The Ghosts That Wouldn’t Stay Dead: A Gaunt’s Ghosts: The Founding Review

  • Title: Gaunt’s Ghosts: The Founding
  • Author: Dan Abnett
  • Publisher: Games Workshop (December 12, 2008)

The past year, I’ve been getting into the world of Warhammer 40.000, or WH40k. While I’m too broke to start playing the tabletop games, the novels and video games are more readily accessible as my gateway into this universe.

After finishing the Ciaphas Cain novels (something I might reread and review some time in the future), I found myself reading Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts series. I’ve known and liked Abnett’s work ever since his Guardians of the Galaxy run at Marvel with Andy Lanning, and Gaunt’s Ghosts is quickly becoming one of my favorite works of his.

Gaunt’s Ghosts is a series of novels (15, so far) chronicling the exploits of one of the more unorthodox regiments in the trillions-strong Imperial Guard, the Tanith First-And-Only, led by Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt. Gaunt himself is an anomaly of sorts, being a political officer who also holds command of a Guard regiment. The First-And-Only, as its name implies, also holds the dubious honour of being the only regiment to come out of Tanith, due to the world being razed by Chaos forces on the day of its Founding. These men without a world soon gained the nickname Gaunt’s Ghosts, not just because they have lost their world, but due to their aptitude in scouting and stealth that they are like ghosts on the battlefield.

Gaunt’s decision to pull the First-And-Only off-world and leave Tanith to die, not giving the Tanith men a chance to fight for their doomed homeworld is a major source of conflict in the books, with some of the Tanith men still harbouring resentment at Gaunt for the incident.

The Founding is also the title of the first omnibus, collecting the first three novels First and Only, Ghostmaker, and Necropolis along with the short story In Remembrance that happens after Necropolis. Both First and Only and Ghostmaker were originally a short stories published by the Black Library, compiled into two full novels. This explains the non-sequential nature of the books and how it seemed to jump from one place to another at times. The third novel, Necropolis, is the first whole novel, although the jumps in perspective still come in play at times.

The great thing about this series is that how easily it is to care about the Tanith, especially after Ghostmaker gave us several short stories that focused on some of the more prominent Ghosts. From “Mad” Larkin the Tanith’s top sniper, the autocannon-lugging gentle giant “Try Again” Bragg, the pacifist medic Dorden, the vengeful Major Rawne, to all the named characters that show up frequently in the books, by the second book, the comradeship and brotherhood between these men felt very strong and every named character’s death, however minor, felt like another hit, another remnant of Tanith gone forever.

Besides the forces of Chaos, Gaunt also has to contend with problems not necessarily able to be solved by shooting it, chief of all the conflict between the Tanith First and high command, and perhaps some glory-hog regiment trying to keep the Tanith down. And then there’s the matter of some of the Tanith men still wanting Gaunt’s blood for robbing them of the chance to defend their homeworld. The political intrigue is part of what endears this series to me even more, and it gives Gaunt a stage to show off his shrewdness in dealing with these threats.

Which is not to say the battles aren’t a high point of the series. All the battle scenes in the books are masterfully described, and reading it feels like being in the trenches with the Ghosts themselves. Every las shot, every tube charge, every servant of Chaos dropped, every act of selfless heroism by a Ghost or any other regiment’s soldier, the battle scenes are nothing short of breathtaking.

The large amount of characters and the perspective jumps may be a turn-off for some, though, and may confuse readers just now returning to the book after some time not reading. But still, Gaunt’s Ghosts is a very, very good novel series and is an excellent gateway to those wanting to get into the Warhammer universe.

Note: Reviewing 3 books at once is hard, so I might do one book at a time later on, provided I don’t get too lazy.

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