Thursday, 20 August 2009
‘Blood Pact’ – Dan Abnett (Black Library)
If Dan Abnett held a military rank in the Warhammer 40,000 he would be the ‘Warmaster’. At least, that’s what I’ve heard... Here is a guy who is lauded for his ability to tell his readers exactly how it is for the poor grunts who find themselves in the middle of any number of warzones across the Imperium; I’ve been told that Abnett is the jewel in the Black Library crown because of his writing, especially his ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ novels. Although I have read ‘Horus Rising’, more of a character study rather than military sci-fi, fairly recently it’s been years since I picked up a ‘Gaunt’ novel (and I only ever read the one). ‘Blood Pact’ (due for release in November according to Amazon) seemed like as good a place as any to jump on and see what’s what...
Commissar Gaunt, and the ‘Tanith First and Only’, have been pulled back from the frontline of the Sabbat Crusade and are awaiting re-deployment; maybe even for the regiment itself to be broken up and reassigned. All this uncertainty is about to change though and in the most explosive manner. A highly important prisoner of war has declared that he will only speak to Gaunt and the information this man holds could change the course of the whole war in the Sabbat sector. A raid on Section Headquarters sees Gaunt on the run with his prisoner, pursued by any number of people who want them both dead. When the next person you meet could be the man who shoots you in the head, who do you trust?
‘Blood Pact’ is one of those books where I finish reading and my first thought is, “why haven’t I read all the others?” This thought is closely followed by, “I really need to get my hands on the rest of the series.” I’ve been having trouble getting into books recently but this was one that I picked up and finished in pretty much one go. Abnett is the Warmaster as far as I’m concerned!
‘Blood Pact’ is only three hundred and fifteen pages long but Abnett makes every single one of those pages work for it’s living with what he crams into them. For a book where there is constantly something going on, Abnett does very well to maintain both the pace and tension throughout by sending the plot down alleys where you wouldn’t expect it to go. Everything happens for a reason though, never just for the sake of it, and this is what keeps things humming along for pages of ‘street to street’ combat with spectacles (demonic and otherwise) that leap off the page and grab you by the throat! Despite the unpredictable nature of the plot, everything fits together perfectly at the end (apart from one conclusion that looked ‘grasped at’ as opposed to ‘arrived’...) and makes sense.
Throughout ‘Blood Pact’, Abnett paints a compelling picture both of a world not so far away from the front line and the military machine that runs it. Balhaut is a world where the Imperial dead are interred and commemorated; with this in mind Abnett paints it in sombre colours and builds up an industry around this purpose that is strangely apt and also hints strongly at the nature of Imperial Space in the fortieth millennium.
Both the bureaucracy and military procedures of the Imperial Guard are covered in such a way that the reader is well informed but never inundated with information. Abnett adapts a slow and steady approach that infuses the text with what he wants you to know and I picked up a lot without even realising it. To be fair though, this is the latest book in a long series and it may well be that Abnett is making assumptions about what his readers already know... With hindsight, I would probably read the other books first but only to get the full picture of the whole series; as far as I’m concerned, ‘Blood Pact’ is a book that anyone with knowledge of the Warhammer 40,000 universe can dive into.
Not only does Abnett portray the Imperial Guard structure beautifully but he also does the same job for those that serve within the regiments. ‘Blood Pact’ is also a book about the strain placed on soldiers not on active duty and Abnett shows his readers just exactly what can happen as a result of reckless boredom. Some of it is just plain mischief, but other events have a harder edge to them that make for a gripping few pages...
The men and women of the ‘Tanith First and Only’ are Guardsmen before anything else and this attitude is reflected in all of Abnett’s writing. Whether it is soldiers who are under fire or simply standing guard on a cold night, Abnett leaves his readers in no doubt as to just what it all means at the end of the day.
Apart from that one very small niggle; ‘Blood Pact’ was bang on the money as far as I was concerned. I’m going to be catching up with this series as soon as I get the chance...
Nine and a Half out of Ten