Some years ago, I read several novels and anthologies set in the Warhammer 40K universe and enjoyed them. But as often happens with me (because I have the attention span of a six-week-old puppy) I moved on to other things and didn’t read any more of those books. Now, since there’s talk of a Warhammer 40K TV series being in development, and because I still have a bunch of the books on my shelves and on my Kindle, I thought I ought to give another one a try. So I read FIRST AND ONLY, the first novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts mini-series, by Dan Abnett, who’s one of the most prolific and influential Warhammer 40K authors.
I probably should back up here for a minute, for those of you unfamiliar with
Warhammer 40K. It started out as a tabletop role-playing game in the Eighties
and expanded into a novel franchise, the same way Dungeons and Dragons and a
lot of other role-playing games did. I don’t know how many Warhammer 40K novels
and anthologies have been published, but there are a lot. Set 40,000 years in
the future, hence the title, the basic storyline is that the Imperium of Earth
is engaged in a galaxy-wide war with the forces of Chaos, an occult threat from
somewhere beyond the galaxy. This mixture of high-tech military science fiction
with supernatural horror is something I haven’t encountered anywhere else, and
it allows for a variety of story types, although, boiled down, all of them have
to do with the war and are pretty grim and bleak. The Imperium forces are the
nominal good guys, and some of the individual characters are pretty noble and
heroic, but mostly they’re just not as bad as the forces of Chaos.
FIRST AND ONLY is the first novel in a long-running series-within-the-series called Gaunt’s Ghosts, after its protagonist Ibram Gaunt. He leads an Imperial Guard regiment from the planet Tanith, the only survivors from that planet, in fact, which makes it the First Tanith, and the only one there’ll ever be. The Imperial Guard are the regular soldiers in the Imperium’s military, the equivalent of our armed forces. (There are a lot of other types of combatants we won’t go into here.)
Tanith was a wooded, frontier planet, so Gaunt’s Ghosts are trackers and hunters, which makes them perfect for commando missions. In this novel, Gaunt comes into possession of some vital information that reveals the hiding place of a secret so big and important that it could change the course of the war. To get his hands on it, he and his men have to contend not only with their usual bloodthirsty enemies but also some supposed allies who are plotting against them. A lot of political intrigue and double-crosses ensue, along with plenty of gritty action scenes and some epic battles. Occasional flashbacks fill in some of Gaunt’s history, but not all of it.
This was Abnett’s first published novel and the first book I’ve read by him. He did some comic book scripting for Marvel many years ago that I read and remember enjoying. In FIRST AND ONLY, he does a fine job of balancing all the plot elements and creates some compelling characters. It's still available as an e-book. I enjoyed this one quite a bit and want to read more in the series, as well as sampling some of the other Warhammer 40K authors. Maybe I’ll actually do that this time, instead of getting distracted.