Over six years after Salvation’s Reach was published, Dan Abnett’s long-awaited fourteenth Gaunt’s Ghosts novel – The Warmaster – arrives with a heavy weight of expectation. Part three of The Victory, it picks up almost immediately after Salvation’s Reach as the surviving Ghosts attempt to return to the Crusade, aboard the battered Highness Ser Armaduke. They completed their mission, but the danger isn’t over – even when they limp to the hotly-contested forge world Urdesh the perils, and surprises, keep coming. Thankfully for us as readers, that translates into more of the great Gaunt’s Ghosts drama that we know and love.
Tonally, it’s not a million miles away from Salvation’s Reach. There’s less of a sense of desperation, more weariness, but a similar feel of getting back to (relative) normality after Balhaut, and likewise a sense of balance between the regiment and the retinue. Once again it’s a full-on ensemble piece with plenty of page time for a range of familiar names, even if the meat of the narrative focuses heavily on Gaunt himself. It’s slowly becoming clear that big things are coming for Gaunt and the Ghosts, both militarily and personally, with a couple of big plotlines in particular set to have a powerful impact…in the next book.
Yep – without spoiling anything, we’re left with some pretty big cliffhangers by the end of the book. Seriously important goings-on have happened, with typically powerful implications on Gaunt and key members of the Ghosts, but we’re left waiting for resolutions on them all. The hints are there in previous stories, and Abnett does a great job of spinning a coherent, highly entertaining story for The Warmaster while tying things in nicely with what’s gone before – not just the first two books in The Victory, but short stories from Sabbat Crusade too. There’s an ending here, of sorts, but it leaves us very much wanting the next, and final part of the arc.
This might not be what a lot of people expect after Salvation’s Reach, especially in terms of the vivid, unusual opening scenes, but rest assured it’s typically gripping, entertaining Abnett material. After such a long wait it’s almost a relief to read (and enjoy) this, and get to grips with a satisfying progression in the overall story which delivers action, clever plotting, great character development…the whole thing. It’s hard not feel a touch ungrateful and wish for the final chapter now, but while we wait (hopefully not long) this is a fantastic reminder of why it’s inevitably going to be worth the wait.