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The Warrior Trilogy Book 1: En Garde by Michael A. Stackpole

The year 3027. Three hundred years ago, the great Star League, which united all the worlds of humanity in a peaceful, golden age of technology, fell into ruin. From the chaos emerged the five Successor States: the Lyran Commonwealth, the Draconis Combine, the Federated Suns, the Free Worlds League and the Capellan Confederation, each ruled by a Great House. At the centre of them all and controlling ancient, holy Terra is ComStar, a mercantile consortium turned religious institution and the arbiters of interstellar communications. Political intrigue is rife, and warfare is conducted by vast, towering war machines called BattleMechs. The period of chaos known as the Third Succession War has come to an end and the Great Houses are rebuilding, but stability is no guarantee of safety. The Allard family, in noble service to House Davion of the Federated Suns, is placed in the centre of huge events when one scion is disgraced and sent into exile on the game world of Solaris VII and another joins the legendary mercenary army known as the Kell Hounds.

BattleTech is the franchise that stubbornly won't die. Starting life in 1984 as a tabletop miniatures game, it quickly spun off a series of over one hundred novels and more than a dozen popular video games (most famously, the MechWarrior and MechCommander series) before petering out in the late 2000s after an ill-advised reboot (the Dark Age setting). After a few years in the doldrums, it suddenly spun back into life with a new edition of the tabletop game and two well-received video games: 2018's turn-based BattleTech and 2019's real-time simulator MechWarrior 5 (which is getting a wider release this month on Steam and Xbox). Capitalising on the moment, franchise-holders Catalyst Game Labs have started making the immense backlog of novels available again vie ebook and Amazon's print-on-demand service.

Arguably the best-known and regarded of the BattleTech authors is Michael A. Stackpole, whom in later years would gain much greater fame and success as a Star Wars author (particularly of the X-Wing series, alongside the late, great Aaron Allston). Stackpole has built a career on writing fast-paced but also character-based military SF and fantasy. Like Dan Abnett (his Warhammer 40,000 counterpart, or the nearest equivalent), Stackpole knows that writing good military SF isn't just about the action and explosions, but creating interesting characters and telling the story through their eyes.

En Garde, the first book in the Warrior Trilogy, was the fifth-published novel in the BattleTech line but is widely regarded as the best novel to start with. The earlier books were published when the details of the setting were still being worked out and are prone to bouts of early-installment weirdness. They were also not as well-written as Stackpole's work, and tended to be smaller in scale. In contrast, En Garde is a book at times so epic it becomes dizzying.

The novel packs more storylines and characters into its modest 320 pages than some 1,000-page epic fantasy novels. At the start of the book it appears that we'll be following Justin Allard as he tries to clear his name after being wrongfully exiled as a traitor. However, Allard's experiences rapidly turn him into an apparently rage-fuelled antihero as he murders and backstabs his way through the crime-ridden underbelly of the gladiatorial world of Solaris VII. His much more sympathetic brother Daniel, a member of the Kell Hounds, finds himself on the front lines when his mercenary company is targeted for extermination by the ruthless intelligence agency of the Draconis Combine. Elsewhere, very high-level political intrigue unfolds when Princess Melissa Steiner of the Lyran Commonwealth has to travel incognito to the Federated Suns to discuss an alliance with Prince Hanse Davion, a prospect bitterly opposed by the other three Great Houses and many factions within their own empires. Yet another subplot follows a dishonored MechWarrior of the Draconis Combine who is offered the chance at redemption by forming and training an elite new military cadre (a fascinating idea which, unfortunately, mostly happens off-page). On top of all that, there is a framing story revolving around the priest-businessmen of ComStar, who preach neutrality and serving all of mankind's needs but, predictably, are up to their elbows in everyone else's business and trying to pull everyone's strings.

Stuffed to the gills with political intrigue and crunchy, mech-on-mech action, En Garde moves fast. As Stackpole's first novel and written under an unholy deadline (the entire trilogy, totalling north of 300,000 words, was written in under ten months), the novel lacks the polish of his later works. There's a noted prevalence of exclamation marks, especially in Justin's storyline: Justin is a big fan of making threatening speeches to his enemies, which are sometimes icily effective and sometimes feel like a five-year-old on the playground explaining why he's so tough and about as intimidating. Dialogue favours exposition, which is often clunky but at least does a good job of explaining what the hell is going on. I do feel like an appendix of in-universe terms and maybe some head-of-chapter preambles explaining the factions (like those in Frank Herbert's Dune) could have been a more elegant way of getting this information across to the audience, rather than a few too many "As you already know but I will explain anyway..." style conversations.

But Stackpole makes many of the characters complex and interesting: Gray Noton is initially presented as an antagonist but becomes a much richer character as the novel progresses, whilst expertly flipping Justin's storyline from a predictable "clearing his name" narrative to a more elemental story of utter vengeance makes for a much more morally murky storyline. A few characters do get short shrift, but hopefully they will rise more to the fore in the succeeding volumes of the trilogy.

There are a couple of other issues stemming from the background material more than Stackpole's writing. The Capellan Confederation and Draconis Combine are fairly obviously based on China and Japan, and a few wince-inducing stereotypes ensue, such as House Kurita's warriors being obsessed with honour, relaxing in tea houses and sometimes inexplicably wielding katanas against enemies with assault rifles. To be fair this actually plays a key role in the storyline, with Justin's half-Capellan heritage marking him out for racist abuse, but it's unsurprising that later iterations of the BattleTech franchise beat a retreat from these kind of stereotypes, with the Confederation and Combine receiving a great deal more nuance. It doesn't help that they are presented as the "bad guys" at this stage, whilst Houses Davion and Steiner, more European-American in inspiration, are the "good guys." Very fortunately, Stackpole upends this idea as soon as the very next book in favour of the setting's more familiar equal-opportunities moral murkiness, with all the factions having good and bad elements to them.

Warrior: En Garde (***½) is a slightly dated but still readable slice of pulp military SF, with interesting characters and a fascinating universe (very much Game of Thrones meets Pacific Rim, with a light dusting of Dune). Some clumsy exposition and iffy dialogue are offset by a relentlessly readable pace and some very enjoyable action set-pieces.

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Interesting to be reading and reviewing these in 2021.  I'm pretty sure I read the Warrior trilogy, although honestly nothing you're talking about really rings a bell so maybe I didn't?  My favorite was Stackpole's Blood of Kerensky trilogy (also the first Battletech books I read), parts of which I definitely do remember. 

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You're not planning on doing all the BT novels, or even the majority, right? Because there's a lot of them...

Good call on likening Stackpole to Abnett, that strikes me as apt comparison.

En Garde is definitely one of the better jumping-on points for the universe. It's definitely where the setting takes its definite shape, where the general political landscape of the Inner Sphere is mostly shades of grey, and one needs to focus on the individuals involved to find someone to root for. Even that gets weird: a lot of the sympathetic characters in the Warrior trilogy become the agressors in an interstellar war of conquest and the reader is expected to kind of roll with it.

 

I just started re-reading the Gray Death trilogy (which makes up three of the four novels that precede En Garde) for the first time in, uh, 25+ years. While there's some early installment weirdness, it's not as jarring as I expected. A lot of the the setting was pretty well defined early on.

And even the Warrior novels have some weird stuff, most notably the Phantom 'Mech thing that Morgan and Yorinaga have going on (and around which their conflict revolves) which is never explained and then discreetly jettisoned for subsequent stories.

 

I feel like all the Successor States were conceived as amalgamations of various 20th century nationalities from the beginning, but the emphasis was generally on one dominant facet and authors often ran with that for simplicity's sake. So the Federated Suns are mostly space British, the Lyrans are mostly space Germans (but all the protagonists from that state are of either Irish or Scottish descent) and the Draconis Combine are mostly space Japanese etc. The Free Worlds League is probably the most difficult to nail down in that respect, and that may or may not be the reason why they never seem to get much love in the fiction.

Overall the setting gets more inclusive and diverse as time goes by, but even in more recent stories you will still have characters strongly identify as, eg. Scottish, despite the fact that their ancestors must have left Scotland (and Earth) six or seven hundred years ago at the very latest.

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Oddly, I've not read a single word of his Star Wars stuff, or this Battletech stuff either.  I am oddly partial to his DragonCrown War Cycle though... and your rescue treks me that I might be into this, Wert. Thanks.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Jon AS said:

You're not planning on doing all the BT novels, or even the majority, right? Because there's a lot of them...

God, no. Mainly because I don't have time with the Pratchett reread project, but also the overwhelming majority of BattleTech novels are still out of print. Catalyst have brought back the six classic Stackpoles (the Warrior trilogy and the Blood of Kerensky or Clan Invasion trilogy) and a bunch of others, and then all the new ones you can get, but most of them would involve going to eBay or Amazon Used Sellers.

So the current plan is to read the six classic Stackpoles and then hit the big plot beats leading up to the present day. They've just relaunched the fiction line with some new books in a new era.

Spoiler

Where the clans finally remember to stop dicking about and conquer Earth, like they're a century overdue on doing by this point.

Quote

En Garde is definitely one of the better jumping-on points for the universe. It's definitely where the setting takes its definite shape, where the general political landscape of the Inner Sphere is mostly shades of grey, and one needs to focus on the individuals involved to find someone to root for. Even that gets weird: a lot of the sympathetic characters in the Warrior trilogy become the aggressors in an interstellar war of conquest and the reader is expected to kind of roll with it.

I think if you read The Sword and the Dagger first it makes a bit more sense (although that's not strong enough a novel to act as a jumping on point for new readers): the Capellan Confederation committed an act of war against the Federated Suns, Hanse was just patient and cool-headed enough to give it a few years before retaliating. Also, whilst characters like Melissa are presented as sympathetic (though she's not got any power at this point), Hanse is very much not. He's a relatively nice guy in person, but he's also clearly a super-ruthless political leader when needed.

Quote

Overall the setting gets more inclusive and diverse as time goes by, but even in more recent stories you will still have characters strongly identify as, eg. Scottish, despite the fact that their ancestors must have left Scotland (and Earth) six or seven hundred years ago at the very latest.

Based on how my American friends identify themselves on the almost-as-tenuous historical links in half that time, I'm not too sure that is weird.

Edited by Werthead

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Never read any of the BattleTech books, though I always liked the worldbuilding from the games. Does it have the same issue as Warhammer though, where "it's a setting, not a story" so no book can ever upset the status quo of the universe? (Or at least Warhammer pre-Gathering Storm). Or is there an overarching BattleTech plot that develops?

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38 minutes ago, Werthead said:

They've just relaunched the fiction line with some new books in a new era.

They've also re-released the Gray Death stuff and have started on the early Dark Age novels. Presumably most of the line will be avaible as POD or ebook at some point. One of the few exceptions might be The Sword and the Dagger, as the author's heirs seem uninterested in a re-release.

They have also used the recent Kickstarter campaign to launch Shrapnel, a magazine dedicated to short stories and supplementary material for the game.

The first three issues contain the first three parts of a continuation of Stackpole's Kell Hounds origin story. The fourth one got delayed and will probably appear in issue 5.

40 minutes ago, Werthead said:

I think if you read The Sword and the Dagger first it makes a bit more sense (although that's not strong enough a novel to act as a jumping on point for new readers): the Capellan Confederation committed an act of war against the Federated Suns, Hanse was just patient and cool-headed enough to give it a few years before retaliating. Also, whilst characters like Melissa are presented as sympathetic (though she's not got any power at this point), Hanse is very much not. He's a relatively nice guy in person, but he's also clearly a super-ruthless political leader when needed.

The thing is, the Successor States have been essentially in a state of war since the end of the Star League, so there's plenty of justification to go around for anyone who wants to start anything.

And while Hanse is extremely ruthless, he's clearly portrayed as the lesser evil (arguably actually in a positive light) when compared to Max Liao.

Plus our POV for the frontline action during the war is Andrew Redburn, who is plenty sympathetic.

49 minutes ago, Werthead said:

Based on how my American friends identify themselves on the almost-as-tenuous historical links in half that time, I'm not too sure that is weird.

Sure, but seven hundred years...

40 minutes ago, Fez said:

Never read any of the BattleTech books, though I always liked the worldbuilding from the games. Does it have the same issue as Warhammer though, where "it's a setting, not a story" so no book can ever upset the status quo of the universe? (Or at least Warhammer pre-Gathering Storm). Or is there an overarching BattleTech plot that develops?

BattleTech from the beginning was developed as explicitly non-static. It's basically a "future history", with the novels detailing both smaller stories and big events, with various sourcebooks filling in details.

The original "now" of the setting when the game was released was 3025, by now it's 3151.

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1 hour ago, Fez said:

Never read any of the BattleTech books, though I always liked the worldbuilding from the games. Does it have the same issue as Warhammer though, where "it's a setting, not a story" so no book can ever upset the status quo of the universe? (Or at least Warhammer pre-Gathering Storm). Or is there an overarching BattleTech plot that develops?

Definitely not.  The political situation in 3025 and 3055 are very different, more so than almost any 30 year period in our world.  I don't really know about 3060 onwards as I stopped reading these about twenty years ago, but I doubt that has changed. 

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2 hours ago, Fez said:

Never read any of the BattleTech books, though I always liked the worldbuilding from the games. Does it have the same issue as Warhammer though, where "it's a setting, not a story" so no book can ever upset the status quo of the universe? (Or at least Warhammer pre-Gathering Storm). Or is there an overarching BattleTech plot that develops?

It's definitely a setting that changes and the stories and history march on, and the novels always push forward big events in the timeline, unlike WH40K, where really major and huge events may or may not be novelised and it's a bit of a crapshoot.

The setting is also divided into distinct eras:

  • The Third and Fourth Succession Wars, or "Classic BattleTech" (3015-3030): This is the setting for the BattleTech and MechWarrior 5 video games, and the default setting for the franchise as a whole.
  • The Clan Invasion (3049-61): This time period introduces the Clans, a technologically advanced new faction. Most of the prior video games are set in this era.
  • The Civil War (3062-67): This time period focuses on a major civil war within one of the major powers, and is an "updated" default setting incorporating the new technology and factions from the Clans.
  • The Jihad (3068-80): Deals with the fall-out from the Civil War era and introduces religious fundamentalism to the setting (or rather puts it centre-stage).
  • The Republic (3081-3130): A new period of relative stability which is sometimes used as a third default setting of low-intensity conflict with lots of deniable battles going on involve mercenaries.
  • The Dark Age (3131-50): A post-apocalyptic setting created by the collapse of the interstellar FTL communications network, leaving the powers and worlds isolated and with a great deal more logistical problems in handling communications. Not hugely popular with fans.
  • The IlClan Era (3151-present): A reset of the status quo, bringing the setting out of the post-apocalyptic setting and reigniting the Inner Sphere-Clan conflict. There seems to be cautious optimism about this new period.

In addition, there have been novels and sourcebooks focusing on earlier time periods. The actual first BattleMech was introduced as early as 2439, so there's a 600-year period before the OG game which is starting to be more explored, particularly the Star League era (when humanity is united by what is effectively the United Federation of Planets) and the Exodus era, when the ancestors of the Clans flee the Inner Sphere for deep space.

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Interesting. I knew the basic background of the early history from Harebrained's game, but had no idea that the main setting time period itself was always moving forward. That's really neat. Is there any sort of general recommended reading order of the best books? Or is that kinda impossible with so much being out of print apparently?

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As mentioned, the Warrior Trilogy is a good jumping-on point, and quality-wise it's probably as good as these books get.

Chronologically, the Gray Death trilogy (Decision at Thunder Rift, Mercenary's Star, The Price of Glory) comes before that. Its general vibe is probably closest to the HBS game.

Wolves on the Border is another one that's set before the Fourth Succession War, and while Wolf's Dragoons, who are the focus of the story, are important to the setting in general, there's really only one scene in the Warrior Trilogy that lacks context if you haven't read it. But I do remember it as one of the better books, and it's only 99 cents in ebook form.

Heir to the Dragon covers a lot of ground, timeline-wise but is probably best read after Coupé.

After that it's the Blood of Kerensky trilogy, which covers the Clan Invasion.

These are all definitely avaiblable right now, so that might be a good start.

Also, after the Clan Invasion the fiction output multiplies, with sequels, prequels and various side stories.

You can check out the list of novels at Sarna, and I just noticed for the first time that they list the years the stories are set in on that page.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Fez said:

Interesting. I knew the basic background of the early history from Harebrained's game, but had no idea that the main setting time period itself was always moving forward. That's really neat. Is there any sort of general recommended reading order of the best books? Or is that kinda impossible with so much being out of print apparently?

Stackpole's first six books are back in print and generally considered the best entry point to the franchise:

  • The Warrior TrilogyEn GardeRiposteCoupe
  • The Blood of Kerensky Trilogy: Lethal HeritageBlood LegacyLost Destiny

Warrior takes you through the semi-peaceful period after the Third Succession War ends, through the intensity of the Fourth Succession War, and then into the aftermath. Blood of Kerensky describes the Clan Invasion, then the Twilight of the Clans series (which is a big, multi-author series) does the aftermath of the Clan Invasion (I think it doubles back and fleshes out some incidents from the Invasion as well in greater detail). Natural Selection and Assumption of Risk flesh out the 3055 period in greater detail, followed by Bred for War and Malicious Intent. Then there's the Civil War trilogy (Patriots and TyrantsStorms of FateEndgame), which concludes the "classic BattleTech" era.

The Jihad era gets glossed over in fiction, with the Dark Age novel series picking up many decades later, but I get the impression that by Dark Age a lot of people had given up (Stackpole wrote the first Dark Age novel but then checked out of the setting). 

There are then books which flesh out elements of the setting: Wolves on the Border and Heir to the Dragon flesh out Wolf's Dragoons in the pre-Fourth Succession War period (they're often cited as the best individual BattleTech novels). The Grey Death Legion trilogy is the very first BattleTech trilogy so has Early Instalment Weirdness but is reportedly a solid look at a lower-stakes conflict.

The Jade Phoenix Trilogy takes place around the Clan Invasion and fleshes those guys out in a lot of detail (whilst the main invasion books deal with Clan Wolf, I believe). I Am Jade Falcon follows that story arc up a few years later.

Of the writers, Michael A. Stackpole is probably the best all-rounder, though he does like "unlikely" coincidences. Robert Thurston is pretty good and Robert Charette is often cited as the best, though he focuses on smaller-scale conflicts rather than big picture stuff. Victor Milan (the Wild Cards writer) is pretty good at writing idiosyncratic stuff that makes diehard fans uncomfortable (one of his main characters hates BattleMechs, for example). Blaine Lee Pardoe isn't bad but he's a Confederate apologist and shoehorns that into the books, often in very jarring ways (and it's unclear why anyone in the 31st Century would give a shit about the Confederacy).

Edited by Werthead

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I would also add my 2 cents that if you want some mecha action with a bit of political intrigue, these books are fine, but rarely great.  Not trying to burst your bubble, but I want to make sure you know what to expect.  As the Gin Blossoms say, if you don't expect too much, you might not be let down. 

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37 minutes ago, Maithanet said:

I would also add my 2 cents that if you want some mecha action with a bit of political intrigue, these books are fine, but rarely great.  Not trying to burst your bubble, but I want to make sure you know what to expect.  As the Gin Blossoms say, if you don't expect too much, you might not be let down. 

Yeah, this is important to keep in mind. In many ways I find the stories set in the BT universe rarely live up to the setting's potential.

1 hour ago, Werthead said:

The Jihad era gets glossed over in fiction, with the Dark Age novel series picking up many decades later, but I get the impression that by Dark Age a lot of people had given up (Stackpole wrote the first Dark Age novel but then checked out of the setting). 

It's kind of the other way around: FASA shut down, then Wizkids picked up the license and developed a new, very different kind of game for it and moved the timeline forward some 60 odd years. To explain the frankly bizarre Dark Age setting (at least it was bizarre as a continuation of the original BT timeline), there were some rather vague allusions to the Word of Blake Jihad (I always feel like that name dates the story clearly to the early 2000s, though for all I know it might be a Dune reference). The story of the Jihad was later retconned-in from that basis by Catalyst, but IIRC they couldn't publish BT novels for legal reasons, so it's mostly told through game sourcebooks. I'd say it was a valiant effort, but obviously hamstrung by the circumstances of its creation.

I only read some of the earliest Dark Age novels before checking out. Allegedly they got better over time, but I'm not going to make the effort of picking them up when they get re-released. I've been picking up the most recent stories as they were published and am now hoping that the new era will be handled more competently (even if the big turning point novel to get us over the Dark Age finish line was far from great; the most entertaining thing about it may have been that the plan to conquer Terra was clearly inspired by Risk).

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42 minutes ago, Jon AS said:

I've been picking up the most recent stories as they were published and am now hoping that the new era will be handled more competently (even if the big turning point novel to get us over the Dark Age finish line was far from great; the most entertaining thing about it may have been that the plan to conquer Terra was clearly inspired by Risk).

Can you elaborate on this?  It sounds like awesome (but obviously not awesome enough that I'm going to actually track down the books).  Did they invade Australia, wait ten years, and then conquer the rest of Earth? 

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2 hours ago, Maithanet said:

I would also add my 2 cents that if you want some mecha action with a bit of political intrigue, these books are fine, but rarely great.  Not trying to burst your bubble, but I want to make sure you know what to expect.  As the Gin Blossoms say, if you don't expect too much, you might not be let down. 

I'll keep that in mind. I have read a decent number of WH40K books though, and not just Dan Abnett; so hopefully I'm coming in with clear eyes about what this might be.

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1 hour ago, Maithanet said:

Did they invade Australia, wait ten years, and then conquer the rest of Earth? 

Yup, minus the "wait ten years" that's essentially what they did. Land in Australia, consolidate, move on through SE Asia and then split their forces with one column heading west, the other north east.

And no, I really don't think it's worth reading the novel. A lot of the plot points were rather contrived and required characters to behave like complete idiots, while others kept getting lucky break after lucky break. As Wert said: Pardoe is a competent writer, but far from the most interesting one to ever write in the setting (though from what little I have gathered about the man, he might disagree with that assessment...).

The novel puts a final end to the Dark Age, though I suspect that the sourcebook covering the same events, which is set to come out sometime this year, might actually make the events described seem slightly less contrived than the novel did, thanks to the greater distance the sourcebook POVs tend to adopt. It feels like at some point the developers at Catalyst decided to just get it over with in order to be able to move on.

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1 hour ago, Fez said:

I'll keep that in mind. I have read a decent number of WH40K books though, and not just Dan Abnett; so hopefully I'm coming in with clear eyes about what this might be.

I don't think any of the writers are as good as Abnett (Stackpole at his best is maybe 80% of the way there), or Mitchell or maybe Dembski-Brown and McNeill, except maybe Robert Charette, but Charette only wrote three books (two of which are acclaimed, the last one is regarded with disdain), none of them critically important to the lore.

As for the really shit books, the ones to avoid are Far Country (which tried to introduce sentient aliens to the setting and got nuked to oblivion by hardcore fans as a result, and TPTB have never ruled it as being canon) and Starlord (which reads like a deranged MechWarrior RPG campaign), reportedly.

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Starlord is definitely bad, but I think Far Country gets a bit of a bad rep because of the whole "no aliens" thing. It's very atypical for BattleTech, being more of a high-concept sf-story in a fiction line that's otherwise entirely military sf. I feel it wouldn't hurt to try to do more different things in the setting from time to time (though lately Shrapnel magazine offers some variety). Far Country is set in a star system that's presumably nowhere near the Inner Sphere and which the human protagonists only reach via accidental mis-jump. As there is also no way to get back (and the JumpShip gets destroyed in the process), it's entirely isolated from the rest of the setting.

There are worse books in the line, like some of the early Dark Age stuff.

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The Warrior Trilogy Book 2: Riposte by Michael A. Stackpole

3028. The Inner Sphere has been rocked by the news that Prince Hanse Davion, ruler of the Federated Suns, is to wed Melissa Steiner, the Archon-Designate and heir to the Lyran Commonwealth. This union will unite almost half of the human race under one banner. The Draconis Combine, the Free Worlds League and the Capellan Confederation are opposed to the union but, after a failed assassination attempt on Melissa's life risks open war, seem powerless to stop it. As the governments of humanity gather on Terra for the wedding of the century, former enemies find themselves united in common cause as they begin to realise that ComStar, the priesthood-conglomerate that rules humanity's homeworld, has been keeping a dark secret from them...

Picking up after the events of En Garde, Riposte continues Michael A. Stackpole's Warrior Trilogy. Set in the BattleTech universe - think Game of Thrones meets Pacific Rim - this trilogy is a wildly ambitious work which sets to tell the stories of both individuals and cultures clashing a thousand years in the future, when wars are fought with building-sized robotic war machines called BattleMechs. En Garde was a fun but extremely busy novel which had more storylines and character arcs going on than most thousand-page epic fantasies, making for a novel with a cracking pace but on occasion could feel rushed,

Riposte calms down that pace and has a bit more time to smell the roses. There's still a lot going on but it's mostly a continuation of the first book's storylines rather than introducing new ones, allowing the story to breathe a lot more.

The book is divided into two general sections. The first section, before the wedding, is mostly setup as we rejoin the characters. The Kell Hounds mercenary group are recovering from the tough battle they fought in the first volume, Andrew Redburn's meteoric career rise is continuing and Justin Xiang (formerly Allard) has been recruited to serve in the Capellan Confederation's intelligence division, where he now directly contests the plans of his father, the Federated Suns' intelligence chief. This section is low on action but high on intrigue, and is mostly well-handled.

The wedding is the centrepiece of the novel and shows how you can use a wedding in an SF novel to completely upend the balance of power in a story without murdering everyone present (cough). The wedding arguably remains the most notable gamechanging moment in the BattleTech universe (or maybe the second, after the events covered in the subsequent Blood of Kerensky trilogy), even being live-reenacted at GenCon 1988 as a clever way of kicking off the BattleTech miniatures battle tournament. It's a fun scene which, oddly, we don't get to see the full events of, with Stackpole choosing to cut away at the key moment to events elsewhere and we only see the aftermath in flashback, which is mildly disappointing. It does make the second part of the novel much more of an all-out war novel, with major characters in action on the front and setting things up for the concluding part of the trilogy.

Some of the weaknesses of the first novel remain - the book veers at times towards melodrama and pulp, entertainingly realised but old-fashioned by today's standards - but others are solved. The first novel made it appear that Houses Steiner and Davion (based on European powers) were the "good guys" and Houses Liao and Kurita (based on Asian powers) were the "bad guys" (House Marik continues to mostly be ignored at this stage), This book throws that into considerable doubt and makes the setting more morally grey across the board, which is more interesting, and instead encourages readers to sympathise with individual characters rather than their polities. Another weakness is that some key characters from Book 1, most notably Melissa Steiner, all but vanish in this second volume, making their storylines feel curtailed.

Still, Warrior: Riposte (***½) is a fun action-SF novel set in a well-realised universe of giant stompy mechs fighting other giant stompy mechs.

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