Picked up the latest of the Gaunt's Ghosts series and finished it last night around 10:30pm
Only in Death
By Dan Abnett
This Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Publication Date: December, 2007
For those of you who aren't regular readers of the Gaunt's Ghosts series...it's a war story akin to Band of Brothers but set in the gritty, war-torn future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The protagonists are Imperial Guardsmen. Not super-soldiers like Space Marines, or having any god-like powers like Inquisitors (see Eisenhorn, Ravenor, etc). Nope these are down home folks serving out their tour of duty as The Hammer of the Emperor, guardsmen, essentially...fodder for the never-ending battles of the 41st millennium.
Like Band of Brothers, you get to know the interesting personalities of the Regiment through hard times; see what they are really like in adversity, grow to love them...and some...many die along the way. I've seen some of my favorite characters die in this series over the years. Still others survive, and every page you hope they make it to the end.
Only in Death is a fine example of this.
In Only in Death, the regiment is sent off on a mission to protect the flank and hold a strange craggy "house" which is more of a Iwo Jima-like fortress, with twists and turns, hidden passages, strange tunnels, and seems very likely haunted. The story begins from the perspective of one of my favorite characters, Commissar Hark who is attempting to quash rumors about the planet and the place they are marching to. Stacks and stacks of skulls, with the tops sawed off as if in some strange ritual. This is what starts the unease throughout the unit, and it persists to the end.
The book keeps a creepy, almost haunted feel throughout which adds an additional element of stress for the dear reader as they turn the page.
Soon the Ghosts realize that the fortress isn't entirely unoccupied, finding that it is being infiltrated somehow by Blood Pact warriors who seem to be slipping in and out, taking any dead with them.
Soon the battle begins in earnest and the fortress is assaulted in strength, repeatedly and characters die. There are several moments of laughter in the series as some characters grow in to their own, while others are cut short.
In the end, when things seem lost (Gaunt has been dragged away, severe losses, low ammunition and supplies, and everyone seeming to have more and more sightings of apparitions and strangeness) Rawne takes command and holds the regiment together, supported by Hark, Ludd, and his remaining officers. Ezrah ap Niht vanishes to go on a death hunt for his charge, Ibram Gaunt, and Mkoll goes AWOL hunting Ezrah.
When all looks hopeless, at the very end, the Ghosts hunker down and do what they do best...survive in the face of impossible odds. Hark and some others are hauled out with crucial data only to be shot down. The scene with Hark and ...yes...Agun Soric is one I'll remember for a long time (Thank you Dan, it was perfectly done).
While I have enjoyed the Gaunt's Ghosts series immensely, and have recommended it to everyone I've met, some books are better than others. You can tell when the writer hits the mother lode, and when he's panning in the river, and Dan is much the same. Thankfully his standard of writing has never in my opinion dropped to the point where a book was unenjoyable; every book has been good. Just some are more inspired, or maybe just reach me differently.
THIS book, Only in Death, as in the old proverb "Only in Death does duty end" is one of my top 3 of the series. My favorite being Sabbat Martyr BTW.
I was left a little flat after Armor of Contempt, but Only in Death made up for any shortcoming I may have felt. This is one hell of a good read!
Of all the Gaunts Ghosts series, I'm grading this one of the BEST so far. That being said, on a scale of One to Five Stars, One meaning it Truly Sucked and Five being an All-Time Classic....I'm giving Only in Death Five Stars. (*****)