Mike Moscoe, |
The Republic of the Sphere has basically collapsed in the two years since the HPG interstellar communications grid went down. Clans and Houses are making power grabs all over the galaxy, and most of the now-isolated planets are finding out that ignorance is not bliss.
Alkalurops is a seemingly insignificant little mining planet out in the middle of nowhere -- galactically speaking; its people are simple miners and farmers. They have always stood up and fought for themselves in the past, but their noble ancestors never had to face Mechwarriors in hellish BattleMechs. When a raiding party lands on the planet and begins confiscating equipment and supplies, a lot of folks -- mostly urban types -- stand back and freely give what true patriots would never surrender. Not so in the small town of Falkirk, where a spunky redhead with Scots-Irish blood coursing through her veins leads a group of citizens willing to fight for what is theirs. Using mining Mechs crudely fashioned with whatever kind of offensive weapons the local engineers can fashion, Grace O'Malley and her militia take on the raiders and, as much by luck as anything else, live to fight another day. One thing is made clear by this limited engagement, though -- the people willing to defend Alkalurops are going to need help if they are going to hold on to their land and their lives.
After a robust assembly of the people's representatives, Grace heads off-planet to hire a professional army of the planet's own. The Roughriders, under the command of Loren J. Hanson, are the first to turn her away with impossible payment demands; little does Grace know that the Roughriders have spent time on her planet already. In the end, Grace comes home with a loose grouping of professional soldiers tasked with turning her homegrown militia into a fighting force. Time is short, as the raiders soon return to Alkalurops with more than raiding on their mind. Then, as if things aren't bad enough, the Roughriders' client, as much a mystery to Hanson as he is to Grace, drops in with a bevy of his own Red and Black henchmen. Grace and her band of hastily trained but deeply committed patriots must come up with a novel way of fighting for their land and freedom, but it won't be easy. They know who the real enemy is, but they also have to take into account the Roughrider troops still ostensibly holding true to their contractual obligations.
A lot of these Mechwarrior Dark Age novels are basically the same: one planet faces an incursion by enemies of some sort, be they seekers of power, wealth or both. This ninth book in the new series really has a spirit of its own, however. The citizens of Alkalurops are not trained fighters; they are just regular people who would rather die fighting for their land than see it stolen by ruthless brigands. Their strategies and tactics definitely qualify as unconventional. It makes for an especially interesting conclusion, as this is a battle that cannot be avoided. If you like your battles by the book, or you lust to see battalions going head to head across a traditional battleground, you won't find much of that here, but it seems to me that the most realistic of battles are never fought by the book.
The local politics of Alkalurops adds great depth to the story, as does the work of some intriguing intelligence agents. Basically, the fight itself isn't half as interesting as the preparations that come before it. I should also note that this story really plays out as a local affair; while a couple of intriguing questions arise, Patriot's Stand essentially takes place within a geopolitical vacuum rather far removed from the large-scale crumbling of the Republic itself.
Good characters make for good novels, and Patriot's Stand features a couple of good ones. I will admit that I felt a few of the characters could have been threshed out a little more, the villain is a real paper tiger, and the story behind the story of the villain was left a little nebulous, but it is hard not to like L.J. Hanson, and I must say it was a real joy to get to know Grace O'Malley. The planet may be Alkalurops, but the freedom fighters here sound a whole lot like the kind of Terran settlers who once fought for and won independence from Great Britain -- they are patriots of the highest order.