Oct 4, 2011

[Books] Battletech Warrior: En Garde (Book 1)

Battletech Warrior: En Garde (Book 1)One of the many pleasant consequences of my conversion to the Cult of Kindle was the discovery that many of the classic Battletech novels are available for purchase. This was technically my very first book series that I ever got into (yes, even before Dune), but it was also one that immediately taught me just how underappreciated science fiction and fantasy novels are in Philippine book stores. At best I'd catch one or two of these books per store, which I'd quickly snatch up if by some chance it happened to be one I didn't already have.

But now I'm clearly past that childhood book collecting trauma and can now move on to retro-nostalgia buying via the Kindle Store. While not all books are available for download (yet?), a lot of the bigger, more popular stories are already available online.

This was one of them - a series I had never managed to find in print in any of the shops here. Plus it was the first set of books written by Michael A. Stackpole, who later on became my favorite Battletech writer (and perhaps Star Wars too). Thus this proved to be an interesting exploration of both a childhood fave in terms of the franchise and of courser a favored author.

Warrior: En Garde is the first book in the Warrior Trilogy written by Michael A. Stackpole. This was the first book that he wrote for the franchise back in 1988.

The book mainly centers around Justin Allard, the son of Federated Suns Intelligence Chief Quitus Allard. On the world of Kittery, Justin now commands a newly formed training batallion as part of a larger effort to recruit raw recruits who did not graduate from a military academy and train them in the use of BattleMechs directly. But during a routine training exercise the group is ambushed by a group of Liao raiders lying in wait. Justin isolates himself from the rest of the battalion in order to face off the real threat - a heavy mech known as a Rifleman.

The battalion manages to escape with minimal casualties despite the fact they were armed mainly with light Stinger mechs that were evenly matched against the Liao Cicadas. But Justin did not fare so well in his one-on-one with the Rifleman. His Valkyrie was disabled and in the processed he lost his left forearm, thus crippling his MechWarrior career forever. To add insult to injury, when he finally wakes up back on the world of New Avalon, he finds his left arm has been replaced with an experimental cybernetic one and he is being charged with treason by colluding with Liao insurgents on Kittery. With everything turned against him, Justin finds himself practically betrayed by the Federated Suns that he had sworn his loyalty to.

Federated Suns LogoImage via WikipediaThe book also had a few side plots of interest. One was the voice of dissent presented by Duke Michael Hasek-Davion and his efforts to gain independence for his Capellan March. There's the new alliance between the Lyran Commenwealth and the Federated Suns. And there's the weird angle of Yorinaga Kurita and his new Genyosha unit and the coming conflict with the Kell Hounds.

The book suffers a little from the classic trilogy problem of needing to follow an overall narrative flow. In this case, we know that this first book is really meant to set things up for us for the most part. At the very least, Justin Allard's transition to Justin Xiang and his various battles on the world of Solaris VII does give us a main story to hang on to and it is the most interesting part of the story.

I wasn't took keen on the whole Kell Hounds / Genyosha storyline since it felt like it was handled a little awkwardly. The tone felt too different from the rest of the book and it wasn't handled quite as elegantly as other books like Wolves on the Border managed to capture the unique Japanese-style culture of the Draconis Combhine.

I suppose you could attribute that to a greater issue with the book - that a lot of the characters are simply introduced without really taking the time to explain this histories more or to at least better describe their personalities. Thus it assumes the reader has spent some time reading other Battletech novels or at least is familiar with the back story based on the game system or whatever, and thus tries to jump straight into the action for the most part.

But then that's one of the better parts of the book, especially given we'r talking about Michael A. Stackpole. He has a good handling of tactics and describing mech maneuvers on the battlefield - a skill that he hones over the years and even translates into describing space action in the Star Wars novels. It's one of the reasons I love reading his books since he manages to make these franchise stories so much more real - thus putting the reader not just in the cockpit but also in the shoes of a gamer well within his element.

Warrior: En Garde is still a great book that documents a critical point in the Battletech classic history. It's still a must-have for any fan of the series or any player who wants to learn more about the backstory. It gets a respectable 3.5 hidden Cicadas emerging almost out of no where out of a possible 5.

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