The Liberation Crusade continues its push into the Sabbat Worlds, pushing the forces of Chaos back on every front. The Tanith First-and-Only are deployed to Monthax, a jungle world which reminds the Tanith forces of their lost homeworld. As the battles there degenerate into a long, drawn-out stalemate the troopers known as Gaunt's Ghosts find themselves recalling the battles of the past even as a mysterious presence in the deep jungles decides to use the human forces for their own ends...
Ghostmaker, the second novel in the Gaunt's Ghosts series, is an interesting book with a slightly odd structure. The first two-thirds or so of the book consist of short stories flashing back to key moments in the histories of individual soldiers within the Tanith First and also the unit as a whole, from Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt downwards in the rank structure. These short stories are varied in nature and tone, but are all pretty good in quality, mixing humour, tragedy and action with some interesting character-development. Several key Ghost characters were developed in the first book but here Abnett is able to portray several more in detail, explaining some interesting backstory moments which illuminate their action in this and the subsequent book. Abnett also makes greater use of the greater Warhammer 40,000 universe (again, no foreknowledge of the setting is required to enjoy this novel), throwing in some appearances by the orks and eldar to spice things up a bit.
The final third is a more traditional war story as the Tanith First engages the forces of Chaos in earnest on Monthax. It's a solid story with some good writing, but the book's odd structure does mean Abnett struggles a little here and there. In particular, he chooses to have the Imperial Guard join forces with an alien battle group to fend off a greater foe, a trope which various Warhammer 40,000 fiction writers tend to use when needed (rather a lot in the Dawn of War computer games) despite the fact that consorting with any aliens in the WH40K universe is pretty much considered a heresy under any circumstances in the game material. Abnett tries to justify it with the use of a new Inquisitor character trained for this very circumstance, but it's a little bit thin as a piece of story rationale.
Whilst not as strong as First and Only or its much more engrossing successor, the thunderous Necropolis (which is basically the Battle of Stalingrad of WH40K engagements), Ghostmaker (***½) shows ambition with the author trying something new rather than just another adventure for Gaunt and the boys, and for the most part pulls it off. The novel is out of print as a solo title, but is available as part of the first Gaunt's Ghosts omnibus, The Founding, in the UK and USA.