a review by Elyse Taylor
Battlecry is not a book. It’s more like a conquest. Well technically, it’s an anthology, but I digress. This edition is comprised of the first three episodes of the Sten series: Sten, Sten 2 – The Wolf Words, and Sten 3 – The Court of a Thousand Suns. The plot of the story follows the orphaned Sten from his home world of Vulcan, a manufacturing planet run by The Company, through his defection and extraction by a highly placed imperial guard Ian Mahoney and onto an illustrious career as one of the Eternal Empire’s elite guards.
Sten is predictably perfect. He is not fazed by such unpleasant things as humanoid emotions. No; the death of his family, loss of lovers and seeing his friends heads explode are just things that happen around him. Change is also not an issue as this flexible hero takes on a new job every novel; moving from being an unskilled Migrant Worker (Mig) to Spec Ops in Mantis Company and on to being Captain of the Emperor’s private guard. Oh, and of course, he does all this by his mid-twenties. Still, since he is what most vulnerable nerds have at some point dreamed of being, all is quickly forgiven.
The super troopers of the Mantis Section to which Sten is eventually attached are a cross between the Green Berets, a super-ninja and Maverick. Mantis is completely unbiased in its recruitment, taking any semi-sentient being that shows an aptitude that may become useful. The reason for drafting some squad members is not immediately apparent, but all eventually prove their worth. Carnivorous koalas spring to mind.
It helps to keep military communications in mind when tackling this tome, otherwise the jargon ridden reports can be quite a challenge – some of them are never explained, but after a while you get the gist of them. And a smattering of the Scots doesn’t hurt either as Sten’s erstwhile sergeant and demolition expert, Alex Kilgour, proudly broadcasts in an often untranslatable brogue.
On the up side, characters are beautifully rendered and many interesting alien cultures emerge without merely resulting to stock creatures; as with the Mantis squad, the strength is in the variety provided – everything from the Neanderthal like Bhor traders to homosexual primates; from living rock to psychologist walruses (walri?). Descriptions of these characters are simple, but provide plenty of detail
Initially it may seem that this series is all about the army boffins. Not at all. Woven in between the desperate campaigns and secret missions are the political intrigues of the most complex empire ever conceived. The Eternal Emperor (a man who is well over 2000 years old at the time of the story) attempts to run his extensive realm from Prime World using principles of completely free enterprise. Officially, the emperor has a no interference policy; in reality he has a stake in everything and likes to control his own interests – result: Sten’s job is complicated… and interesting.
Reading this book reminded me of my father’s Halo campaigns: plenty of tactics and strategy with enough suspense (a la: that’s so insane it might just work!) to keep you reading despite the daunting size of the book. Think Tom Clancy in deep space and you’ll be close enough. Battlecry is definitely worth a look for those with a penchant for all things military and a love of good Sci/Fi.
This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.