Book Review: Blood Pact
Dan Abnett has a new novel about Gaunt's Ghosts and it's good.
Author: Dan Abnett
Publisher: BL Publishing
Reviewing Author: Jim Zabek
Over the last decade or so a new sub-genre of writing has appeared on the sci-fi/fantasy fiction shelves. For lack of a better description, I’ll call it gaming fiction. This genre’s books focus on well established game franchises. Some of them try to tightly mirror the mechanics of a game – R. A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden comes to mind; his literary battle sequences seem to reflect an ongoing round of combat in Dungeons & Dragons and when I read them I can almost see d20s rolling across the table to see if there’s a hit.
In other cases the writing may reflect a looser vision of a game. Anyone with experience playing the Warhammer 40,000 games will recognize that the lopsided victories enjoyed by the Adeptus Astartes are few and far between playing the tabletop game. Regardless of how accurately a game system may be portrayed in gaming fiction one quality stands out: the reading is quite good.
One of the most recognizable groups of characters in Warhammer 40,000 gaming fiction is Gaunt’s Ghosts. Unlike the Adeptus Astartes who are literally and figuratively larger than life, the Imperial Guard are composed of all-too-frail humans. Ibram Gaunt, the commander of the Tanith First-And-Only regiment, has hacked and slashed his way across nearly a dozen books, and it is his knowledge and resourcefulness that has kept him alive through conflicts that few others might survive. In Blood Pact, his regiment has been pulled out of combat after nearly a decade of fighting for rest and recuperation. Paradoxically his heroism is in question. Having fought against the forces of Chaos there are elements within the Imperium that wonder if he became tainted himself. Making things worse is the onset of boredom. Where most regiments would be celebrating a removal from fighting after a decade of being on the line, Gaunt’s Ghosts are restless and itching for a return to action. Accustomed to fighting some of the toughest forces of Chaos in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, after two years of idleness the Ghosts start to create their own problems just for amusement.
In Blood Pact Abnett crafts superb action sequences, weaves plot twists worthy of any mystery novel, and develops characters that hook the reader from the first sentences. It’s the people that kept me turning the pages in Blood Pact. Blood Pact was my first introduction to Gaunt’s Ghosts, but Abnett’s style made it easy to know characters who had been developed over numerous books. They are immediately likable. Because these characters are so mature Abnett makes it easy to follow them through their lives. Criid’s concession to a Spartan military life is born of her roots. Her escape from crushing poverty is indulged with one vice (at least in her eyes): expensive pastries…which she then seeks to undo by running off the calories at a pace that would kill most people. Character development like that may be a genius Abnett was born with or may be a skill he has honed over time. Maybe both. Or maybe he makes secret sacrifices to the gods of Chaos who then send him pre-written books from the Warp. No matter what the explanation one thing is comes out of Blood Pact: Abnett is a hell of a good writer. He has a sense of humor that shows up in when you least expect it. It’s easy to see that he has had fun with some of his characters because it’s fun to read about them. The tight spots they get into often find them escaping from the frying pan into the fire. It’s that sort of non-stop combination of action, fun, and survival that makes reading Blood Pact a page turner.
When the Ghosts are facing the worst they seem to rise to their best. The people who should be the most trustworthy are the least trusting, and therefore least useful. The most useful, meanwhile, are busy scrambling out of messes that they knew better than to create. Blood Pact is a novel of a regiment of soldiers that, having run of out true enemies, have to create their own. And just when it looks like they’ve got all the problems they can handle, Abnett ups the ante again. Due for release in November, Blood Pact is gothic sci-fi action that you won’t want to miss.