Robert E. Vardeman,
The Ruins of Power
(Roc, 2003)

Some devoted BattleTech fans have been quite critical of Robert E. Vardeman's The Ruins of Power, the third book in the MechWarrior: Dark Age series. As a newcomer to the BattleTech world, I made a point of reading the two earlier entries in this series to put myself in a better position to judge the merits of this book. While The Ruins of Power isn't on par with its predecessors, I found this to be an entertaining, quite satisfying novel. Vardeman does tend to avoid certain questions about the background of events, fails to expound upon a few seemingly unlikely details and leaves room to question several characters' motives and agendas, but the basic story holds together pretty well, certain explanations are rightly held back until the closing pages and important aspects of society and leadership are addressed. BattleTech veterans may find fault with a number of things in these pages, but those new to the series stand a good chance of enjoying a pretty good story.

There is not a lot of military action to be found in The Ruins of Power. This is due in no small part to Mirach's governor's adamant pacifism and zealous commitment to diplomacy; such strong feelings on his part are ironic and somewhat hard to accept at face value for the reason that Baron Sergio Ortega was a celebrated MechWarrior in his youth. His two sons, Dale and Austin, plead with the governor to use the threat of force to quiet the growing unrest and riots springing up across the land. The destruction of the Republic's interstellar communication capabilities has not only isolated Mirach, it has led to growing economic problems affecting the entire population. Business leaders have gone so far as to begin converting IndustrialMechs into modified fighting machines in order to defend themselves from angry mobs should the social fabric of Mirach split completely asunder.

The government's biggest problem, however, turns out to be the Ministry of Information and the virtual monopoly its minister, Lady Enora, has on the news now that there is virtually no access to interstellar communications. With the specter of civil war hanging over Mirach, only time will tell which important organizations and factions will support the Republic and which ones will betray the common good for their own selfish interests. Political intrigue, treachery and galling lust for power all make their mark on this story.

The Ruins of Power does have its weaknesses, and some readers will find them more frustrating than others. Serious and committed BattleTech readers point to technical problems surrounding the equipping and utilization of BattleTech units in the novel. As a newcomer to the series, I am not familiar enough with the technical details of the machinery of war to question any such information, but this may be an issue for some readers. A much bigger problem is characterization -- or, to be more blunt, the lack of it in some cases. Baron Ortega's unflagging commitment to diplomacy proves quite frustrating early on, and Vardeman really offers no sort of explanation as to why this former MechWarrior now refuses to resort to any show of force. Young Austin Ortega fails to live up to the hype of a BattleTech novel hero, although he does develop into an interesting and sympathetic character.

The main problem with the novel, though, is Vardeman's portrayal of "the bad guys." The most dangerous hornet in the nest of opposition all but declares her treachery time and again, making misstatements that call her loyalties into question from the very start. Her supposed motivation is hardly acceptable in and of itself, and this fact weakens her character greatly. Questionable characterization is only exacerbated by certain aspects of the plot; Vardeman sometimes jumps from point A to point B without explaining how he got from one to the other.

Suffice it to say that The Ruins of Power is not a perfect novel -- far from it. It is, however, a perfectly interesting book that speaks to some of the basic values and concerns of any modern society. Obviously, not all BattleTech fans would recommend the book, but in my opinion The Ruins of Power is more than worth a look by prospective readers.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 29 May 2004

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