Feb 17, 2015

[Books] Battletech: Way of the Clans (Legend of the Jade Phoenix - Book 1)

One of the biggest events in the Battletech universe involves the Clan invasion, that changed the face of the Inner Sphere. As much as the inter-House skirmishes were entertaining to begin with, the introduction of the Clans into the mix of things was quite literally a game-changer.

Thus books like Way of the Clans were the first efforts to tackle the nuances of Clan society in the Battletech novels. Sure you can argue that the source books for the Battletech RPG probably addressed a lot of this beforehand, the fictional universe established in the books was a completely different reading experience. And the fictional universe of the novels really ends up with a life all of its own given enough time and development.

But more than just talking about the Clans fighting the forces of the Inner Sphere, this book is a unique given it focuses solely on the Clans and how they create their unique breed of elite warriors. And thus it's really quite an interesting look into Clan life, again something rather unique in terms of these books. And diving into these early Battletech novels is pretty enjoyable given all these wonderful "first" moments in the history of the series.

Synopsis: Battletech: Way of the Clans is the first novel in the Legend of the Jade Phoenix trilogy of novels as written by Robert Thurston. It was originally released in 1991.

At the center of this book (and also this trilogy) is Aidan, one of Clan Jade Falcon's trueborn. At the start of the novel he and the rest of his sibko (Clan for sibling company), all beginning the next phase of their training to become Warriors of the Clan on the world of Ironhold. But from the very beginning, he is singled out by Falconer Joanna, one of the trainers in charge of their sibko. Thus he is subjected to repeated bits of punishment and humiliation seemingly more than any other member of his group.

But all of this, including the insults and punishments, play into the nature of Clan training. And as things become more and more difficult, soon more and more members of the sibko drop out for reasons including failure to handle the pressure of the role or even the death. All this is to focus on only gaining the best of the best of each sibko, who will then get a shot to prove themselves on the battlefield and hopefully become full-fledged warriors of the Clan. Aidan's entire life thus far seems to be geared towards that one test and to fail it would be death for him.

As a long-time Battletech reader, I can't say that Clan Jade Falcon is one of my favorite Clans around. They've mostly known for their pride and their arrogance and thus they're not entirely likable. And so it's hard to cheer for Aidan either given he rather perfectly personifies a lot of the qualities that this particular Clan tends to foster in their Warriors. To be fair, almost all Clan Warriors act as if they're superior to all others given this is ingrained in their upbringing. But there's something about Jade Falcons that make them seem particularly arrogant compared to others.

Then again, this is a first book focused on the Clans and I can totally see how this trilogy helped shape the nature of the Clan in all later books and related aspects of the fiction of the Battletech universe. But it's still quite an interesting look at the inner workings of a Clan and just how alien a lot of their relationships and practices seem when viewed in contrast with our own lives or those individuals in the Inner Sphere.

As a book all about military training, the book builds up to some rather impressive displays of Clan combat. Even though we're talking about a number of trainee battles and skirmishes here, you have to respect that Clan warriors are definitely a lot more intense when in combat compared to their Inner Sphere counterparts. And they're not just trained to be skilled BattleMech pilots - they're trained in all forms of combat and aspire to be successful at them all.

As alien as the ways of the Clans seem to be, one can totally appreciate (at least on an intellectual level) the rationale behind a lot of the Clan's practices. After all, their origins are tied to a military force that left the Inner Sphere with a promise to one day return and right the wrongs of the old government. That's a pretty big mission and this book reveals a bit more of the history of that period in line with their current practices and traditions, many of which are a response to the period of the exodus.

Thurston isn't too bad with describing combat scenes and he's definitely a bit better at BattleMechs than hand-to-hand stuff. the build-up to Aidan's first Trial of Position. I remember going through a similar scenario back when the second MechWarrior game first came on on the PC and so there was a bit of a chill being able to read about the whole experience again.

The book also has quite a bit of political intrigue as part of the plot, which is sort of par for the course for most Battletech novels but it felt a little out of place for a Clan story. Then again, that's only strange when you take the Clan's philosophies at face value and you assume that they are entirely honorable beings. But as this book and actually what many Clan stories also reveal is that the members of the Clans are just as petty and manipulative as any other human being.

Battletech: Way of the Clans is interesting enough first look at Clan life and a nice effort to explore the unique perspective of Clan Jade Falcon. As easy as it is to think of the Clans as the bad guys a lot of the times, books like this really helped flesh them out as just other people. Thus the book gets a good 3 Clan squabbles within the sibko out of a possible 5.


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