addition to the series, I very much enjoyed this.

In many ways, The Warmaster is a different kind of Gaunt’s Ghosts novel. Despite the action-heavy final act, it nevertheless felt like a “quieter” war novel. The novel serves as a bit of a pause before Anarch, the next book in the series, which also brings the Victory arc to a close. (I’ll be reading this very soon.)

The Ghosts that survived the operation at Salvation’s Reach have returned to the conquest HQ: battered, depleted, and in dire need of some R&R. The novel starts with a very interesting event, which causes some psychological upset for the Ghosts, and allows the author to shift the story forward in time a little bit. As Gaunt gets swept up in the events at HQ, and his place among the leaders of the crusade, his regiment get settled and prepare for their next mission. They attend to their wounds, physical and psychological. However, due to events of prior to this novel, an Inquisitor is sniffing around a handful of Ghosts, which causes some frustration and tension. And something’s going on with one of the regiment’s retinue members…

Abnett does a great job of showing the various sides of death and struggle in the setting. Living in the 41st millennium, as a civilian or trooper, is harsh. It chews up the weak and spits them out. Even at rest, and away from the front, there are hazards and threats.

The meat-grinder nature of life as an Imperial Guardsman is displayed in the intense city-fighting. Not everyone comes out of this novel unscathed. The author also revives his tendency to abruptly kill of characters that you might have thought had a bigger part to play. These deaths can come on the front, or they can be even more meaningless — the victims of petty animosities and enmities, accidents, or otherwise. This may seem unsentimental, but it keeps readers on their toes, and also makes for a more realistic portrayal of life as part of a massive, endless conflict. A couple of deaths in this novel I am very unhappy about.

While I’ve been keeping up-to-date on Abnett’s Horus Heresy fiction (with just the latest, Saturnine, still to read), reading The Warmaster reminded me how much I love this series and why it’s one of my favourite SF series. (It’s really not hard to see why this series is so popular.) It has certainly convinced me to not wait long in the future. I’ll read and review Anarch very soon, hopefully.

If you have been reading the series since the beginning, or at least are caught up, then I’m sure you will enjoy this novel. Engaging and gripping, with excellent prose, pacing and characterization. The Warmaster is a great read.

Definitely recommended.


Dan Abnett’s The Warmaster is out now, published by Black Library.

Also on CR: Interview with Dan Abnett & Nik Vincent (2011); Reviews of Armour of Contempt, Only in Death, Salvation’s Reach, Horus Rising, Prospero Burns, Know No Fear, and The Unremembered Empire

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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