A fight to balance duty and honor... and giant robots.
Disclosure: Bryan Young is one of the founders of Big Shiny Robot and previous editor in chief. He provided a digital advance copy of his book, for review purposes. Big Shiny Robot has not received any money for this review. Though, I would let him buy me a cup of coffee, once the pandemic is over.
BattleTech, as a franchise, launched in 1984 in the form of a tabletop game called BattleDroids. The name was changed in its next iteration, because you have to pay George Lucas a nickel every time you say the word “droid” without his permission. Them’s the breaks.
The series has since branched into just about every form of media imaginable, including comics, video games, an animated series, and of course, novels. More than a hundred of them. They tell the long and bloody tale of warring factions, piloting armored ‘Mechs, for supremacy of Earth.
BattleTech: Honor’s Gauntlet, written by Bryan Young, hits shelves and online bookstores today, August 14, and lays the groundwork for a new age. There’s political intrigue and exciting reveals and, of course, lots of punchy robots. What more could you want?
The story begins with Star Captain Archer Pryde, a member of Clan Jade Falcon, on a mission to quell an uprising on an outlying planet. Under the command of any other captain, that rebellion would have been crushed swiftly and violently. Clan Jade Falcon maintains order through fear, such is the way of the Mongol Doctrine. But Pryde thinks differently, he’s risen through the ranks without becoming wholly corrupted by the prospect of power.
As Clan Jade Falcon positions itself across the galaxy, Pryde’s actions, specifically his restraint, gain the attention of Khan Malvina Hazen, leader of the Clan. Orders come down from the top that he’s to be watched, in order to ensure his loyalties are true and when he and his Binary of ‘Mech warriors return from their mission, to the planet of Seginus, he finds himself under the watchful eye of Star Colonel Nikita Malthus, a zealous follower of both the Khan and the Mongol Doctrine.
The situation on Seginus has been tenuous. The population sees Clan Jade Falcon as an occupying force, while the Clan sees themselves as the rightful rulers. This is the minefield Pryde must navigate, to live up to the expectations of his Clan, while treating the people of Seginus with respect. It’s a thin tightrope to walk in the best of times, and this is not the best of times. Malthus’presence further changes the dynamic on Seginus, she tips the scales and throws Pryde off balance.
As tensions rise on Seginus and as the Clan repositions for a new, secret offensive, Malthus pressures Pryde to abandon his restraint and embrace a philosophy of rule through fear. He’s left with a choice, his honor or his life.
Honor’s Gauntlet skillfully balances political machinations, moral introspection, and blowing stuff up with a well-mixed grab bag of mechanical killing machines. The very first scene will assure you that Young knows how to handle action. His battle scenes are dynamic and high-octane. There is a real sense of danger, even as we assume (hope) that Pryde will win the day. Perhaps more impressive, though, is the slow-winding tension of intra-Clan politics. There are, admittedly, fewer explosions, but just as much danger. Maybe more. Inside his ‘Mech, at least he has armor.
Young could have stopped there. He could have delivered a book filled with clashing philosophies and smashing technologies, and readers would have walked away happy. Smash. Think. Smash. It’s a good story sandwich. You eat that and you’re satisfied. But he didn’t stop there. There’s a secret sauce, something subtle, something you don’t notice sneaking up on you until it hits you in the mouth. A final bite of story so good it makes you realize you didn’t fully appreciate the sandwhich you were reading until… listen, this analogy has gone a little off the rails. Still, the point remains.
Honor’s Gauntlet delivers on everything you expect from good, fun science fiction. But it isn’t paint-by-numbers. It’s smarter than that. If you’re familiar with the world of BattleTech, there’s plenty here to enjoy and you’ll be delighted with the story Young tells and the groundwork he lays for whatever comes next. For my part, I had never read a BattleTech book before, never played the games or watched the cartoon. I went into this novel with a certain amount of anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to follow it. I needn’t have worried. If you’re uninitiated, you’ll find this book to be accessible, with world building layered in, in ways which allows it to be understood in context and will leave you wanting to know more about the characters and the worlds they inhabit.
Honor’s Gauntlet is available in print and digital download today. Don’t miss it. I give it four punchy robots, out of five.