Honour Guard by Dan Abnett – Review [EJ Davies]

honour-guard-07

EJ Davies, in his bid to continue his Black Library education, takes on the first in The Saint cycle of the Gaunt’s Ghosts saga, by the man, the legend, Dan Abnett.

“Something of a slightly functional story but with excellent character work turns this from an average to a great book.” ~ The Founding Fields.

The blurb from Black Library:

“Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and the Tanith First-and-Only are back in action on a shrine-world of the deepest tactical and spiritual importance. But the vile forces of Chaos will never allow them to hold their prize for long and, as the counter-attack rages, Gaunt is sent after the most priceless relic on the planet: the ancient remains of the saint who first led humanity to the Sabbat Worlds.”

So, the story is as it appears in the blurb, there’s very little for me to add to it. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward story with very little that happens beyond the expected challenges. In this respect it’s a fairly standard hero’s journey for the vast majority of characters. If you take from this that I didn’t enjoy it, you’d be wrong – but it wasn’t for the plot development. The story does, however, take place on Hagia – Saint Sabbat’s homeworld.

What sold the story for me was the characters. Gaunt – our hero – is hurried to victory taking back the Doctinopolis by the General Lugo. As a result, Gaunt loses and several of the ghosts (Including Corbec) are captured. Gaunt then, wracked by guilt and failure (his first) turns to alcohol and seclusion as a way to deal with the emotions he feels. The rest of the ghosts, embodied in Milo, then feel this and start to feel their own sense of loss and directionless. Commissar Hark – a newcomer to the series, and in essence the macguffin of the piece, providing the impetus for the coming story – is introduced as a means to judge the competency of Gaunt during one last mission-to escort the holy relics of Saint Sabbat from their Shrinehold to a waiting transport to take them off-planet.

In the meantime, regulars Corbec, Milo, Rawne, Larkin are all on display, but with a fresh take. Larkin has to deal with brand new ghost (Verghastite) Cuu and his impetuous and rather distasteful politics. Corbec, and Daur have to deal with not only their injuries, but also abandonment issues as they and Dorden, along with others struggle to catch up with Gaunt. Rawne’s colours later on in the piece (towards the end of act two) are surprising but not wholly unexpected; and supporting characters from the Hagia’s own people, including the learned (and not so learned) holy people.

As stated in the one-line review, the story in and of itself is fairly straightforward; but the character work really brings the piece to life. Without that, and without the steady hands of Mr. Abnett, I think this could have been a very mundane story indeed. However, his talents elevate this from mundanity to something that sets up the next few books in the series very well.

It’s a good read but there’s little more than that from me, I’m afraid. I’m still looking forward to the coming novels, and after this I feel I know more about the characters and their motivations.

EJ Davies

EJ Davies: reader, reviewer, writer; and an avid lover of Black LIbrary products since the release of the seminal Horus Rising. EJ is currently working through the massive back catalogue of Black Library titles, and plugging away at his own fiction-based efforts in the vain hope of cracking his way into the author pool.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=763842309 John C. Scott on Facebook

    The armour battle between the Pardus and Infardi was amazing!

    • EJ Davies

      Fair enough. I wasn’t overly fussed with it.

  • http://twitter.com/abhinavjain87 Abhinav Jain

    Ban Daur was never captured. That’d be Corbec and a random Ghost.As for Gaunt failing, the important subtext is not that he failed, but he was forced to take the city earlier than planned, the hasty plans backfired and more of the city was destroyed than it should have. And not just any city, but the primary city on the Saint’s own world! That’s the main psychological motivation for him turning to alcohol and which I really liked in the novel. Coming off Necropolis, Honour Guard is not as strong a novel admittedly, but it is certainly better than most,especially Ghostmaker and some of the Lost arc novels.

    • EJ Davies

      Point taken on Daur. I did mention that Hagia was Saint Sabbat’s homeworld, and Gaunt’s failure (from his own perspective) is what drove him to drink is also mentioned. If I remember correctly, it was actually the others (I think Rawne, or possibly Hark) that pointed out that Gaunt’s ‘failure’ was actually the action of Lugo effectively hanging out Gaunt to dry.

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