Friday, 14 October 2011

‘Salvation’s Reach’ – Dan Abnett (Black Library)

My ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ reading has taken a strange path to say the least, starting off with ‘Blood Pact’ and then going right back to the beginning to read the first three novels in the series (and reading the ‘Sabbat Worlds’ anthology in between). Normally I’d start at the beginning and work through to the end of a series but, knowing exactly what I’m like with long series these days, I figured that if I didn’t jump in at the deep end then I’d never get going at all.
This approach proved to be the best one, for me, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read so far and it has more or less guaranteed that I’ll not only finish the completed books but will also stick with the series until it is done. The Black Library has carved itself a fine reputation, as a purveyor of fine military science fiction, and it’s in no small part due to Dan Abnett and this very series.

This brings me neatly on to ‘Salvation’s Reach’, a book that I’ve been waiting to get my hands on ever since I finished ‘Blood Pact’. I seem to have found myself reading this series on two fronts (from the beginning and from the end, all at the same time) but books like ‘Salvation’s Reach’ make the whole thing worthwhile. If you’ve enjoyed previous books about Commissar Gaunt and the Ghosts of Tanith then I reckon you’re going to love this one...

The Tanith First and Only have been stationed on the world of Balhaut for far too long now and their time away from the front lines has seen the regiment descend into apathy and petty crime to pass the time. All that is about to change though as a high ranking military prisoner has just passed on information that could stop the Sabbat Worlds Crusade becoming a bloody stalemate.

The remote installation of Salvation’s Reach contains secrets that could change the war and even turn factions of the enemy against one another; all Gaunt and his men have to do is cross enemy space and break into it... Are they up to the task though? Time away from the front lines might have cost the Ghosts their edge and even if it hasn’t, elements working within the regiment itself are planning to stop the Ghosts from reaching Salvation’s Reach at all. Or is an even longer game being played here...?

Life has contrived to stop me reading just recently (for all the normal reasons, she’s doing well just in case you were wondering) but ‘Salvation’s Reach’ literally laughed at most of the other demands on my time and kept me reading away. The book is only three hundred and fourteen pages long but you wouldn’t think it given how much Abnett manages to pack in. It’s quickly becoming clear that I can always rely on Dan Abnett to deliver in terms of dark and gritty military science fiction and now I want more.

‘Salvation’s Reach’ is the tale of an Imperial Guard Regiment desperate to prove that it can still do what it has always done best; a regiment looking to regain its sense of identity and strike a blow for the Imperium once more. The eventual payoff is almost incidental to the work Abnett puts into showing how the return to action affects certain members of the Ghosts as well as the entourage that follows them into the warzone. I haven’t been reading these books very long so it’s all credit to Abnett that I was able to engage with the characters as quickly as I did. Abnett has created a regiment of living, breathing characters that actually have feelings about standing up and being shot at. Some of these characters will surprise you with how they feel, they certainly surprised me... I’m talking about the Commissar who is afraid of going into battle and the sniper who takes lessons from an unexpected source in order to rediscover his aim. Despite what the setting encourages you to think of people like this, you can’t help but root for them and there’s at least one character that I’ll be keeping an eye open for in the next book because of this. Even established characters are given reason to be apprehensive about the return to action with one main character about to reap the consequences of something that happened way back in the third book... One thing I would say though is that Abnett hasn’t really given himself enough room, in the book, to flesh out the supporting cast in the same way as the lead characters. This is only to be expected, to a degree, but the dividing line is a little too sharp and too noticeable at times.

‘Salvation’s Reach’ isn’t just about the characters though, there’s a job to be done and it’s made very clear just what the stakes are. We’re talking about a pretty big deal here and when you see just what the Ghosts must deal with you can understand why the secrets contained within Salvation’s Reach could well change the face of the war.

Abnett shows, only too well, that he is not only capable of drawing finely realised characters but he can also sit them right in the middle of some explosive situations. Even before the Ghosts reach their objective they must deal with massed combat in space, warfare between ships so huge in size that you may not know right away if you’ve even bit hit. As passengers, the Ghosts cannot affect the outcome of this fight and Abnett does well not only to convey that resigned uncertainty but also give the Ghosts pressing matters (closer at hand) to deal with in the meantime.

Upon arrival at Salvation’s Reach, Abnett ramps things up even more (I didn’t think he could but I was wrong) and throws the Ghosts into the kind of fire fight that long term fans, and me, have probably been waiting for since ‘Blood Pact’. This is the bit where the pages really start to fly along and Abnett keeps that momentum going by throwing surprises into the mix to keep things fresh. Salvation’s Reach is riddled with traps to be overcome but certain teams will face lethal difficulties before even making it that far. Abnett has shown that he won’t let his characters dodge a bullet and that is very much the case here as one main character (and another character, not sure if he’s a main character though) bows out in a way that not only brings a little lump to your throat but literally proves to be an explosive way of ending the conflict.

A few questions are left unanswered but there is more than enough to chew on here and it has just whetted my appetite for further stories to come. ‘Salvation’s Reach’ is a fitting return to the fray for Gaunt’s Ghosts and promises great things for the future.

Nine and a Half out of Ten


Anonymous said...

Good review and you have left out who dies and who Gaunt meets from the past.

Nathan said...

Gaunt lost his eyes in Blood Pact, right? Does he have bionics like 'Shoggy' had?

Graeme Flory said...

Anon - Glad you liked the review :o) I always try to avoid spoilers and I'm glad I missed 'em this time round as well.

Nathan - I think Gaunt lost his eyes before 'Blood Pact', I read 'Blood Pact' and there's no mention of it there... (Although there's some mention of it in the 'Sabbat Worlds' anthology)
Check out the cover for 'Salvations Reach', that should give you a clue about Gaunt's eyes ;o)

Edohiguma said...

If my memory serves me right Gaunt lost his eyes at Hinzerhaus in Only In Death. It was a pretty ugly "encounter" for him, to say the least and to keep spoilers down. He has been augmented, but his are of significantly higher quality than Shoggy's, after all he's no normal trooper.

I'm curious how it goes on between the Blood Pact and the Sons of Sek, which are essentially a copy of the Blood Pact. I love how Abnett delves into Chaos and turns them from faceless hordes existing only to be slaughtered by some "heroic" worshippers of the Corpse Emperor to actual enemies with personality and skill. The history of the Blood Pact is particularly interesting. They have given the Guard some significant black eyes. Like at battle of the Akkorite Peninsula on Belshiir Binary in 771, where 200 Blood Pact troopers destroyed 3,000 guardsmen.

Anonymous said...

Gaunt lost his eyes at the end of Only in Death, and afterwards they were replaced by very high quality bionics by General Van Voytz. They are nearly perfect replics, except they just miss something a little human, and they can be scary. They also sometimes glow with a green light inside the pupil.

Jack said...

Gaunt lost his eyes in Only In Death, the book before Blood Pact.