First and Only by Dan Abnett – Gaunt’s Ghosts #1

    *I did receive a digital version of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.*

Hailed as a masterpiece and a classic by Warhammer fans I thought it was only fitting that I made First and Only, the first novel in Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts series, my first foray into the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Having read many entries in the Horus Heresy series (something of a prequel occurring ten millennia before the time of Warhammer 40K) I wanted to start reading some of the lore of dark aftermath of the Heresy. First and Only also fit the bill in being something that is a bit different from most Horus Heresy titles in that it diverges from the POV of the space marines. While reading primarily about the Adeptus Astartes is fun, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to read some stories from the perspective of regular humans also doing their best to defend the Imperium. And the reader gets just that, and a lot of it, with Gaunt’s Ghosts.

    The series follows Ibram Gaunt, an Imperial commissar that has been assigned to the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. Interestingly, Commissar Gaunt also has an official military command to wield alongside his political powers. This allows Colonel-Commissar Gaunt to be the commanding officer of the Tanith 1st regiment of the Astra Militarum. Due to its catastrophic founding where the planet of Tanith and two other Tanith regiments were annihilated by the forces of Chaos, the Tanith 1st is largely known as the Tanith First and Only. Gaunt’s first commanding action of salvaging what he could of the situation by evacuating the 1st regiment lays the foundation for what could be a rocky relationship with the men under his command who harbor anger for being impotent during their planet’s destruction. What follows are some of the First and Only’s first actions where they begin to demonstrate how the regiment soon became known as “Gaunt’s Ghosts.” Being light infantry with an uncanny knack for finding their way and navigating through any terrain largely due to the quirks of their homeworld which included shifting forests, the Tanith First and Only excel at scouting and stealth operations and thus earn the Ghost nickname.
    The author Dan Abnett does a great job with the writing of this novel with the narrative containing several settings to show the aptitude of Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and how he differs from many other similar commanders by way of appreciation of the men under his command. Being light infantry, Gaunt and the First and Only frequently must use deception, guile, and wits to stay alive in many of the missions they undertake. What keeps the story interesting as well is a large story arc where the enemies of Gaunt and by association the First and Only are not just the forces of Chaos, but their own allies in the Imperium as well. Several secrets from the past are revealed while many more other secrets are kept in store for future installments. A few flashbacks are also interspersed throughout the main narrative and these do a pretty good job at fleshing out Ibram Gaunt’s character quite a bit. (Definitely necessary considering he is the protagonist of a so-far sixteen book series!) Lastly, there are just enough POV changes which allow the reader to see the story through some of the First and Only’s other members besides Gaunt. This creates opportunities for a couple of great scenarios, particularly with some of the discussion and dialogue between the men of Tanith with each other and with other Imperial forces they must by necessity work with.
    Overall Dan Abnett’s First and Only was a really fun entry into the Warhammer 40,000 universe and it is with good reason it was the first original title published under Warhammer’s book press Black Library. While there is still a ton of action, it was a fresh take with the light infantry of the Tanith First and Only with Commissar Gaunt at the helm. I definitely will be continuing on to the next title in the series, Ghostmaker.

    4.5 out of 5 stars.

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