Monday, October 10, 2011

Reading Dan Abnett's "Salvation Reach"

Book Thirteen in the Gaunt's Ghosts series marks an end and a beginning. It has the feel of a great Navy ship turning about in a high wind and reminds me of something Norman Mailer said in a television interview he gave after the publication of his novel, Ancient Evenings (Abacus 1997), when asked about its length: "it takes me a hundred pages to turn a barge." What Mailer really meant was that his story and plot were so detailed and rich that it took him time and description to move it along. Salvation's Reach (Games Workshop Ltd. 2011) is not overly long nor complicated; in fact, I wanted more, but the novel does feel like a turning, a shift in the force, as it were: people die and new characters arrive; several new plot lines emerge; and new themes surface. No matter the new elements and the obvious thrust forward, there is also a harkening back to previous stories and the appearance of characters from previous novels that complicate and enrich Gaunt's life. As characters surface from Gaunt's past, the man alone is no longer alone.

Several months ago, I reviewed Nathan Long's latest novel in the Gotrek and Felix series,  Zombieslayer (Games Workshop Ltd. 2010), and made the following observation about long series. I believe the same applies to Gaunt's Ghost and bears repeating.

Growing up on the Louisiana/Texas border in the fifties, I use to watch men, women, and children picking cotton. The process involved their snatching the bolls and placing them in long bags that they dragged behind throughout the day. Every since I have imagined certain tasks (pleasant or otherwise)as metaphorical cotton picking. Usually, these thoughts emerge when the task becomes so tiresome, heavy, and unmanageable that its existence hampers my ability to move. When following long fantasy series, I sometimes see the continual accretion of volumes as being like the bag: the author over decades creates so many characters, so many themes, and so many plot threads, that the work becomes turgid and dense. More often than not I cease following the series, never to return. Sometimes, however, a series continues to be fresh year after year. Two series that continue to delight me are Gaunt's Ghosts and Gotrek and Felix. Both are from Black Library. Dan Abnett writes Gaunt's Ghosts and Nathan Long pens Gotrek and Felix.

The point of this quote is that long series present their own set of problems. Abnett, in both Blood Pact (Games Workshop 2010) and Salvation's Reach, seems to be freshening his series and preparing for closure. After all, this arc is entitled "The Victory."

The novel begins with Rawne and the creation of a new sub-unit within the Tanith Regiment: The Suicide Kings. The Suicide Kings, chosen by Rawne, are vying for the responsibility of protecting the double-triple agent Mabbon Etogaur. Mabbon, once an Imperial Guard, who defected to the Blood Pact and then to the Sons of Sek, a chaos war band, similar to the Blood Pact and loyal to Magister Sek, has devised a plan  with Gaunt and Lord Militant Cybon to create an internecine struggle between the Blood Pact and the Sons of Sek. The plot of the novel might simply be described as Gaunt's planting the cheese in the trap. The trap is Salvation's Reach, a massive construct of space debris, where the Sons of Sek are based. Once again, Abnett has created a fabulous, wondrous battleground.

To set the trap, the Tanith is joined by new units and three Space Marines. Once they arrive at Salvation's Reach great mayhem ensues; however, most of the novel is set in space aboard an ancient ship of the line, refurbished and released from storage, the Highness Ser Armaduke.

Abnett said in a recent video-blog on Youtube that he would like to write an Imperial Navy novel. In his description of the Armaduke's voyage through the Warp and its subsequent battles, he has displayed his sea legs; nevertheless, the heart-rending battle within the narrow corridors of Salvation's Reach is where Abnett shines. Without giving anything away, get out your handkerchiefs because I dare you to finish the novel without a tear.

Salvation's Reach, although transitional, alludes to almost all of Abnett's 40Ks work and creates new themes and introduces new characters that freshen the franchise and open the field for more novels and greater adventures.

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