Gaunt's Ghosts is a series of novels by Dan Abnett, set in the Warhammer 40000 universe. Sometimes described as "Sharpe meets Warhammer 40k", the series follows a band of soldiers in the ultimate Crapsack Universe, exploring war settings ranging from airborne assault to trench fighting. The Sharpe inspiration was lampshaded in the third book, Necropolis, which refers to the troops singing the marching song "Over the Skies and Far Away", a case of Sharpe's signature "Over the Hills and Far Away" IN SPACE!The books follow Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt and the Tanith First-and-Only, a single regiment within the trillions-strong Imperial Guard. Nicknamed the "Ghosts", the series focuses on the Tanith's experiences as a tiny part of a vast decades-long crusade to liberate the Sabbat Worlds from Chaos. Written in a style reminiscent of Bernard Cornwell's massively successful Sharpe series, the series has been well received, its strong points including believable battles, capturing the "feel" of the gothic far-future Warhammer 40000, and a realistic portrayal of the Imperial Guard as actual humans. Gaunt's Ghosts is the longest-running and the most successful book series set in the 40k universe.Thirteen novels and a number of short stories have been published so far:
First & Only: The Ghosts fight to retake the forge world of Fortis Binary, but there is far more at stake than any of them realises.
Ghostmaker: On Monthax, Gaunt recalls the Ghosts' founding and some of their past exploits, even as the present gets interesting with the presence of an Inquisitor and another alien faction.
Necropolis: The Ghosts are sent to defend the city of Vervunhive.
Honour Guard: His career in tatters after being used as a scapegoat for an ambitious General's blunder, Gaunt undertakes one final mission to recover the bones of Saint Sabbat from the Shrinehold on Hagia.
The Guns of Tanith: The Ghosts perform a series of dropship raids on Mountaintop cities on Phantine, in an attempt to eliminate Chaos Warlord Saggitar Slaith.
Straight Silver: The Ghosts engage in trench warfare to try and win a forty-year long land war.
Sabbat Martyr: On Herodor, Saint Sabbat is reincarnated. Chaos will have none of that, and the Ghosts have to fend off both conventional forces and Nine assassins.
Traitor General: Gaunt and a small team of Ghosts are sent to infiltrate the Chaos-held world of Gereon. Their mission is to eliminate a traitor, one who is all too familiar.
His Last Command: Gaunt and his team return from Gereon and find themselves suspected of Chaos taint, while the rest of the Ghosts have been integrated into a new unit. There is more than meets the eye to the ongoing siege, though.
The Armour of Contempt: The Ghosts return to Gereon as part of the liberating Guard warhost, but the Inquisition has its own plans.
Only In Death: The Ghosts are sent to Jago to guard the eastern fortress of Hinzerhaus from Chaos, but the enemy is closer than command thinks, and the house itself is more sinister than it looks.
Blood Pact: The return to Balhaut for billet has left the Ghosts restless and Gaunt wishes to get back to the war. He really, really should know better.
Salvation's Reach: The Ghosts embark on a mission to raid a critical Chaos facility in hopes of turning the tide of the Crusade in the Imperium's favor. Unfortunately, it also happens to be a suicide mission.
Additionally, the Sabbat Worlds Crusade setting has essentially spawned a mini-continuity within the Warhammer 40,000 universe, with a number of additional works that are not limited to just Gaunt's Ghosts.There is "The Sabbat Worlds Crusade" written as an Imperial history of the early part of the central campaign of the novels.The series also has a spinoff, Double Eagle, focusing on the fighter squadron introduced in The Guns of Tanith which has its own upcoming sequel, Interceptor City. Titanicus is not a direct spin off but it's set during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. There is also the anthology Sabbat Worlds, a collection of short stories written by other Black Library authors including Abnett which are set during the Crusade.
As part of Warhammer 40000, the series involves a large number of the tropes on that page, as well as employing literary and narrative tropes of its own:
A Form You Are Comfortable With: In Ghostmaker, the Eldar Dire Avengers do this. Rawne's squad believes that they are Tanith Guardsmen, and that the entire team is fighting to save Tanith. The oddity comes with Milo noting that they have rather odd hairstyles, and The Reveal only comes when Larkin is reduced to a quivering wreck, showing Milo that his scope really does 'see everything as it truly is' by revealing their true appearances.
Turns out, the Eldar were surprised by this, too. And didn't do too much to cover their disguises. The exarch keeps calling Rawne 'Rawne-human'.
The only person to notice the speech errors was Milo, who is implied to have unacknowledged psyker talents. Other sections in the same book implied that what the Eldar spoke wasn't exactly what Rawne heard.
And sadly, probably will. The Ghosts have no home to return to and the number of original Tanith dwindles within their own regiment, replaced by soldiers from other worlds. The ultimate fate probably awaiting most of the cast is death in combat- Guard regiments operate for decades at a time.
In fact, by the end of the tenth novel, less than 10 characters actually named in the first are still alive Gaunt, Dorden, Mkoll, Rawne, Larkin, possibly Milo, though he was Put on a Bus so we can't be sure *
Dan has stated Milo will be back once he works how what to do with him, the only way characters can leave the series is to die.
. Various command staff also count. Significantly more remain from the first trilogy, but even then a great deal of named characters have died.
And as of Blood Pact Dorden is dying of Leukemia.
And as of Salvation's Reach, he is dead.
Word Of God: "People seem to like them. I'll keep writing until they don't anymore or, as I've said, until I've killed everybody-whichever is soonest."
On the bright side, the Belladon seem to finally have a proper recruitment pool (unlike the Tanith and Vervunhive elements, both of which come from Doomed Hometowns), so they'll be able to replace casualties.
Vervunhive is slowly being rebuilt, and a small contingent of new Vervunhivers join the Tanith First in Salvation's Reach.
Artificial Limbs: Augmetics, but not just on limbs - one major character has eye augmetics ('Shoggy' Domor) while another has voicebox augmetics (Murtan Feygor). Played straight with Varl, who lost his shoulder in battle, being forced to have his entire arm replaced. His new arm allows him to punch an enemy's head clean off. Larkin gets a nalwood foot after having to have his cut off by Gaunt and Gaunt himself is given top-of-the-line augmetics to replace his own lost eyes at the end of Only In Death.
A-Team Firing: "Try Again" Bragg's trademark, and the source of his nickname.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Usually inverted, as Gaunt is usually seen bossing around men with significantly higher rank and social status than him.
Awesome Yet Practical: The entire point behind the heroes being Imperial Guardsmen. Normal human Guardsmen, using gear that is significantly less powerful than what the Adeptus Sororitas or Astartes get, who manage to pull off some stunning victories.
A Wizard Did It: It's revealed that (almost) all of the supernatural activity in Hinzerhaus is caused by Soric's psyker abilities.
Back Alley Doctor: Dr. Kolding, who first appears in Blood Pact. The fact that he's an albino in the xenophobic Imperium, that often treats people with deformities or mutations as being impure or touched by Chaos even when they really aren't, explains why he's specifically a Back Alley Doctor.
Badass Grandpa: Partially subverted: While Corbec and the older members of the regiment are badass in their own right, few of them have "max levels of badass", with those mainly falling to younger men like Rawne. Played straight with Larkin, who is older than Corbec and still one of the regiment's best snipers. Ditto Mkoll, who had outlived his wife even before Tanith was taken and had grown sons, and Mkvenner, who's a grey-haired older man, noted as the best fighter among the scouts. The single oldest member of the regiment is Dorden (he actually delivered Corbec, and had become a grandfather shortly before Tanith fell), but as The Medic, he only fired a shot in anger once in the thirteen books before his death.
Beam Spam: There is one point in Necropolis when, as the Guard troops and local forces are estimating the enemy's strength, Mkoll notes that the continuous, buzzing sound they've been hearing is the combined sound of the enemy army's lasguns, so numerous that there is no audible gap in their firing.
In Blood Pact, when the Chaos witch bursts into the room to attack Mabbon, Maggs kills her by simply unloading his lasgun at her, firing over two hundred shots at her and overwhelming her warp-shields.
Be Careful What You Wish For: In The Guns of Tanith, Gaunt ruefully notes that the Ghosts receiving long-overdue recognition for their scout/stealth skills means getting sent on ultra-high risk infiltration missions.
There's also Sanian. She starts as wishing for a purpose. Then finds out that purpose is war. Then she gets taken over by the very saint the war is being for for.
Milo spends most of the time pining for Sanian after they part. When they are reunited, Sanian is effectively gone, supplanted by the personality of Saint Sabbat, and Milo can't recognize her because of this. He does get to go with her, though.
Being Watched: Said by Baen to Varl in Sabbat Martyr. Baen's right - Pater Sin and his psyker-runts are using psyk-cloaking to walk between them.
In Traitor General, the scouts on Gereon know they're being tracked just before the Nihtgane show themselves.
In The Armour of Contempt Mkoll and Eszrah recognise that there's someone out there watching them who the latter gets to see and is strongly implied to be MkVenner, while Vadim and Caffran have a similar sentiment at their part of Gereon.
Blind Seer: Toyed with in Blood Pact as Gaunt's traumatic blinding has him start to vividly see things that are actually happening out of his line-of-sight. In other words, remote viewing. Gaunt the psyker?
Character Development: Many of the characters go through changes and revelations over the series. So far, the most notable perhaps is Rawne who starts out having every intention of murdering Gaunt, being chauvinistic about the influx of the women soldiers in the regiment but develops into one of Gaunt's most loyal officers and respecting women in the regiment.
Character Magnetic Team: The Ghosts attracted large numbers of soldiers from Vervunhive in Necropolis and were merged with the Belladon 81st regiment in His Last Command, although the overall number of Ghosts doesn't change that much due to the high casualty rate.
In fact, as of the end of Only In Death, more than half of the regiment is dead. That is, half the regiment that was alive going into the book.
Oddly, they keep gaining new commissars and had six in Salvation's Reach: Gaunt, Hark, Ludd, Blenner, Edur, and Fazakiel. They end with only five as a Sirkle kills Edur.
Chekhov's Gun: In First & Only, Trooper Drayl gets a shard from a Chaos statuette stuck in his collarbone from Corbec shooting the statutette. He gets a field dressing put on it, and the group moves on. The shard corrupts Drayl, with him later shooting at the group with "a milky nothingness in his eyes". He is shot in their self-defence, and then has a large metallic-coloured skeletal monster Body Horror come out of him that the group also has to kill.
Subverted when Caffran tries to rescue a starved child and it shoots him.
The Chosen One: Lilith, in Ghostmaker, Sanian in Honour Guard and Sabbat Martyr.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Lijah Cuu fits this trope so well that it's rather shocking that nobody really called him out on it earlier. This is also the possible reason behind Mabbon's multiple changes of allegiance, first from the Imperium to Guar, Gaur to Sek, and then from Sek to the Imperium.
And then Salvation's Reach implies that Mabbon might be switching from the Imperium back to Gaur!
Conservation of Ninjutsu: Deconstructed in Ghostmaker: A small team of Ghosts and Bluebloods wipes out a thousands-strong Chaos force... and the incident is written off as an illusionary battle by tacticians unable to account for the success.
Years later.... Imperial tacticians.... would be utterly unable to account for the success of the action. .... There was no sense to the data. Simple statistics should have had Gaunt's expeditionary force cut down to the last man.... They slew, approximately, two-point-four thousand soldiers of the enemy. .... The tacticians would decide that the only explanation could be that there were no enemy units on the field that day. .... Only then did the computations and the statistics and the possibilities match up.
Of course, the tacticians do not take into account the fact that the Guard forces weren't the only ones fighting against Chaos in that battle.
Continuity Nod: (On several occasions, Gaunt makes reference to the book Spheres of Longing, which was authored by Inquisitor Gideon Ravenor. Abnett fans would know that Ravenor stars in his own running Warhammer 40k series also authored by Abnett.
A preemptive Continuity Nod: Abnett created Ravenor and his book as scenery dressing, and didn't start thinking of him as a character with his own adventures until much later — and that was after he'd already served as a supporting character in Abnett's chronologically-earlier Eisenhorn novels. According to interviews with Abnett, most of his "continuity nods" are the result of happy accidents like this.
The Eisenhorn / Ravenor stories were also foreshadowed by Gaunts Ghosts. In one book, Gaunt recalls Ravenor describing the terrible fate of his master. Although Eisenhorn had become a radical by the end his series and was well established as one in Ravenor, it was hardy a terrible fate. There is also the implication in Salvation's Reach that Ravenor suffers a Downer Ending. The fact that Abnett has referred to the next series of Inquisitor books as Eisenhorn versus Ravenor would seem to support this.
Another Abnett novel, Brothers of the Snake, received the same treatment. The Iron Snakes Space Marine Chapter originally only received a brief mention in Necropolis. Later, Salvation's Reach has an Iron Snake assisting the Ghosts.
Similarly, the character of Inquisitor Heldane, who gets killed off in First And Only, also would only get developed further in the Eisenhorn novels.
Double Eagle features Leguin as a secondary character. He was originally introduced in Honour Guard as, well, a secondary character.
There are a few mentions of Tanith in the Adeptus Mechanicus-themed book Titanicus: sacra, and a cameo character is described as a Tanith emigree.
A very subtle one in Blood Pact. One of the Blood Pact infiltrators is named Samus.
The Corruption: One of Chaos' main weapons. In His Last Command Gaunt and his team from the Gereon mission are briefly put on trial to prove they are not tainted by Chaos, due to being stuck on a Chaos-occupied world for more than a year. The title of the next book, The Armour of Contempt, references an aphorism from another Abnett character, Gideon Ravenor, which states that one can resist Chaos's influence by girding one's soul with the armour of contempt.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Guilder Worlin in Necropolis. Despite orders to close down oil pipelines, Worlin keeps his pipeline open so he can get rich off the profits. This gives the Zoicans a route they can use to infiltrate Imperial lines.
Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: When Sergeant Varl is playing the clown, you could be forgiven for assuming that's all he is. Then you try to make trouble, and suddenly he pins your arm to the wall with a casually thrown knife. He earned that rank.
Cycle of Revenge: Dercius got Gaunt's father and many of his men killed by retreating instead of providing support. Gaunt killed Dercius for this in a duel. Then Dercius' son Flense tries to murder Gaunt and his entire command for that (And the loss of status he suffered from going from the son of a respected General to being the son of a man executed for cowardice and desertion).
Dan Browned: In-universe, in Blood Pact, the historians on Balhaut got pretty much every detail and fact of Slaydo's effort to liberate the planet wrong. This is mainly due to the fact that all of the veterans of the war aren't around to point out the errors. Humorously enough, there is an entire chapel dedicated to Gaunt because the historians mistakenly believed that he had died during the liberation of the planet.
Dead Person Conversation: Several characters often have recurring dreams where they converse with previously dead characters. This is a key plot point in Honor Guard, but most notable is poor old Larkin, who literally hallucinatesconversations with Bragg whenever he's feeling slightly more unhinged than normal.
Dirty Coward: General Noches Sturm in Necropolis. Meryn proves to be one as well.
Disability Superpower: Nessa. She's permanently deaf from being too close to an artillery bombardment, but that doesn't stop her from being the one of the best snipers in the Ghosts, rivalling Larkin in skill.
Also inverted in the case of Merrt. After getting his lower jaw shot off, the former sniper loses his marksmanship skills and is demoted back to a simple trooper who can barely shoot an unmoving can.
Doomed by Canon: In The Armour of Contempt, the Inquisition thinks they can find protection against Chaos on Gereon. Gaunt thinks they won't — and considering what that would do to history, is obviously right.
Dumb Muscle: "Try Again" Bragg is a subversion. Most people think that because he's The Big Guy, he's lacking in mental faculties when in fact, the plot point of one of the stories in the second novel revolves around Gaunt choosing him for a mission because everyone assumes that he must be dumb because he's big.
Exact Words: Used in a truly absurd example in Necropolis. A tank troop is ordered to advance down a certain road to confront the enemy and their commander is arrested for disobeying orders for detouring around a traffic obstacle.
Elite Mooks: The Blood Pact, compared to "normal" heretics and zealots, have been very effective soldiers. Their first appearance, Guns of Tanith, had them isolate groups of guardsmen with void shields set into doors, cut their communications and cut them off from their commanders, as well as constantly harassing the occupying Guard forces. In Only In Death, they effectively reduced the Tanith First and Only to fifty percent of their numbers, while in Blood Pact, A group of thirty effectively take out an Imperial Guard strong hold, evade detection for a couple of days, and slaughter numerous Inquisitorial and Imperial operatives.
Enemy Mine: at the end of Ghostmaker, the owners of the mysterious ruins sighted by Mkoll turn out to be Eldar guarding a Webway Gate. The farseer protecting the gate thinks to himself that an actual alliance is out of the question, but he uses his psychic abilities to conjure illusions that make the Ghosts fighting in the battle believe they're still on Tanith and fighting to defend it from Chaos, and he makes the Eldar in the base look like Tanith troops.
Also, the Inquisition cannot seem to accept the fact that the Ghosts can withstand Chaos taint with their sheer badassery and concludes that it must have had something to do with the swamp that they were living in.
Evil Gloating: In Blood Pact Eyl catches up with Gaunt and Mabbon for the last time and has them at his mercy, but starts gloating. This gives Gaunt time to knock him away, following by Larks blowing his head open. Even lampshaded by Mabbon who buys Gaunt another few seconds by telling Eyl that if he has his target in his sights, he shouldn't waste time talking.
The Chaos-tainted Zoicans from Necropolis. You don't want to see what's under their helmets.
Failure Is the Only Option: Gaunt was promised the first planet he conquered. Thus far, it looks like no one will ever admit that he conquered one.
Strangely, this doesn't get brought up very often. The only real mention of that promise after the first arc is in Only In Death, where Curth warns Gaunt that he'd better not conquer the planet, as the Ghosts would lynch him if they had to muster out on Jago.
False Flag Operation: In the raid on one of Sek's bases in Salvation's Reach, the Imperial soldiers disguise themselves as Blood Pact troops in an attempt to turn Gaur and Sek against each other and start an Enemy Civil War.
Famed in Story: After the events of "In Remembrance", the Ghosts with him make much of what Thuro did.
Fast Roping: Used in The Guns of Tanith when the Ghosts participate in an air assault on a mountain city. If only they were drop troops and not light infantry.
Hand Cannon: Hark's plasma pistol, Gaunt's bolt pistols.
Hark also carries two back up pieces, a brass plated bolt pistol, and a heavy calibre revolver, which had so much kick it could kill a loxatl Mercenary in one shot. For reference, armour piercing rounds are normally needed.
Heroic Sacrifice: About one per book, give or take. An everyday occurence in the life of the Guard. Rarely performed by the Ghosts themselves, oddly enough. Lilith, Kowle, Golke are all examples of non-Ghost heroic sacrifices.
He's Dead, Jim: Soric's death in Only In Death is underscored with symbolic/literal confirmations.
Hero of Another Story: The books often briefly mention fighting done by other Guard units in the area, only to carry on the image that the Ghosts aren't totally on their own.
The Book Sabbat World's Crusade, is essentially a compilation of these.
He Who Fights Monsters: Gaunt is faced with this dilemma in the later books. Especially in a conversation with Mabbon over what to do with Maggs, who had only a short while before been temporarily possessed by a Chaos witch.
Gaunt: Can I trust Maggs? I could really do with an extra pair of hands.
Mabbon: You're asking me?
Mabbon: I'd trust him.
Gaunt: I'm not you.
Mabbon: Well, if I was you, I'd never trust him again. I'd probably kill him, to be sure.
The above point is further driven home by the fact that the situation with Maggs is reminscent of what happened to Gaunt and his team after being extracted from Gereon: they were under massive scrutiny by the Inquisition solely because they had been on a Chaos-held planet for an extended period of time. Chaos is viewed as The Corruption, and other Dan Abnett books have shown Imperial forces hesitating very little when it came to killing people who had been mind-controlled by psykers or otherwise forced into service by agents of Chaos.
Mabbon mentions this in Traitor General as one of the reasons he's changing his allegiance from Gaur to Sek.
The Ghosts' specialty is fast, precision strikes and stealth reconnaissance. Two instances where they are put into situations that don't play to those strengths are the action on Aexe-Cardinal (essentially World War I-style trench warfare, and Gaunt is able to pull some strings to get at least some of them assigned to a recon mission) and the defense of Hinzerhaus on Jago (the intelligence they were given was faulty to begin with, and the mission soon became a bloody siege in which the greatly outnumbered Ghosts lost half their strength; Gaunt later has a discussion with Lord General Van Voytz where he angrily told his Lordship never to put the Ghosts into such an unbalanced conflict again).
Justified since the majority of the enemies the Ghosts fight are barely trained cultists with inferior equipment. The Blood Pact are actually terrifyingly competent.
Implausible Fencing Powers: In First & Only, a Flashback shows then-Commissar Gaunt kill the man who left his father to die, General Dercius, in a chainsword duel by using a thrust after parrying his opponent's weapon, a move thought impossible with a chainsword.
Improbable Aiming Skills: Larkin and the rest of the Tanith snipers. However, a brief passage in Honour Guard shows that Cuu can be even better.
Inferred Survival: In Armour of Contempt, Mkvenner, who is literally one of the most Badass Ghosts in existence, is stated to have been killed in action, though they Never Found the Body and the Resistance deliberately pretends that he's still alive. There are a number of clues in the book to suggest that he actually is.
Insignia Rip Off Ritual: Gaunt does this to General Sturm. It is both used and inverted in Necropolis, when Gaunt removes the blowhard, glory-hungry Commissar Kowle's rank insignia, but later replaces them when Kowle sacrifices a grenade bandolier and his arms to destroy a Chaos beast.
Inspector Javert: Inquisitor Rime from Blood Pact is too eager to see Gaunt caught as a heretic. It makes sense once it turns out that Rime is a Chaos agent.
Internal Homage: In The Guns of Tanith, Gol Kolea saves Tona Criid but is shot in the back of the head and loses his memory and personality. Kolea saves Criid in Sabbat Martyr in the same way, prompting a Ghost who had been present at both occasions to recognise the trope in action and pull him to cover before history repeats itself.
Irony: The Jantine Patricians of First & Only are eager for glory and to make Gaunt pay for marking the regiment's record by killing General Aldo Dercius for cowardice. For attacking the Tanith First And Only at Hektor's command, who was killed with his Leviathan exploding and unable to absolve them their actions, they were all deemed traitors and all records of the regiment's honours and victories were destroyed.
Jeanne d'Archétype: Saint Sabbat is pretty much Joan of Arc in the 41st Millennium in various ways. Although unlike her real life counterpart, she doesn't die at the hands of her co-religionists and is venerated as a saint almost immediately. Also, she comes back to aid the Imperial Guard in freeing the worlds named in her honor.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: At first it seems that the Space Marines tasked to assist the Tanith with assaulting Salvation's Reach are complete Jerkasses. However, they start showing small acts of kindness to the soldiers who manage to earn their respect, with one of them even helping Merrt regain his shooting ability. Gaunt points out that Space Marines aren't necessarily jerks, it's just that their morals and values operate on a completely different level from ordinary humans.
Justified Title: The Necropolis book is the defense of a large city. Necropolis is an word for a large graveyard, coming from Greek words to mean "city of the dead". Needlessly to say, the defense was far from bloodless.
Karma Houdini: Cuu at the end of Straight Silver, survivng despite the fact he brutally murdered Sehra Muril, after shes tries to save Larkin from him.
Meryn has also gotten away with a lot of despicable things in Salvation's Reach, such as stealing the identities of slain Ghosts and their relatives and spouses for a pension scam, as well as leaving Costin and several other Ghosts to die to cover his tracks.
Karmic Death: Cuu again, in Sabbat Martyr, about damn time too.
Last Name Basis: Almost everyone is referred to by surname only. Given names are occasionally stated but rarely used. Exceptions do become more common as the series progresses — but First Name Basis is always a significiant sign of friendship or at least informality. Except for Dalin Criid, because "Criid" denotes his adoptive mother Tona Criid.
Large and in Charge: Both played straight and inverted - some characters, like Chaos warlord Heritor Asphodel in Necropolis, are explicitly larger than their minions. However, Gaunt is smaller than his 2IC Corbec and the largest Ghost, Bragg, is a lowly trooper.
Lighter and Softer: It's a strange and rather grim fact that the Gaunt novels, (and for that matter most other novels set in the 'verse) present the better side of the Warhammer 40000 universe. While the galaxy is undeniably a brutal place, the presence of predominantly sympathetic characters, a portrayal of Imperial society as generally functioning, and a few genuine miracles and supernatural agents of good, primarily those relating to Saint Sabbat, soften the GRIMDARK portrayed by the tabletop game's lore. This is arguably both necessary and perhaps even an improvement.
Literary Agent Hypothesis Most of the books are prefaced with an extract from A Later History Of The Imperial Crusades and on occasion the narrator gives information that only someone in the future - relative to the events being narrated, to be exact - would know. Of course, the novels take place two centuries before the "current" 40k time setting.
Little Hero, Big War: The Ghosts are often fighting on secondary fronts or places that are considered minor battles compared to the rest of the Crusade. Because of this, most of their achievements are often lost in obscurity. Even so, the History of the Later Imperial Crusades, the history book whose quotes preface each story often mention the Ghost's involvement in certain theatres, even if only vaguely.
Living on Borrowed Time: Dorden, who by the time of Salvation's Reach should have been dead months already from his leukemia but still clings to life due to sheer force of will.
Lotus-Eater Machine: In Ghostmaker, an Eldar warlock pulls a psychic deception in order to gain the aid of the unwitting Ghosts, making them believe that they are fighting to defend Tanith. It is not very good, however, as Milo notices some oddities, and the illusion is broken when Larkin scopes the leader of the Eldar defenders out.
Magical Seventh Son: Soric reveals that his great-grandmother was a witch, and that his father said it would come to him, as the seventh son of a seventh son. On the other hand, what it causes him doesn't seem very lucky at all...
Not Distracted by the Sexy: In First and Only, Rawne and some unsavoury character discuss contraband at a seedy bar, paying no attention whatsoever to the showgirl doing a striptease on stage.
Numerological Motif: Nine is an important number to Saint Sabbat and her followers, being the number of wounds inflicted when she was martyred. It shows up a lot in the Saint arc, and it's almost never a good sign.
OOC Is Serious Business: Only In Death has various examples, such as straitlaced Daur almost hitting Rawne, unflappable Mkoll getting spooked and chatty Maggs being quiet. In Blood Pact, Daur is caught helping one of Rawne's scams. Hark notes that discipline and morale are hitting new lows.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: In both Necropolis and Sabbat Martyr, officials try to prevent people from taking shelter.
Officer and a Gentleman The whole schtick of the Jantine Patricians and the Volpone Bluebloods. Gaunt himself, to an extent.
Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The final chapter of Sabbat Martyr makes reference to a week-long battle supposedly more intense than any other recorded in the account, but we don't get to read it.
One-Man Army: Saint Sabbat. In Sabbat Martyr, it is recounted that she once slew 1800 enemy soldiers single-handedly in a single battle and it is very safe to assume her total kill-count is higher than that. In the same book, she destroys a superheavy tank with a sword and a pipe bomb.
Perspective Flip: Traitor General involves an Imperial commander defecting to Chaos, and an Imperial strike team's efforts to assassinate said general. Blood Pact involves a Chaos commander defecting to the Imperium, and a Chaos strike team's efforts to assassinate said general. Both books also give considerable page-time to the Chaos forces, as opposed to Abnett's usual complete focus on the Ghosts.
The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Gaunt is The Commissar Who Doesn't Shoot His Men Very Often. Justified as his late mentor, Commissar-General Oktar, also practised such a style. Do note the Not Very Often. Commissars who follow the usual style may get immediate results, but morale in their companies tends to tank up until the point that the commissar suddenly and tragically dies.
Hark is a particularly interesting example. On one occasion he sees some soldiers running from combat. When he attempts to rally them, they ignore him. He lets him go, and is promptly asked why he didn't shoot them, to which he basically replies that it would be a waste of time. Instead, he shoots their commanding officer, for failing to show leadership.
Placebo Effect: Blenner pops sugar pills for nerves throughout Salvation's Reach, and becomes aware they're sugar pills near the end.
Planet Looters: This is what Chaos does on some of the worlds they take, and they usually transfer the resources from the planet to another one somewhere else on the front. One method is detailed in Traitor General: using a Warp creature to inhale an entire ocean and transfer it to another planet for which the Archenemy requires water. They also import xeno-crops to build up their food supply, which depletes the soil until nothing can grow.
Pocket Protector: In Necropolis, Gaunt's life is saved by a metallic rose he is wearing. He is still badly hurt and the rose breaks to imbed pieces of it in him, rendering him unconscious for almost a month and almost dying anyway, but it was still better than getting a bolt shell completely in him.
Precision F-Strike: Normally, unusual euphemisms are used in place of actual curses, so when Sturm refers to Gaunt as a "jumped-up shit" in Necropolis, it really makes an impact on the reader.
Pretty Little Headshots: Justified due to las weapons cauterizing the wounds they cause. Occurs to minor trooper Mktag in In Remembrance, the short story included with The Founding omnibus. The sight traumatises the POV character, sheltered artist Thuro.
... little black hole .... made in his forehead. There was no blood. .... I think if there had been more blood, more obvious physical damage, I could have coped better. But it was just such a tiny little hole.
Primal Stance: Maggs under the Chaos witch's control in Blood Pact.
Put on a Bus: Brin Milo in Sabbat Martyr. Subverted with Agun Soric, who gets sent away on a Black Ship at the end of Sabbat Martyr apparently never to return, but eventually returns in Only in Death as a Sanctioned Psyker.
Recycled In SPACE: Abnett takes familiar historical battle settings and transposes them to the 40k universe. The Guns of Tanith features an Operation Market Garden-esque mass paradrop... onto a mountaintop city sticking out of poisonous clouds. Straight Silver has World War One trench fighting... with lasers. Double Eagle is the Battle of Britain and the earlier Battle of France with vector-engined supersonic jet fighters. Necropolis seems to be somewhat based off of the Battle of Stalingrad itself, with the intense urban fighting that goes on.
There's an interesting case of Redemption Equals Near Death in Trooper Costin, who was often getting himself into trouble through either drunkeness or disorderly conduct. After the former vice gets Raglon's first command decimated, Gaunt gives him a second chance though this strains Gaunt's friendship with Dorden, as the doctor sticks up for the trooper. In Sabbat Martyr, Dorden takes Gaunt aside to where Costin lies wounded and describes to the colonel-commissar how Costin risked his life to save of a squad regrouping from being slaughtered.
Then horribly averted in Salvation's Reach, where it's revealed that Costin goes back to being a drunkard and participates in a pension fraud scam using stolen identities, including Dorden's dead wife. He later dies an undignified death after being left to die by Meryn.
Red Herring: First & Only heavily implies Rawne is being controlled by Heldane psychically. It later turns out Fereyd was actually Heldane's pawn - though Heldane's torture affected Rawne to feel his psychic presence while he was commanding Fereyd, Heldane didn't do enough to completely control him.
In Sabbat Martyr, following some exposition from Pater Sin about the mysterious soldier they've selected to turn into a Chaos meat-puppet, the book switches to Milo, the Saint's chosen sidekick, suffering from major headaches. He's not the puppet, but it's suggested his latent psychic abilities are altering him to the danger the Saint is in.
Red Shirt: A natural trope coming with how many, many, many people die in-universe. You'll lose count quickly.
Reverse Grip: The Tanith knife technique, as described in First And Only.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Eszrah is duty bound to go on one if his master, Gaunt, is killed. This actually happens in Only in Death when Gaunt is thought to be dead.
Rock Beats Laser: A Chaos Space Marine gets killed... by crossbows. This is most likely a jab at the trend to model marine squad leaders without helmets to make them more badass. Which CAN get them killed when angry natives start putting the village's whole supply of poisoned arrows through their faces. These weren't normal poisoned bolts either- one of the members of the Chaos retinue died when a moth (which the poison is made from) landed on him. Also, the Marine's face was described as a "pin cushion," With 30+ bolts lodged there.
Scarily Competent Tracker: The entire Tanith First-and-Only fit this mould from the point of view of the rest of the Guard. The Scout Platoon is scarily competent even to the rest of the Tanith. Sergeant Mkoll is scarily competent even to the Scouts he leads, and doubly so after returning alive from Gereon in His Last Command. Even more so for MkVenner, who is such an impossibly badass scout that he frees the entire Gereon resistance from the Inquisition without alerting anybody.
Scars Are Forever: Of particularly note are Gaunt's chainsword scar across his stomach which identifies him at the end of Only In Death, and Merrt's jaw.
Schizo Tech: In "Straight Silver" the Aexe Cardinal PDF are armed with stubbers and have only heard of lasguns in stories, but their bird-riding cavalry control their mounts using neural implants.
Most planets in Warhammer 40K are derived from one Earth culture or another, and Tanith was the generalised "Celtic naturey" one. Many of the Ghosts use Scottish or Welsh elements in their names — the Scottish Mk- prefix and Welsh w's, l's, and y's (Wheln is a good example). This may be another Sharpe influence, as Sharpe has a lot of Irish characters and dwells on the theme of their homeland being "lost", albeit in a different way.
Oan Mkoll is a Shout Out to folksinger Ewen Mac Coll, who revived many traditional Scottish songs.
There are also their silver knives (think dirks), their "Black Irish" appearance of pale skin and black hair, Milo's bagpipes...
Many Scottish laments could be about Tanith if read in the right context, as they are often about leavetaking, losing one's home to the enemy, and never returning. The story of Lost Tanith is at least partially "Wild Geese" and "'45 Rebellion".
The Scottish Trope: In Blood Pact Zweil insists on referring to his terminal condition as "The Concern". Though it's not his Concern but Dorden's.
Shaggy Dog Story: Necropolis has the Imperial Guard and PDF forces suffer horrendous losses in the defense of Vervunhive. However, in the end, Vervunhive experiences so much damage and so many citizens were killed during the fighting, that Warmaster Macaroth offically declares the hive dead anyway and relocates the surviving populace. This is lampshaded in a conversation between Gaunt and Corbec at the end of the novel.
Shell Shocked Senior: Most of the characters, particularly the original Tanith, eventually become these. It was probably inevitable.
Shoot the Dog: Throughout Straight Silver and Sabbat Martyr, Larkin struggles with the need to kill Lijah Cuu before he kills any more of the Ghosts, though Cuu still manages a few more team-kills before Larkin's hand is forced. In The Guns of Tanith, Meryn kills a few Phantine civilians in order to prevent his group blowing their cover, but the morality of this is still questioned books - and, chronologically in-universe, many months - later. In Blood Pact, knowing Gaunt won't kill someone without proof, Rawne does it for him.
In Straight Silver, Dorden and Curth are working at an aid station near the front. The number designation of the station? 4077.
Shrouded in Myth: The shootout between Corbec, Feygor and Rawne against 20 Pyritean mob enforcers mentioned in First And Only.
Ditto for MkVenner in The Armour Of Contempt, where the Gereon resistance deliberately credits him with every single operation to both build up morale and terrify the enemy. This continues even after MkVenner was supposedly killed.
The Squadette: After Necropolis, the Tanith First and Only became one of the few Guard units to integrate females into what was once an all male regiment. Naturally, this was met with mixed feelings until they proved to be just as good as, or in some cases better than, the men.
Super Strength: Bragg's ability to wield heavy weapons that most people need to set up on the ground is clearly superhuman. In his death scene, he attempts to use the autocannon he was firing as a melee weapon.
Take Our Word for It: In Necropolis Larkin pulls off the mask of a Chaos-corrupted soldier. The face makes him scream his lungs out and see it again whenever he closes his eyes, but it's never described. However, it is strongly implied that he is reacting to the Chaos troops being comprised of the civilian population of a neighboring hive-city, including women and children - outfitted with hideous cybernetic enhancements that turn them all into a Hive Mind entity.
And again in Salvation's Reach, when the captain of the ship the Ghosts are traveling on realizes they're about to be ambushed by a Chaos war fleet.
Thou Shalt Not Kill: Dorden tries to practice this, and the one time he had to break it in First And Only still weighs on him even in the later books, when years have passed in-universe.
Title Drop: Relatively easily in the first few books, more of a challenge with The Armour of Contempt.
An odd sort in Blood Pact: no fewer than five of the previous book titles are stated, the more obvious (read: not appearing as frequently as terms like 'First and Only' or 'Straight silver') ones His Last Command, Traitor General, and Only In Death.
Unresolved Sexual Tension: Curth admits in Salvation's Reach that she had been pining for Gaunt for a long time - possibly since The Saint arc - but has given up after Gaunt beds yet another new love interest. Gaunt seemingly tries to tell Curth that she means more to him than any other woman, but Curth cuts him off before he could say it.
Unusual Euphemism: "Feth", "Gak". "Feth" was a word for the Tanith, "Gak" for the Verghasts. It was noted when soldiers started using both words to insult each other, they had properly assimilated.
Villain Ball: Slaith from Guns of Tanith. Shot at by Mkoll, he says the gun is useless against his shield. Mkoll says that it was just a distraction and that the real surprise is under a table. Slaith goes to check while Mkoll dives from the room and the explosives he'd planted under the table.
The Imperium uses this trope as well. In Armour of Contempt, Dalin Criid is carried along as part of a wave of humanity in attacking a city wall, with troopers packed so tightly together that the dead were unable to fall where they died.
Wham Line: "Since I switched it on" from The Armour of Contemptnote The Ghosts have been sold out to the Inquisition and "Then it is Rime" from Blood Pactnote An Inquisitor is revealed as a Chaos agent.
What the Hell, Hero?: Gaunt, as a political officer, is supposed to execute his men in order to keep morale up. He manages to avoid doing this... most of the time. Doc Dorden is quick to call him out and attempt to stop him every time.
More specifically, Meryn likes to cross this line very often. First, he kills several Phantine civilians in order to preserve the secrecy of their covert mission, which naturally unnerves his squaddies. Second, he brutally beats Soric when he admits he's a psyker. Suffice to say, Gaunt wasn't very happy with the latter incident.
In Salvation's Reach, Meryn has a clear shot at an assassin who takes Yoncy hostage, but instead cowers in fear. A number of Ghosts witness this, including Kolea, who beats the crap out of him.
Xanatos Gambit: Saint Sabbat pulls one in Sabbat Martyr, reincarnating on the otherwise unremarkable planet Herodor. If Chaos forces are diverted to attack the planet and kill her, it takes pressure off the overstretched main forces of the Imperial Crusade. If they do not, the Imperials still get a large, possibly table-turning morale boost from her presence. Either way, the good guys benefit.
You Killed My Father: In his pre-Tanith days, Gaunt gets his vengeance on General Dercius by executing him for cowardice in his newly-bestowed capacity as an Imperial Guard Commissar. In First and Only, Colonel Flense, who is actually Dercius' son and lost his family name and honour after Dercius' death, goes after Gaunt in an attempt to pay Gaunt back. He fails.