Following closely on from Blood Pact, Dan Abnett’s 2011 novel Salvation’s Reach is book thirteen in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, and part two of The Victory. After their two-year stint cooling their heels on Balhaut, the Tanith First and Only are shipping out for their next mission, a task considered so suicidally dangerous the details are only revealed en-route. Aboard the battered, ancient ship the Highness Ser Armaduke and guided by unproven insider intelligence, the Ghosts make for remote Chaos outpost Salvation’s Reach where even their specialist skills will be sorely tested if they hope to succeed…and survive.
After the compact, personal Blood Pact, here we see the scale rapidly widening again, back to a full ensemble piece. The whole regiment is in action, not to mention a raft of new faces who bring a fresh dynamic to the ranks, while a considerable amount of detail is spared for the regiment’s retinue – the non-combatants who follow the Ghosts from posting to posting. Some of these new characters, both within and without the regiment, are set to have big impacts in the stories to come. Blood Pact was fairly tame when it came to Abnett’s trademark of brutally culling his characters, and while events here are perhaps not as horrifying as you might expect given the mission, when the blows land they hit pretty hard.
It’s not just characters who demonstrate the increased scale here; the action ramps up, from fleet engagements to the bonkers insertion into the outpost, upping the spectacle appropriately and with entertaining variety. There’s drama aplenty, affecting both the Ghosts in action and the wider dynamic between the regiment and the retinue, as tensions mount and the stakes become increasingly clear to everyone involved. It’s a powerful reminder of just how well this series balances the war stories with the character drama, carefully weaving the two together in a complex balancing act of pacing and plotting.
Like Blood Pact, there’s no hiding the fact that this is one part of a much bigger story arc – in this case it’s almost like the scene setting and gradual ramping up of action and tension following on from the self-contained opening of an old Bond movie. Gaunt’s jaunt around Balhaut was the opening scene, and now the bigger picture is becoming a little clearer as characters and plot points are introduced that will pay off further down the line. As a result it’s a slightly different feel to the self-contained Gaunt stories from previous arcs, lacking that sense of closure after each story, but despite the anticipation of what’s to come next it’s plotted and structured so as to still work as a story in its own right. It’s typically powerful stuff, but there’s a sense that this is only the beginning…and things are going to get bigger, and worse, before the end.