- 1 Cover Description
- 2 Summary
- 3 Synopsis
- 4 Notable Characters
- 5 Trivia
- 6 See also
- 7 Sources
On Monthax, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt and his Tanith First-and-Only await the order to advance into the sweltering jungle and drive the alien eldar from the world. As battle approaches, Gaunt walks the lines, raising his men's spirits and remembering their most heroic deeds — and the tragedies that have dogged Gaunt's Ghosts from the day of their founding on lost Tanith. The day that Gaunt became known as the Ghostmaker.
On the world of Monthax, the Tanith First and Only find themselves fighting against not only Chaos cultists, but also the environment and even their very perceptions. Interspersed throughout this narrative are multiple tales of their previous campaigns, from the unit's very inception, highlighting both individual members of the regiment and the ways in which it has changed over the intervening time.
Ibram Gaunt, newly-promoted to Colonel-Commissar by Warmaster Slaydo himself, arrives on the world of Tanith, to take command of the first Imperial Guard regiments ever raised from that world; the Tanith 1st, 2nd and 3rd. While the members of the regiment aren't due to ship out until the day after, he orders that they begin packing up and shuttling up to their transport vessel immediately, as he doesn't intend to waste any time. Privately he resents being away from the battlefront to shepherd a group of — as they seem to him at the time — inexperienced, poorly-trained bumpkins. Even more he resents the long evening of Founding ceremonies laid on by the Tanith aristocracy.
The Founding Ceremony that Gaunt is obligated to attend that evening is soon terminally broken up by the horrific news that a Chaos fleet has been detected translating in-system, perilously close to Tanith, clearly intent on sacking it. With no possibility of reinforcement before the world is destroyed, and no hope of victory against such odds, Gaunt takes the hard decision to order the evacuation of as much Imperial resources off the planet as possible, effective immediately. Arriving in the launch bay of the last shuttle at the same time as Chaos troops, Gaunt witnesses the death of his adjutant, Sym, and then stares his own in the face, until the Chaos intruders are momentarily driven off by the actions of a civilian teenager, Brin Milo. The pair run for the shuttle, which closes its door as soon as Gaunt gets on board and prepares to take off. Gaunt forces the crew to open the door again, and Milo scrambles aboard. Moments later, the shuttle launches, the passengers the last to leave Tanith.
Afterwards, Gaunt is confronted aboard the regiment's transport vessel by a deputation from the men, there being no senior officers left alive and in fact the majority of the regiment variously slain or left behind. These troopers, Corbec and Rawne, protest strongly about Gaunt's decision to abandon their world to die, but are grudgingly swayed by both the reality of the situation and the fact that they can still die for Tanith... just not on Tanith. Seeing as they were the picked representatives of the men, Gaunt promotes them on the spot to Colonel and Major respectively, and gives them authority to set up the NCOs and initial organisation of the regiment. As for the lone civilian with the regiment, Brin Milo, Gaunt decides to take him on as his replacement Adjutant.
The regiment soon receive their first taste of war, when Gaunt leads a portion of them into action on the world of Blackshard, and is awestruck by their natural skills at stealth and infiltration. In the resultant combat, Major Rawne draws his sidearm on Gaunt, but the Colonel-Commissar knocks him out and brings him back to Imperial lines, resolved to overlook the incident in case his executing the regiment's executive officer makes the rest of the troopers revolt.
On the world of Voltemand, the Ghosts are deployed on the orders of the theatre commander, Colonel Sturm of the Royal Volpone, who needs a team of stealth specialists to crack the nut of the Chaos-held headquarters. They attack from two directions, the bulk of the unit hitting the main ingress point and a secondary, scouting force under Sergeant Cluggan hitting a less-promising spot. The main attack goes poorly, being beaten back, but the secondary force succeeds in secretly planting explosive charges which undermine the walls and open the city to Imperial assault. Their part done, the Tanith 1st pull back as per Sturm's orders. On the return to friendly lines, they are targeted and fired upon by friendly artillery units; the Earthshakers of the Ketzok 17th. While the bulk of the regiment survives the friendly fire incident, Sergeant Cluggan and over 200 Ghosts perish. Upon gaining the Imperial gunline, Gaunt locates and punches out the commander of the Ketzok, Colonel Ortiz.
Gaunt is then brought before Sturm (who was responsible for ordering the Ketzok to open fire). Sturm congratulates Gaunt and the Ghosts on their success, while Gaunt shoots back that Sturm deliberately ordered the Ghosts fired upon. Sturm deflects this with an offhand remark about the inevitable confusion of combat, and "regretfully" announces that Gaunt must be court-martialed for striking another officer. Sturm is cut short when Ortiz drives his Basilisk into the courtyard of the general's headquarters and reports that he was injured by accident, not by Gaunt. Without evidence, Sturm's threatened court-martial cannot proceed. With the Basilisk's Earthshaker pointed casually at his office at point-blank range, Gaunt warns Sturm how the confusion of combat can easily cover up deliberate murder as well as accident, and the Colonel should not think himself safe because of his rank. Gaunt is unable to do more without concrete proof.
The commanders of the Tanith and Royal Volpone — and their men — part on unfriendly terms.
Sound and Fury
On the world of Ramillies, recently taken from traitor forces — including Chaos Space Marines — by forces of the Adeptus Astartes, the Ghosts are assigned to search and destroy missions, rooting out the remnants of the enemy. This task proves rather uneventful for most in the regiment, except for a small scout detail led by Sergeant Mkoll, who end up tangling with an abandoned and wounded Chaos Dreadnought. Utterly outclassed by the beast, Mkoll ends up slaying it by clever use of his own equipment and the hostile environment... although he orders news of the feat kept secret.
The Hollows of Hell
The combat drop on Caligula goes badly wrong: Gaunt, Rawne and their squads are separated from the main body of the regiment. While they endeavour to link back up with other Imperial forces, the Tanith 1st are commanded, for the first time, by just Colonel Corbec. As well as dealing with the responsibilities of leadership alone, Corbec finds himself confronted with a major hazard — an entrenched daemon. The first-time solo commander comes up with an ingenious idea to solve the problem... using up a favour he was owed in order to call in an orbital strike.
The Angel of Bucephalon
Always highly-strung, the Ghost's premier sniper, Hlaine Larkin, finds himself suffering a severe combined panic attack and hallucinatory episode when separated from the regiment. After some difficulty, he manages to overcome the attack and take the kill-shot on the enemy leader, Nokad the Smiling, thus breaking up the Chaos forces. Afterwards, Larkin is left questioning just how much of his hallucination was real.
That Hideous Strength
Placed in charge of providing security for cargo transports in the aftermath of the conquering of Caligula, the Ghosts find that one convoy route is particularly troublesome, with no convoy making it through at all. When this route comes up again, Gaunt stuns everyone in the regiment by placing the lowly — and to some, stupid — Trooper Bragg in command. Inevitably, the convoy is hit, this time by the full force of the bandits. While Bragg's unit makes a good show of itself, the loss of the convoy looks inevitable... until a Navy wing of Marauder Bombers arrives and annihilates the raiders. Bragg cheerfully reveals that he knew the convoy was to be saved by an air-strike the entire time, and that his being placed in command was a deliberate attempt to give the raiders a target they couldn't refuse... because once their man on the inside heard that the 'stupid and disposable' Bragg was in charge, he'd be all over it. This inside man, confronted by the revelation, pulls a weapon on Bragg, but before he can fire, gets hit full in the face with a blow from the massive Trooper's fist, killing him instantly.
On the frozen moon Typhon Eight, Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and Major Rawne find themselves cut off from the bulk of the regiment and chased by Orks. Rawne takes the opportunity to get his resentful feelings towards his commanding officer off his chest, but refuses to take a clear opportunity to let him die, saving his life instead. To the twisted Major Rawne, this marks a form of repayment for Gaunt's earlier decision against executing him. Assured of his personal loyalty to the Emperor and now understanding his Major's personal honour-code, Gaunt resolves to keep him around.
Ordered to fall back from a failed advance on the world of Nacedon, Chief Medical Officer of the Tanith 1st Tolin Dorden refuses to abandon his field-hospital, despite it being filled with injured soldiers from the Royal Volpone. Unable to convince him to leave with the regiment, Gaunt despairingly asks for volunteers to stay behind and provide security. This volunteer squad — containing, amongst others, Colonel Corbec, Sgt. Mkoll and Troopers Caffran and Brostin — is heavily tested when the field-hospital comes under sustained enemy assault. But with their convictions and battle-skills (as well as the aid of some of the less seriously-wounded Volpone) the hospital is held until Gaunt can arrive with a reinforcement unit, having convinced his commanders that a counter-attack would succeed.
A Simple Plan
An attack on a vital Manufactorum serving as the enemy headquarters on Sapiencia goes badly wrong; several drop ships are held up by the enemy defenses and disgorge their infantry into the sea rather than on land. Trooper Caffran and a small handful of Ghosts swim to shore and assault the enemy fortress. When their leading Sergeant is vaporized by friendly-fire artillery, leadership of the ad hoc unit falls to Caffran, who leads them deeper into the stronghold without any plan of what to do. When they are pursued by enemy soldiers, Caffran uses tube charges to collapse the manufactorum tower they are escaping from.
Arriving at a central courtyard, the Ghosts see a bizarre sight: the Chaos soldiers are calmly committing mass suicide. Caffran realizes that, by toppling the tower, he inadvertently fooled the Chaos commander, Sholen Skara, into thinking a much larger force was inside his fortress. Skara's followers call themselves the Kith, and, being followers of Khorne, they are offering up their lives now that they think themselves defeated. With a small laugh, Caffran realizes his job is done and all they have to do is wait.
Skara is captured alive. Gaunt was looking forward to executing him himself, since Skara ran murder-camps on Balhaut and was one of the few Chaos leaders to escape the Imperial victory on that world. But in recognition of his deeds, Gaunt grants the honour to Caffran. Caffran declines, saying the worst punishment they can inflict on Skara is letting him live. Realizing he is not to be killed, Skara screams and begs as he is taken away, and the sound is music to the Ghosts' ears.
En route to Monthax, the Ghosts are sharing a troop ship with the Royal Volpone, among other regiments. None of the Ghosts have forgotten Colonel Sturm's treacherous actions on Voltemand, while the Volpone are still smarting over Gaunt's humiliation of their colonel. When Sgt. Varl and Trooper Milo fleece several Volpone officers with a game of chance, Sturm and his aide, Major Gilbear, suggest to Inquisitor Lilith Abfequarn that Milo is an undiscovered psyker. Lilith — who is nothing if not thorough — knows all about the Volpone's feud with the Ghosts, but nor can she ignore any such rumour, especially when her investigations show that Milo has a reputation for prescience that borders on inhuman among the Ghosts. Gaunt, when questioned, puts it down to Milo's intelligence and long term of service as his adjutant, but Lilith is not convinced.
The Inquisitor interrogates Milo, who answers all her questions candidly. When she demands to know how he won the game of chance, Milo plays the game with her and reveals that it is a con trick, not psykery. Furious at the waste of her time — and more than a little chagrined at having been conned as neatly as the Volpone — she releases Milo but offers Gaunt some biting advice to reconsider employing such a skilled cheat as his adjutant.
Some Dark and Secret Purpose
The story returns to the present as the Ghosts prepare for a major offensive on Monthax. The Chaos forces on the planet are driving hard through the jungle, in a direction askew from the Imperial lines, which leads some of the Imperial commanders to wonder if they have some other objective in mind.
Though the Imperial forces catch the Chaos forces on the flank, they are still outnumbered and take heavy casualties. But both sides are confounded by a ferocious electrical storm that comes out of nowhere and inundates the land, throwing both forces into disarray. Even stranger, many of the Ghosts begin hallucinating that they are back on Tanith, seeing, hearing, and smelling lush nalwood forests instead of jungle. Soon, the men believe they are fighting the Chaos invasion of their homeworld.
Unknown to the Imperial forces, a small band of Dolthe Eldar are on Monthax, working quickly to seal the Webway gate on that planet, while the Chaos forces are driving forward to seize control of the gate for their own ends. Their warlock, Eon Kull, has summoned the warp storm to confound and delay the enemy, but at the cost of depleting his own powers, so that he can no longer close the gate. Instead, he lures an element of the Ghosts to the temple, tricking them into thinking it is the Governor's Palace on Tanith, which they defend from the Chaos forces alongside Kull's bodyguard. Likewise, the Volpone, in a reluctant partnership with the Ghosts, see visions of Ignix Majeure, where they lost after a desperate battle.
Inquisitor Lilith, investigating the source of the psychic disturbance, is drawn to the temple, reaching it with Gaunt and Major Gilbear alongside her. But Lord Kull has just died, and the Eldar can no longer close the gate. But Lilith, who has been obsessed with the Eldar her entire life, and is a powerful psyker herself, steps forward with Gaunt's encouragement. As the gate is closed, the Eldar depart Monthax, accompanied by Lilith.
Under the influence of the Eldar illusion, the Ghosts and the Volpone fought their way through a hundred thousand Chaos soldiers to reach the temple – a feat so impossible that Imperial Tacticians will eventually decide that it was impossible, and therefore never happened.
Afterwards, Milo confides to Gaunt that even though the Eldar tricked them, it felt good to fight for Tanith, an opportunity they never had before; Milo feels it has exorcised many of the regiment's ghosts, even Rawne's. Gaunt, for his part, has never been prouder of them.
- Ibram Gaunt — Colonel-Commissar; combat leader of 1st platoon.
- Colm Corbec — Colonel; combat leader of 2nd platoon.
- Rawne — Major; combat leader of 3rd platoon.
- Tolin Dorden — Chief Medical Officer.
- Mkoll — Scout-Sergeant, 9th platoon.
- Varl — platoon Sergeant.
- Meryn — Corporal.
- Larkin — Sniper, 3rd platoon.
- Merrt — Sniper, 2nd platoon.
- Feygor — Trooper, 3rd platoon; Adjutant to Major Rawne.
- 'Try Again' Bragg — Trooper.
- Caffran — Trooper, 3rd platoon.
- Domor — Trooper, 9th platoon; 'sweeper'.
- Brin Milo — Adjutant to Colonel-Commissar Gaunt.
The last words of the novel ("They were his ghosts after all. Gaunt's Ghosts.") echo a recurring pattern in the Richard Sharpe novel series by Bernard Cornwell - most of the series' novels end with the novel's title, which always takes the form "Sharpe's _" (e.g. Sharpe's Rifles ends with the words "They were Sharpe's Rifles" and Sharpe's Eagle ends with the words "Gentlemen. I give you Sharpe's Eagle").