Following the disastrous events on the fortress world of Jago, where the Imperial troops are nearly defeated by Chaos, the Tanith First are pulled back from the front line for rest and recuperation.
After two years’ garrison duty on Balhaut, however, lack of action is sending the Ghosts stir crazy. Against a backdrop of increasing bad behaviour and insubordination, Gaunt is secretly summoned by Guard Intelligence. They have captured a high-level Chaos officer, but their interrogation is getting nowhere; the man is refusing to speak to anyone except Gaunt.
The information the prisoner holds is crucial to Imperial war effort, but will he survive to ever tell it? As a crack force of Chaos insurgents closes in for the kill, Gaunt finds himself trapped in deadly game of intrigue and murder, where no one can be trusted, and the fate of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade hangs in the balance.
Blood Pact is the new entry in the hugely popular Gaunt’s Ghosts series set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Being the 12th entry in the series it’s usually quite wise to be familiar with the characters as jumping in at this stage more often than not causes confusion, head scratching and the general feeling of being lost. Not being one for tradition this is pretty much exactly what I did. I’m not a complete newbie to the Gaunt’s Ghosts books – I read the first, First and Only, at the end of 2008 – and reading Blood Pact left me with only one feeling: why haven’t I read more of them?
First, I have to say that despite being part of such a long running series Blood Pact stood up on its own very well. Yes, there were references to what has happened in the past, but Dan Abnett has managed to tell a focused stand-alone story here that was easy to follow and extremely enjoyable. He hasn’t sold over a million books world wide for nothing!
Blood Pact starts off really well with some of the Tanith First, bored with the excessive time they have spent away from the front line, embarking on a rather dubious side venture. This does the best thing possible – it introduces the characters and shows that it’s not all about war. As we are introduced to Gaunt and his senior officers it quickly becomes clear that they are awaiting new deployment orders and are anxious to get back into the action. Being set on Balhaut, a safe world that isn’t too far from the front line, we get to see a city home to the average person and see just how an Imperial World works. Balhaut is also the place where the dead are commemorated and its industry revolves around both this and catering to the Imperial forces stationed there.
For me, this was a first among the Warhammer books I’ve read that has the focus on such a world. They are usually set on the front line or in the middle of a war with the forces of chaos and the tale they tell is one focused on the situation at hand. With Blood Pact it became a different type of story – still very much a Warhammer tale, but this time one that takes a step back from the typical military action associated with them. I liked it. I liked it a lot. What I particularly liked was the way that Dan Abnett managed to convey the characters to me very quickly and allowed me to become very at ease with them- I found that the story flowed even better because of it.
The story itself is quite interesting in that an enemy incursion has made it this far into Imperial Space and has managed to track down their target. While the initial stages of the novel set up the characters nicely, once the focus shifts to the story everything is cranked up a gear and Abnett’s storytelling prowess comes into full force. Blood Pact is not a long novel, coming in at just over 300 pages, but it delivers action, intrigue and some very interesting political and social points. As the Ghosts are separated we get different viewpoints throughout the novel, from Gaunt’s first hand experience with the prisoner and enemy, to the behind-the-scenes developments back at base, and the aftermath of Rawne and his groups early venture into hustling, it all fits together nicely and compliments the story as a whole.
My final thoughts on Blood Pact lead me to one conclusion – I really need to read the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. Not only that, but Dan Abnett is a writer who has a flair for characterisation and action, a trait that should be both applauded and envied. Great stuff!