Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quaternity in the Works of Dan Abnett

He is bounden to beleue in ye trinite. And ye felowe beleueth in a quaternitie: Sir Thomas More

Dan Abnett's "Blood Pact" is the twelfth novel in his Gaunt's Ghost series and, in my mind, his most intimate investigation into the psyche of Gaunt. For the nervous, superstitious, conspiratorial among you, let's add another "Double Eagle," to make the series contain thirteen.

So there are thirteen novels in the series to date. However, Mr. Abnett tends to write quaternities with a single over-arching arc, so that brings us to two completed quaternities, a trilogy, and two extras--"Blood Pact," and "Double Eagle." Of these two, one is hors série--"Double Eagle"--and the other, "Blood Pact" is the beginning of a new quarternity.

The last quaternity began with the novel,"Traitor General" and ended with "Only in Death." In "Traitor General" an Imperial General, who is condemned to death, is captured (rescued)by the Chaos equivalent of the Imperial Guard--the Blood Pact--and taken to the planet Gereon. Gaunt and a select team travel to Gereon to assassinate the general.

Gereon is one of Abnett's greatest creations. It is here that Abnett begins to show what happens to a planet that is conquered by Chaos. Of course, we have seen the images of conquered planets before through the battles but we have not seen the day-to-day existence of those who live under the rule of Chaos before nor have we seen the chain of command of Chaos or its administrative echelons to the degree that we now do.

In "Traitor General,' Abnett begins a descent into detail and world-building that he carries through to the last book in the quaternity--"Only in Death." The third quaternity now called the "The Lost," contains some of the best writing that Abnett has done. Not only does he envision several remarkable worlds but he creates languages and cultures in way that would make Ursula K. LeGuin smile. He also begins to transform Gaunt.

To be true to the Aristotelian verities Gaunt must grow and change. In that Abnett has an almost limitless space in which to develop his story arc, the changes are slow. At book eleven, we reach the tale-tell sign of conversion--blindness. Book eleven is the pivot; the book of changes. The story must change and in "Blood Pact" it does.

"Blood Pact" is a different type of book than the others. Of course, it contains all the usual suspects; however, it is smaller in scope. This novel begins two years after the horrendous battles on Jago. The Ghosts are on Balhaut, an important location for Gaunt. This is where it all began, where things went bad for Gaunt. In fact, the people of Balhaut celebrate the bravery of the "dead" hero Gaunt. So, in effect, Gaunt is a ghost of sorts. Abnett is telling us that before "Blood Pact" Gaunt was a ghost, lost in the campaigns and blind to his greater role. Now, in this new quaternity, things are changing; Gaunt can see again; and, as is usually the case, in this most literary of tropes, Gaunt can see what other men cannot. He has a second sight. He sees the future and he sees into others.

The plot of "Blood Pact," revolves around a "pheguth," a traitor, just as "Traitor General" revolved around a "pheguth." This time, however, the "pheguth" is a member of the Blood Pact, and unlike Sturm, the traitor general, Mabbon is a good man or at least that is what we are told.

A Blood Pact unit, along with a warp witch, is sent to Balhaut, like Gaunt was sent to Gereon, to assassinate the pheguth. So the plot focuses on a battle between a small specialized force of Chaos assassins and Gaunt. Because the battle field is small and intimate, the novel feels different; and it is different in some fundamental ways. It does not have the sweeping battles of "The Lost Quaternity;" however, it does set the ground for the next arc and it continues to enflesh the series with new themes and revealed characteristics of the major characters. It also foreshadows the death of several characters and points to a Gaunt reborn with an enhanced reputation among his commanders.

The series has always been dialectical: good versus evil; light verses dark; twins--Rawne verses Gaunt; Blood Pact versus Ghosts--and Chaos versus Order. However, Abnett is the most material of the Black Library writers; he does not go easily into the horrible wastes of the warp. However, with Blood Pact he seems to be saying--all right--there is something supernatural out there and now I see it. With Maggs and his visions of the old dam and Gaunt's pre-conscious sight, Abnett is leaving his material universe and stepping over into the world of Chaos. Is he tainted or is he able to mediate between the forces of good and evil? And, of course, there is always that ultimate question: what is the good?

So, in conclusion, "Blood Pact," is an intimate transitional novel, focusing on Gaunt, his past, and his present. It also further develops the character and humanity of the forces of Chaos and through this enfleshment ennobles them to an extent not seen before in Abnett's work. This ennoblement then deepens the themes and enriches the texts that have preceded the novel. For instance, when we read "Double Eagle," and we read of the dog fights between the Blood Pact pilots and the Imperial pilots, we can now imagine them as corrupt but human, both brave and ruthless.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review, I'm following you now as a result :)

    The only thing I'd add is that this novel also bridges the Ghost characters with the 'behind the lines' Imperium of Dan's Inquisition books, taking the best of both worlds but more importantly grounding the Ghosts within the society they defend.