Friday, 14 May 2021

Warrior: Coupé by Michael A. Stackpole

The Inner Sphere has erupted in the Fourth Succession War. The forces of the Federated Suns have launched a devastating assault on the Capellan Confederation in reprisal for an attempt to assassinate the ruling prince, whilst the Federation's allies in the Lyran Commonwealth have launched spoiling raids to stop the Draconis Combine and Free Worlds League from coming to the Confederation's aid. Whilst Capella's defences crumble and recalcitrant member worlds take advantage of the chaos to declare independence, Chancellor Maximilian Liao has developed plans for a bold strike far behind the lines to halt the offensive in its tracks, but endanger the entire economic future of the Inner Sphere in the process. Whilst the Federation rallies scratch units to fight a final, desperate battle, the Kell Hounds and the Genyosha agree to an honourable duel to end their long-running feud.

Following up on the events of En Garde and Riposte, Coupe concludes the events of Micheal A. Stackpole's Warrior Trilogy. The first major "core" work in the BattleTech universe, this trilogy redraws the borders of the five major powers and advances the timeline through the first major military conflict to take place during the setting's "present day" timeframe. Stackpole is juggling a lot of factions, characters and stories here, as he has throughout the entire trilogy, and manages the admirable job of retaining a core focus whilst also telling an epic story on an enormous scale.

It's also a book with a lot of variety in the storytelling: Andrew Redburn and his mercenaries fighting on the front line, Justin Xiang walking a political tightrope at the heart of the Confederation's intelligence network, Prince Hanse Davion having to retain sympathy and support whilst he undertakes an effective war of aggression, the struggles of the Genyosha as they debate their loyalty to the sometimes-duplicitous House Kurita with the demands of honour, and Morgan Hasek-Davion's struggles to balance his desire to fight on the front lines with the needs of his family, to which he is the only heir.

Stackpole orchestrates this enormous story with impressive grace, knowing when to focus on a storyline and when to back away. There is still too much story here for one volume or even one trilogy, and other books and authors fill in some details which are skipped over here: Robert Charrette's Heir to the Dragon explains why Theodore Kurita is suddenly such a big deal, for example, whilst the hard-to-find Wolves on the Border explains why Wolf's Dragoons have such a hate-on for the Draconis Combine, enough for the highly-reputed honourable company to betray their former employers and plunge their border into chaos (the Dragoons themselves have some oddities which aren't fully explained until Stackpole's subsequent Blood of Kerensky trilogy). This is both a way of letting other stories get filled in whilst making people buy more BattleTech books, which was a great idea for the publisher in 1989 but is not as effective in 2021, when many of those other books are unavailable.

There are other weaknesses: a few characters are killed off whom I think we were supposed to feel quite bad about, but because they only got a fairly nominal amount of development through these three very busy-but-short novels, these don't always land very well. There's a few eyebrow-raising coincidences, and the whole thing is of course old-fashioned space opera pulp, which some may feel has dated more badly than others. Fortunately, this novel increases its predecessor's achievements in rolling back the stereotypes and increasing the complexity and nuance of the factions.

Overall, Warrior: Coupe (***½) matches its predecessors in being a solid novel which delivers on political intrigue, splendid action sequences and fun characters. It is available now in the UK and USA.

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