Guns of Tanith by Dan Abnett – Review [EJ Davies]

Guns of Tanith

EJ Davies, in his ever decreasing quest to complete the Black Library back catalogue, reaches the second novel in The Saint cycle of the Gaunt’s Ghosts saga: Guns of Tanith, following the exploits of the Ghosts as they seek to liberate the world of Phantine from the chaos worshipping Blood Pact.

A rip-roaring book filled with political intrigue, dogfights, and Abnett’s-own brand of visceral, nail biting, hard-edged action.” ~ The Founding Fields.

From Black Library:

“In the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, the heretical forces of Chaos are fighting back hard. Dangerously overstretched, their supply lines cut by degenerate enemy troops, the Imperial forces grind to a halt. Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and the Tanith First-and-Only must recapture Phantine, a world rich in promethium but so ruined by pollution that the only way to attack is via a dangerous – and untried – aerial assault. Pitted against deadly opposition and a lethal environment, how can Gaunt and his men possibly survive?”

I’ll admit I was a little underwhelmed by the last Ghosts book, Honour Guard.  Though there were some great ingredients in the mix, the resulting concoction just didn’t work for me.  Like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces go together to make the correct image, but the pieces just don’t seem to fit properly.  I liked it enough, but I was a little hesitant going in to Guns of Tanith.

I needn’t have been.  Form it’s visceral and dramatic opening where we not only see ancient trooper Larkin assaulted by relative newcomer and all-round nutjob Lijah Cuu.  From then we are catapulted into the assault on one of Phantine’s major cities – Cirenholm – by the combined forces of the Urdeshi 7th, under Colonel Zhyte, and Gaunt’s Ghosts – the Ghosts given the job of securing the secondary objective of the planet’s secondary vapour mill.  From here we learn of the Blood Pact, and their commanders – Sagittar Slaith – their brutal tactics, slavery, and devotion to their patron god.  All the favourites have returned – Corbec (sidelined throughout the novel after injuries sustained in the primary assault), Rawne (I say favourite…), Obel, Mkoll, Milo, Varl – taking more of a central role this time out, Viktor Hark – who has some great scenes with Gaunt, Ban Daur, Ana Curth – who gets more screen time, Feygor, Bragg, and more of the Verghestite recruits like Soric, Vadim, Kolea, Nessa, Banda, and Criid.  Lucky Bonin also gets a significant portion of the book’s attention, along with an interesting relationship with Phantine Air Cops Commander Jagdea.

I bloody loved Guns of Tanith.

The action is well paced, brilliantly descriptive, and visceral throughout.  Dan excels at this kind of action, packing thrills and spills in amongst the gritty urban warfare of the 41st Millennium.  We focus on key characters, seeing the battle through their eyes, and the various outcomes, feigns, and deceptions.  The initial assault on Cirenholm sees Zhyte hit with a major dose of the hubris-pox and Gaunt stepping in to pull him and his unit out of the brown and smelly; thereby securing Gaunt’s tactical acumen.  Not only that but we see the wider consequences, and the wider actions taken during the battle to see that victory is secured.  From the aerial acrobatics of the Phantine XX Fighter Corps (seen again in Double Eagle) to the later assault on the capital Ouranberg – itself a mind-blowing closing act played out through the eyes of four operations teams sent into the warzone.

Against, and interwoven, is the background action of the Ghosts in various stages of preparation, debriefing, and resupply throughout the war.  Throughout the piece a Tanith Ghost is accused of murder of a civilian, and we also see the court martial of the said Ghost played out with political, and legal ramifications of this decision; combined with evidence that points to another perpetrator – a Verghestite Ghost who Gaunt is willing to throw to the wolves.  Added to this we have Hark setting against Gaunt as competing political officers – Gaunt’s responsibility split between that and command, Hark desperately wanting to take it of him to allow Gaunt to focus on command – and the building resentment between the Tanith First, and the Verghestite recruits who believe they are being treated as second class troopers.  Balancing the good of the regiment against his own principles is a fine line for Gaunt, and I genuinely felt some dismay for him as he struggles to walk the line between what is right and what is best.

There are some truly excellent scenes in Guns of Tanith: the first assault on Cirenholm, the heart-to-hearts between Kolea and Curth, both times Gaunt goes up against Hark, Daur standing up to Gaunt, and the entire section dealing with the drop into Ouranberg.

This, to me, is Dan at his best.  Gritty, grimy, bloody action punctuated by character work that makes it feel like you’re in the room with the characters, feeling their pain, and witnessing their emotions first hand.  This is the closest I’ve felt the Gaunt’s Ghosts series has come to showing the Dan Abnett I came to know through the Horus Heresy saga.

A firm excellent read with some great features.

Guns of Tanith is available as part of The Saint omnibus available from book stores; or download from Black Library, or even as the single eBook if you’re so inclined.

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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.