First and Only Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of First and Only

Ibram Gaunt, commander of the Tanith First and Only, struggles against time to unravel a deadly plot by his fellow Imperial Guardsmen while simultaneously bringing death to the enemies of mankind. In the distant future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the human Imperium fights for its very survival against foul xenos and twisted servants of the dark Chaos Powers. Ibram Gaunt, the Colonel-Commissar of the Tanith First and Only (also known as Gaunt's Ghosts), is one the the empire's most dedicated and loyal defenders. In an opening flashback, we see Gaunt as a young cadet, encountering a powerful psychic warp-witch who recites a cryptic prophecy.
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Years later, Gaunt and his men are stationed on war-torn Fortis Binary, in the Sabbat Worlds, fighting Chaos-tainted rebels. The theater of operations is under the control of General Dravere, an old rival of Gaunt's with ambitions to ascend to the position of Warmaster. Dravere assigns the Ghosts to the vanguard of the bloody conflict, hoping to grind the regiment down to nothing before letting his favored unit, the Jantine Patricians, enter the fray and take the glory. The Tanith soldiers succeed at the seemingly-impossible task of breaking through the Chaos lines, only to be trapped, along with the Vitrian Dragoons, by a relentless artillery barrage. Gaunt, deciding that fortune favors the bold, makes a daring advance through the enemy fire zone, finding a way into their foe's weapons complex and destroying it, thus winning the day.

The Ghosts are sent to Pyrite for some R&R. While a couple of dishonest troopers pull off a violent theft of alcohol and other contraband from a local gangster, Gaunt is summoned to a mysterious meeting by an old friend and Imperial spymaster, Fereyd. The commissar receives a crystal containing data valuable enough that some are willing to kill for it.

As a transport spacecraft ferries the Ghosts to their next war zone, Gaunt is attacked by a possessed naval officer seeking the crystal. Assembling what evidence he has, Gaunt concludes that the threat comes from Dravere, as a part of a scheme to depose the current Warmaster using the information on the crystal. The commissar engages in an elaborate deception to acquire the codes required to unlock the crystal, defying Dravere's ally, the Inquisitor Heldane. At the same time, the leader of the Vitrian regiment with whom the Ghosts linked up on Fortis Binary reveals himself as another ally of Fereyd, and the two units decide to combine their efforts.

The decoded crystal reveals the location of an artifact of unimaginable power on Menazoid Epsilon, the world to which the Ghosts are already being deployed. As the units prepare to land, a flashback tells the tale of the origins of the rivalry between the Tanith and the Janitine: Gaunt, having found out that Jantine commander Dercius had left his father to die, dueled and killed the treacherous officer.

On Menazoid, the Ghosts advance towards their objective, a fortification near to the artifact. In secret, Gaunt plans to split from his force and secure the item. He is joined on-world by Fereyd, in one of his many disguises. While Gaunt, Fereyd, and a hand-picked selection of the Ghosts' best men descend into the complex housing the prize, the Ghosts engage the forces of Chaos on the surface.

The Ghosts face a fight on a second front as well when Dravere orders the Jantine to attack their fellow guardsmen. Although the Patricians initially succeed in devastating a small detachment of Ghosts set to watch for this kind of treachery, they soon discover the truth: Gaunt, anticipating this move, has convinced the Vitrian Dragoons to stay in reserve and flank the foul Janitine. Dravere's plot is undone, and the Jantine are slaughtered.

In the catacombs, Gaunt and his entourage fight off a horde of Chaos troops. Advancing into the facility, they find the secret weapon: a manufacturing device called a Standard Template Construct, designed to create robotic automatons called the Iron Men, an act forbidden under Imperial law. Gaunt orders his men to destroy the tainted machine, only to find out that Fereyd has been subverted by the dire Heldane. There is a battle, and Gaunt's men are victorious (killing Heldane via psychic feedback in the process), although the STC is brought to life during the fight. It begins to manufacture Chaos-warped killer robots, and the Ghosts retreat, planting demolitions charges along the way. Before he can escape, Gaunt is confronted by the current leader of the Jantine, who, as it turns out, is the son of Dercius. Gaunt kills the officer in a duel and makes his way out with the help of his soldiers.

In a final flashback, Gaunt is again talking to the warp-witch. Her initial cryptic prophecy, as it turned out, referred to the battle on Fortis Binary, and her later words reference the events on Menazoid. She begs Gaunt not to let the STC be used. The young Gaunt, not impressed by these vague prophecies, asks her to tell him who killed his father. As the book ends, the psychic relays to Gaunt the story of Dercius' treachery.
Best part of story, including ending: Dan Abnett is a talented writer of mass-market fiction. Although First and Only, the first book in his long-running Gaunt's Ghosts series, is his first novel, structurally, it hangs together very well. The characterization is sketchy at points, and the twists are predictable, but the book's fast pace maintains the reader's interest.

Best scene in story: The chapter set during the regiment's shore leave at Pyrite is particularly well-written, interweaving a heist by the unscrupulous Rayne with a tension-filled scene of cloak-and-dagger involving Gaunt. The two scenes eventually unite in a brawl against the hated Jantines. The chapter is exceptionally well-paced.

Opinion about the main character: In this, the first in the series, the main character, Gaunt, is left curiously undefined, with little sense of what drives him beyond broad strokes. Although the reader may admire his dedication and clear thinking, he's overall something of an empty suit.

The review of this Book prepared by Joshua Richardson a Level 4 Yellow-Headed Blackbird scholar

Chapter Analysis of First and Only

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book Descript. of chases or violence 40%planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 20%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 20%Descript. of society, phenomena (tech), places 20% Tone of book    -   suspenseful (sophisticated fear) FANTASY or SCIENCE FICTION?    -   science fiction story War or Invasion    -   Yes Major kinds of combat:    -   lasers Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book

Main Character

Identity:    -   Male Profession/status:    -   infantry soldier Age:    -   20's-30's


Spaceship setting:    -   futuristic human warship A substantial portion of this book takes place on a non-Earth planetary body:    -   humans in a futuristic society Planet outside solar system?    -   Yes Takes place in spaceship?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   explicit references to deaths scientific jargon? (SF only)    -   none/very little science jargon needed How much dialogue?    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Dan Abnett Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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