From humble beginnings back in the 1990s, there are now eighteen books set within the Sabbat Worlds, a region of space originally invented by Dan Abnett to provide a suitable setting for a story about a Commissar who was also a Colonel, and the ragtag bunch of soldiers he commanded. Look how it’s grown! With anticipation as high as ever for Warmaster, the long-awaited next novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, Black Library are whetting our appetite with Sabbat Crusade, the second anthology of stories set within the wider crusade. Edited once again by Abnett and including stories from eight authors (Abnett included) along with previously out of print background on the crusade, it covers both sides of the story, not only the Ghosts and their Imperial allies but also the forces of the Archenemy at play in the region.
Cleverly, this is remarkably continuity-heavy, a number of the stories following on directly from Salvation’s Reach and hinting at what’s to come in Warmaster, while others are set at much the same time or follow on from previous stories. In conjunction with the consistently excellent standard of writing this ties the whole collection together and helps it feel like a single, coherent volume that not only fills a gap until Warmaster is released, but also sets the scene well for what’s to come. One thing that’s hammered home throughout is the sheer scale of the Sabbat Worlds and just how massive an undertaking the crusade is, not to mention how much work Abnett must have put in to build the setting up in so much detail. The last quarter of the book is taken up by reprints of two background books long unavailable which provide a historical perspective of the events comprising the first 20 years of the crusade, of which the actions of Gaunt and the Tanith are only a tiny contributing factor.
In his notes before one of the stories Abnett mentions that he sees anthologies as required reading, not optional, and certainly the majority of these stories feel vital and relevant, from his and Nik Vincent’s quiet, intimate stories of the Ghosts and their families to the bigger, louder stories of Iron Snakes and Volpone Bluebloods. In an anthology as good as this it’s hard to pick out highlights; that being said, Matthew Farrer’s novella The Inheritor King, which follows on from his story in the previous anthology, is a truly magnificent look at the Mechanicus as they step in behind the scenes of the crusade, while John French’s worryingly creepy look at things through the eyes of a Son of Sek adds a fascinating, if disturbing layer of detail to the forces opposing the crusade.
At time of writing, Sabbat Crusade is only available in limited-numbers First Edition format, beautifully presented in premium hardback with internal artwork, end-paper maps and Tanith-branded slipcase. Yes, it’s expensive. Eye-wateringly so. It’s also a genuinely gorgeous book to hold and read, and for the hardcore fan it’s completely worth the cost. For anyone else, wait until it’s out in normal hardback…it’s an absolute must-read.