The Victory Arc comes to an intense, bloody close…
‘Men of Tanith… do you want to live forever?’
On the forge world of Urdesh, the massed forces of the Imperial Crusade engage in a final bloody battle with the Archenemy commander known as the Anarch, and his elite warriors — the barbaric Sons of Sek. A victory for either side will decide more than just the fate of Urdesh… it will determine the outcome of the entire Sabbat Worlds Crusade. Ibram Gaunt — now serving at the right hand of Warmaster Macaroth – finds himself at the very heart of the struggle. His regiment, the Tanith First “Ghosts”, holds the vital key to ultimate success. But as the forces of the Imperium and Chaos square up for the final, large-scale confrontation, Gaunt discovers that the greatest threat of all may come from inside rather than out.
The previous novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, The Warmaster ended with a number of cliffhangers — beloved characters’ fates were left in question, and tension on Urdesh was building towards an almighty confrontation between the Imperial and Archenemy forces. It took me a long time to get around to reading that novel, but I knew I didn’t want to wait too long before reading Anarch. I’m glad I didn’t — this is an intense end to a the series’s most recent story-arc, and it packs quite a punch.
A lot happens over the course of the novel, and Abnett’s characters are put in one perilous situation after another. Despite the plentiful action, though, the novel did not rush: it’s a surprisingly measured-paced war novel. Gripping, though, which will likely keep you reading well into the night. This novel also has a portion of story that leans more heavily into suspense/horror territory (the events in the undercroft are really well done), which was a welcome addition.
Abnett has long been an author with whom you cannot guarantee that your favourite or a series’s central characters will all survive. This is certainly true with Anarch. It closes off this portion of the Ghosts’ story, and so there are a lot of casualties along the way. Storylines and elements are tied off after years of build-up. Beloved characters are scarified for the Imperial cause, and as a result of petty internal squabbles (something that has become rather common in the novels, in fact).
As in previous novels, it’s not always the “Archenemy” who present the greatest threat to the characters’ lives. Abnett paints a full picture of this regiment, noble and bad eggs, and clearly shows how the strain of the long war has come to effect the troopers, officers, and retinue. Nobody comes away untouched by the end of this novel. It’s not all bleak, however, as there are a couple of rays of sunshine at the end that were very welcome.
Abnett’s writing remains excellent — his descriptions are almost uniformly just right, giving us enough to picture the events in our head, but not spelling everything out. The banter and interactions between his characters is excellent, realistic, sometimes amusing. It’s the characters that really make this series — you come to care about so many of them, root for their success and continued survival. Over 15 books, Abnett’s killed off a number of my favourites, so every new book is always a little anxiety inducing. Unfortunately, Anarch is no different, and a few of my favourites also meet their ends in this novel. However, the deaths don’t feel like cheap shocks (even if they can be quite shocking).
If you’ve been following the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, then this is absolutely a must-read. One of the best in the series, maybe, and a superb conclusion to this larger story-arc. I can’t wait to see what Abnett does in the next instalment (assuming there is one — it’s not clear if there are plans for more, but the series does end in a way that there could easily be future novels).
Definitely recommended. I really enjoyed this.
Also on CR: Interview with Dan Abnett & Nik Vincent (2011); Reviews of Armour of Contempt, Only in Death, Blood Pact, Salvation’s Reach, The Warmaster, Horus Rising, Prospero Burns, Know No Fear, and The Unremembered Empire