So, at the beginning of this week I finished reading the latest in Dan Abnett’s amazing Gaunt’s Ghosts saga, Salvations Reach. Here I’ll try and review it sensibly, but I can make no promises that it won’t turn into fanboy ramblings… Oh, and there will be spoilers, so don’t read any further than this if you’ve yet to read the book!
For those of you not acquainted with the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, they’re set in the universe of Games Workshops Warhammer 40,000, a grim, dark place where a dystopian human Imperium is besieged on all sides by aliens, traitors, mutants, and daemons. By all accounts not a particularly pleasant place to live. The bulk of humanities defending armed forces is made up of the Imperial Guard, human soldiers in their trillions divided into regiments and spread across the warzones of the far future. The Ghosts – officially called the Tanith 1st – hail from the forested world of Tanith, which was destroyed by a Chaos (the big nasties in the Warhammer 40,000 universe) on the very day that they were founded and started to ship off world. Rather than see the fighting men of the 1st die in a fight they couldn’t win, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt got as many as he could away from the doomed planet, and lead them as part of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade.
Salvations Reach is the fourteenth novel in the series, and sees the Ghosts receiving an influx of new recruits from Belladon (the regiment has previously received re-enforcements from Vervunhive, and was merged with the Belladon 81st Light Recon), in the form of a company colours band, and a handful of others from Vervunhive itself, including one who proves to be quite a shock to Gaunt…
They are shipping out into their first combat action in a while, and are undertaking a vital yet potentially suicidal mission to a space station – the titular Salvations Reach. The novel deals heavily with the interpersonal goings-on between the members of the regiment a lot, introducing new characters – both military and otherwise – and setting up a lot of potentially interesting situations in the future. In fact, this whole book seems to be setting us up for something else. The build-up before the Ghosts reach the station overshadows the actual mission, almost to the point that the story of the mission starts to feel a little rushed, as if there was too much story to squeeze into too short a page count.
Although the writing is as always superlative, and the story is strong – and in places heart rending, including the death of at least one much loved character – I can’t help but shake the feeling that if this were written by someone like Robert Jordan or Tolkien, this book would be the first part in a much larger one. So much is left open, foreshadowing major events that are so close and clearly-going-to-be-awesome that it’s almost painful to finish that last page and close the book. It makes me wish Salvations Reach had been released at the same time as its immediate sequel, so that the two could be read back-to-back, and the two would become part of a much more complete whole.
Whenever I read one of the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, I always compare it to my favourite in the series, Necropolis, which is an absolutely astounding book that I’ve re-read more times than I care to count. Compared to that, Salvation Reach just doesn’t seem as involved, and towards the end seems to change from having fast paced to rushed. By anyone else’s standards it’s amazing. By Mr. Abnett’s, it’s merely good.
Wow, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever criticised one of his novels!
Ranking: 4 out of 5