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Author Topic: (Heavy Spoilers) Hotham's Rambling Review of A Question of Survival  (Read 1087 times)

Hotham

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This is a copy and past from my Amazon review (though slightly altered and expanded). I gave it five stars.

I'm not good at starting reviews so I'll begin by saying A Question of survival is a fantastic BattleTech novel. In a time where I feel current BattleTech stories are likely not to be on par with works that came out during the "classic" era, there are writers who consistently exceed my expectations. I now list Bryan Young among these writers.

His character work is phenomenal. Not just in the book, but in most of his works so far. A Question of Survival is a very character-oriented book. We are introduced to two main plotlines.  The first follows Jiyi Chistu and his Jade Falcon remnant, those left behind and missed by Malvina Hazen on way to Terra. Jiyi finds himself Khan of the remaining Falcons and struggles to preserve what's left of the clan while fending off surrounding enemies with little to no manpower.

The second main plotline follows Star Colonel Emilio Hall of the Rasalhague Dominion and the upcoming vote on whether to join Alaric Wolf's reborn Star League or remain independent. The Dominion is being torn in half by this vote and the populace is becoming divided into two groups, refusers and joiners.

Despite the political unrest, Star Colonel Emilio Hall has been tasked with facilitating combat exercises between a group of Ghost Bear sibkos on his planet. When Jiyi hears of these exercises, he makes an audacious plan to claim these sibkos through a Trail of Possession. That's as far as I'll go on the story. Let's switch over to the characters, which is where I feel Bryan Young's talent really shines.

Emilio is a stand-out character. Especially among clan characters who often start to feel cut and paste at times. Emilio is a character with his own beliefs about the vote to join the Star League, but is willing to put those beliefs aside so that the voice of the Dominion people is fairly represented. This is an aspect that greatly endeared me to Emilio, it begins a thread that reinforces his actions throughout the story and sets up his fate at the end of it.

Jiyi, while a good character in his own right, felt flat to me. I know that statement flies in the face of my previous praise of the author, but allow me to explain. Jiyi is under a lot of pressure due to the situation he finds himself in. The fate of the Jade Falcons is literally in his hands. Any wrong move and the clan is finished. Jiyi takes this challenge head-on and begins to instill some radical changes to ensure the survival of the clan. That's the strength of his character, his flexibility, and out-of-box thinking. However, I believe he keeps his cool a little too much throughout the story. The attempts at sardonic humor in the face of awful news didn't reach me. I understand only a level-headed person like Jiyi can pull off what he does in the novel, but the same coolness reaches a point of unbearable overconfidence towards the final conflict.

Dawn is a somewhat minor character on the Jade Falcons aside. She's a washout who is given a second chance at being a MechWarrior. At first, I wasn't too impressed by her and had to struggle to get through her chapters in the middle of the book. Dawn seemed cut and dry in terms of a clan warrior. But as the story progressed, Dawn surprised me going into the final conflict. I found her thought process of doing the Trial with the Ghost Bears intriguing and it enhanced my enjoyment of the 'Mech combat. Dawn is not someone who simply wants to be a warrior, she's hungry for leadership and will actively strive to get it while also caring about those around her. Dawn's interaction with another character, Alexis, towards the end of the story is what places her firmly in my mind as a great character.

The last character I want to discuss is Alexis, a freeborn in a Clan Ghost Bear sibko. I would argue that the Jade Falcons are the protagonists of this novel, but Alexis is its heart and soul. Alexis's subplot is one of standing against bigotry from her Den Mother Sasha Ivankova, and a fellow member of her sibko named Daniel. Just like Dawn, it took a while for Alexis to grow me. Mostly due to her young naivete. Bryan Young has a talent for writing realistically frustrating young characters. Alexis is well written and her reaction to the Falcons coming to trial for the sibkos and Emilio accepting the trial is a highlight of the story. Though I wish it had been more harrowing for Alexis and her compatriots.

This leads me to my major criticism of the book. Alexis's subplot leading up to the trial doesn't work for me. At the beginning of the story, we are told of the vote to join the Star League by the Rasalhague Dominion. The vote is passed in favor of joining by a slim margin. Alexis is a refuser, but her trueborn friends (at least Thomasin is) are joiners. Thomasin passionately condemns refusers and Alexis worries that her vote would come to light by her friends.

Nothing comes of this despite the vote and who voted for what being a major theme throughout the Ghost Bear plotline. Instead of a refuser/joiner subplot, we get a freeborn/trueborn subplot. I feel that the latter is not suited for this novel. On top of that, I don't consider the opposition to Alexis, the Den Mother and Daniel, to be well-written antagonists or characters.

Alexis is discriminated against by the Den Mother for being freeborn and a former street urchin before coming to the sibko. Daniel is the Den Mothers' favorite and holds a grudge against Alexis for constantly upstaging him. So far so good. However, the story loses me when Daniel is depicted as being wholly incompetent. Why is he the Den Mother's favorite? It can't be because he's trueborn because there are other trueborns in the sibko. Alexis says that the vote has brought out old prejudices in trueborns and against freeborns.  But the story goes on to tell us that most of Alexis's sibko and the Ursari trainers agree the favoritism the Den Mother gives Daniel isn't right. This makes the Den Mother and Daniel the minority. On top of that, the relationship is never explained and by the end of the story, the Den Mother casts Daniel aside like it's nothing. I felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle.

Daniel is presented as an obstacle to Alexis, but one she always easily overcomes. He's written as toothless and never becomes a true threat to her. Daniel does make a change towards the end of the novel that I didn't really believe due to the suddenness of it. I feel like there was more potential for his character as an interesting antagonist. I feel there was a better story in the wings than simple trueborn bigotry. One that would have echoed well with Emilio's story and served as a prelude for events to come.

Final thoughts: I would like to praise Young for his depiction of not only Rasalhague Dominion society but also Clan Ghost Bears' role within it. Clan Ghost Bear, while often depicted as the better of the clans, still holds to questionable actions, such as removing the populace of an entire city for live-fire exercise or being willing to gamble the lives of young warriors through combat. I'm a Capellan Confederation fan, but I'm not blind to the terrible things done in the name of the state. I believe Bryan Young kept that tenet in mind when writing this book.

"My mother told me to never throw stones at Davions. But my father told me, aim for their heads." - Daoshen Liao

"Call me, when you need me." - Danai Centrella-Liao

"Bath him, then bring him to my chambers." - Romano Liao

The Warrior Houses are the closest thing BattleTech has to the Jedi Order. Change my mind.

Swankmotron

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Thank you for the kind words! This was a thrill to read after all the hard work on the book!