Sabbat Martyr by Dan Abnett – Review [EJ Davies]
“After the events of Straight Silver, The Saint cycle comes to a close with Sabbat Martyr and the arrival of the Ghosts, and the Blood Pact to the world of Heredor. EJ Davies, in his pursuit to complete the Ghosts saga before the year closes, gives his view.”
“Action, bloodshed, drama, character. Outstanding Abnett reading.” ~ The Founding Fields.
From Black Library:
“With the future of the Sabbat Worlds campaign balanced on a knife edge, new hope arises in the form of Saint Sabbat herself, reincarnated to lead the Imperium to victory against the dark forces of Chaos. The living saint calls for Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and the Tanith First to be her guardians. Doubting that she is who she claims, Gaunt must discover the truth while fending off enemy troops and lethal assassins. But treachery within the Ghosts will not only threaten the mission, but will rip the Tanith asunder.”
From the trenches of Aexe Cardnial, the Ghosts are wrenched mid-theatre to the streets and hives of Heredor at the behest of a nameless matriarch. As with this Ghosts cycle there has been much bloodshed, a great deal of battle, and a large number of casualties – yet there are those who’ve come through and get some time under the gaze of the readers.
What we get with Sabbat Martyr feels very much like a ‘greatest hits’ album from a band that have been around for a decade or so. We get some wonderful set pieces and references back to the previous engagements (Vervunhive, Hagia, Aexe Cardinal, Phantine) in tone and theme, as well as with physical items within the story. Whilst simultaneously referencing these passed events, we also get a fresh and inspiring story that continues the development of the Ghosts as a regiment, and deepens the admiration I have for the characters.
Dan Abnett’s writing again is on full display, and some of the Abnett touchstones get an airing here – a repeated scene that on its second outing gives us a fresh prespective, witty and sharp dialogue the likes of which remind me of some of the early Aaron Sorkin penned West Wing episodes, desperate and dark evil, and Abnett-ised terminology for existing constructs in the real world, spun into 40K giving us atmosphere, pacing, and theme.
There are some great individual scenes within the overarching story. In particular the arrival of the Ghosts told through the eyes of Biagi, the patter of Leger in his forgetful ancient-professorial capacity, a potential relationship between Gaunt and Curth, the reaction of the Ghosts to being under the command of General Lugo again, Sabbatine and the tank. The first appearance of the reincarnated Saint is particularly beatific. However, it’s not the individual scenes that make a novel, it’s the rest.
We have a large cast of characters, and with that the temptation is to give each of them screen time. Where Dan Abnett excels is to concentrate only on those characters necessary to drive the story and the drama, yet name-checking other Ghosts to keep the feeling of reality, in the same way that individual streets are named within a named hive, but the sub-districts (besides the Glassworks) are not. It adds weight, it adds flavour, and it gives the reader a sense of context. The main story threads of Gaunt, Soric, Kolea, the Saint, and Milo are the most important, in my view, to the story and keep it moving forward and major characters from previous outings get a little less time, though there was an interesting development with Rawne that you should keep an eye open for, and the Lijah Cuu storyline finally gets some resolution.
But more than this, is the menace. From the prologue we are under no illusion that the Blood Pact are not a bunch of crazed, merciless, Blood-God worshipping psychopaths. They are given form, they are given function, and they are given a past, present and future. At around about the mid section of the book, there is a ‘naval’ battle scene that is truly majestic and orchestrated in the manner of an (albeit) slow moving ballet; the fall out of this casts a long shadow over the last act, and watching the action unfurl through the eyes of ‘the nine’ is inspired writing.
That’s not to say the book is perfect, but my criticisms of it are few. In fact, there are only two. The first is that when I mentioned it felt like the Ghosts Greatest Hits, it also felt like it in a negative way as well, some of the story tropes referenced from previous tales were like a warm blanket – others were like a momentary cold drizzle on a sunny day, mildly irksome. The second negative was that some of the characters who don’t make it, their fates are telegraphed a little – in the way the guy with the red shirt in Star Trek tends to die, or the nice chap in the WW2 movie starts talking about what he’ll do when he gets home after the war (incidentally, Punt & Dennis referred to this as the game Spot the Stiff.)
All in all this was an great read with some excellent features. Highly entertaining, genuinely funny, heart-warming and shocking in equal measure.
Sabbat Martyr is available as part of The Saint omnibus in print from bookstores, or as an eBook download from Black Library where, incidentally, Sabbat Martyr is available as a separate download.