Black Library Book Review: First and Only (1999)

First and Only is the first novel in Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts series. The books follow the path of the Tanith First and Only, commanded by Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. Inspired by Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’ novels we find an out-of-place commander leading a band of highly skilled renegades on a campaign of perilous but pivotal missions to ensure the success of the campaign.

First and Only throws us into the deep end of the Ghosts’ experience on the front line. On the forge World of Fortis Binary the First and Only are in the trenches finishing off a bloody war for control against the forces of chaos. Whilst pursuing the destruction of the foul enemies of the Imperium Gaunt and the Ghosts become embroiled in the politics of the Crusade. With enemies all around them the Tanith First must fight for their lives, to settle old grudges and for the survival of Imperial ambitions in the crusade.

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Dan Abnett paints a fantastic picture of life in the Imperial Guard. He rapidly gets you brought into the characters of the Tanith First and Only and has you rooting for this core of heroes from the Astra Militarum. Just beware that the brutality of war in the 41st Millennium hits hard, with soldiers you quickly become attached to dropping left and right. After all, the average lifespan of a guardsman is notably short.

There’s also page turning tension maintained through the book. Abnett provides readers with various villains, both real and imagined. There’s plots within plots as overarching intrigue, vendettas between and within regiments and the politics of the guard all interwoven on a backdrop of a war against chaos. It would be easy for a book like this to feel overly complex and hard to follow, but the quality of the writing wins through. Easy to follow and intriguing to read it will keep you coming back for more.

There’s a lot of choice in the Black Library, and it can feel a bit difficult knowing where to start. If you ask us, a well established and widely regarded series such as Gaunt’s Ghosts is a great choice. You’ve got characters you can stay invested in and watch grow, loads of books to work through and compelling overall narrative. It’s a brilliant place to start your journey into the tomes of the Black Library.

Cover art of First and Only depicting Ibram Gaunt brandishing his chain sword and firing his bolt pistol
Cover art for First and Only

We rate First and Only:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Let us know what you thought of the book down in the comments!

Want to pick yourself up a copy of First and Only?

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