Aug 26, 2014

[Books] Battletech: The Sword and the Dagger

One of the biggest reasons I got into the Battletech franchise beyond the MechWarrior video games was the rich back story behind the universe. When you get past the big battles and the giant humanoid robots, there's a lot going on around you given the complex political landscape of the Inner Sphere. And it always amused me that a futuristic world like the one of the world of Battletech would fall back on a more feudal style of government to tie everything together. And yet it all made so much sense.

The Sword and the Dagger is the second Battletech novel and nicely focuses on more of the politics of the Inner Sphere given the first book took place on the fringes of things. And given the whole feudal tone of things, this story borrows a page or two from many classic stories of the time - in this case a plot to replace Prince Hanse Davion, the ruler of the Federated Suns.

As an early Battletech novel, it's clear that everyone is still getting a feel for the universe and how to flesh out the back story that we've seen in the various source books for the RPG into full fictional narratives. But there are some great gems here and in the end we get a pretty rewarding adventure as a whole.

Synopsis: Battletech: The Sword of the Dagger is the second fiction novel released for the Battletech franchise and was written by Ardath Mayhar. The novel features many Unseen BattleMechs, which adds to the difficulty of securing a copy of the book these days.

The novel begins with a lightning strike by the Capellan Confederation to take the Federated Suns world of Stein's Folly. The bold strike acts as a blatant invitation to combat to Prince Hanse Davion - a counterattack to retake the world is only a matter of time. Ardan Sortek, childhood friend of the Prince and current head of the Davion Brigade of Guards, decides to volunteer for the mission to retain the world. Beyond his desire to return to the front lines of battle, Ardan is also rather disillusioned with the shadier side of politics and some of the decisions that Hanse has had to make in his role as leader of the Federated Suns.

The Davion forces move swiftly with the aid of a command circuit of jumpships that help accelerate their battle timeline far faster than the Capellans could possibly expect. Unfortunately, Maximillian Liao, the Capellan Chancellor, has been kept generally well-abreast of the Davion troop movements thanks to the information leaked by Morgan Hasek-Davion, Hanse's brother-in-law. Thus Ardan and his comrades are entering yet another trap of Capellan design unless they can form a strategy that anticipates anything the Capellans can throw at them. But in this game of interstellar politics, there are plans within plans that Ardan may not full comprehend.

Like many other Battletech novels that would follow this one, the story begins right in the middle of the action, which was rather fun. It's always nice to see how a full military assault unfolds starting from the enemy forces entering the target system and breaking past both orbital and ground defenses. The Capellan Confederation has always been known for its cunning tactics and reliance on trickery and their assault on Stein's Folley was a classic example of this. I'm not entirely sure why it was so important to take the point of view of Capellan aerojock Uchita Tucker given she quickly disappears from the story once the matters on Stein's Folly are resolved.

The greater story in play is a fairly complex one, and initially it felt a little annoying to be stuck with Ardan Sortek as our reference character. As much as his problems with Hanse Davions strategies are founded in his sense of honor, they way he acts on this does make him come across as a bit of a petulant child. But it did give him a lot of opportunity to grow as a character and so I suppose I can appreciate what was done here.

The Liao plot was a rather complex one - and I'll admit that I initially didn't quite get how it was being played out at first. Despite all the other books I've read in this franchise that were set well after this story, the twists and turns in this story were a little beyond me. That may or may not be a bad thing. On the one hand, perhaps it was truly such a masterful plot and one that deserves professional respect and admiration. On the other, perhaps it was just badly written and thus unintentionally confusing. It's a little hard to determine which of the two was more likely.

The first novel showcased a nice mix of Mech combat and ground tactics. In contrast, this second novel was more about plots and intrigue, and thus there were a lot more exciting things taking place outside the cockpit than in it. And while we still got a good dose of BattleMechs having it out in the earlier part of the book, the later sections were all about stealthily getting from one planet to another and following the trail of clues as to what Liao's true plan is.

The Sword and the Dagger was a nice little adventure in the Battletech Universe and one that helped lay out the framework for later adventures. Plus the events cited here would go on to be referenced many times in later books, and so it was nice to finally get to read about how things unfolded. The story gets a good 4 innovative battlefield strategems out of a possible 5.


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