Whereas the first book in the Mechwarrior Dark Age series features rather sparse military engagements, this second book in the saga, Loren L. Coleman's A Call to Arms puts the metallic behemoths in the field and supplies us with one battle scene after another. As a BattleTech newbie, I was more than ready to see somebody bring out the big guns and have a hot and heavy free-for-all. This novel is not all about action, however, and herein lies its real strength. The main character is a very human, likeable, and essentially normal young man whom we watch mature as a citizen, patriot, leader, and hero; by the end of the book, he is a far cry from the young man we met early on. The most commanding presence in the book, strangely enough, is not the main character at all but a ravishing, mysterious female Mechwarrior who remains elusive in the minds of the reader throughout the entire story. Raul Ortega never wanted to be anything but a Mechwarrior; even though the Republic thrived under an extended era of peace, Raul thirsted for combat and a chance to prove himself. His dream almost came true, but by the narrowest of margins Raul came up short in his Mechwarrior qualification tests. Now he is a customs agent on Achernar, his dreams of leading a Mechwarrior into combat seemingly dashed. Then the Steel Wolves arrive and bring war to Raul's planet. Achernar's military significance in the universal scheme of things is its working Hyperpulse Generator Station. Some 85 percent of the planets in the Republic lie in isolation following recent, coordinated, very effective attacks on the interplanetary communication network. The Steel Wolves, genetically engineered soldiers, come to Achernar determined to gain control of the HPG station. The planetary militia is initially unprepared and outgunned by the awesome and swift attack of Steel Wolf forces, and the dicey military situation on the planet is further complicated by the Achernar militia's questionable alliance with the Swordsworn on the planet, a group with an agenda entirely their own. When military engagements take place, the dynamics of different groups working together and sometimes against one another makes it difficult to predict how everything will play out. Then there is Tassa Kay, a mysterious visitor to Achernar who just so happens to be a highly skilled Mechwarrior herself. She joins forces with the militia, marching her own personal Legionnaire into one fight after another. Tassa proves to be a most enticing and unquantifiable player in events. Owing no allegiance to the Republic or, seemingly, to any entity besides herself, she is a hard nut to crack, and the secrets she obviously carries keep the suspense of the story alive and kicking over the course of the entire novel. Tassa also plays a key role in the human element of the story. Raul is fascinated by her, and his odd but continually evolving relationship with this woman he barely knows spells trouble with a capital T between Raul and his fiancée. This romantic angle of the story may help the reader forge a personal bond of sort with the characters, but in my opinion it is the only real weakness in the book. While the complexity of Raul's relationship with Tassa makes for a compelling angle to the story, I never sensed any kind of truly significant connection between Raul and Jessica, and I oftentimes thought of Jessica as standing outside the story looking in. I waited quite a while to dip my foot into the BattleTech universe, holding in my head the unqualified assumption that these books were somehow a second-rate form of science fiction. I could not have been more wrong. A Call to Arms features fascinating characters, thrilling military clashes, ever-building suspense and mystery, and an overall complexity I found quite impressive indeed.
This book is one of the very best BattleTech novels I've read. It combines a nice balance of "palace intrigue" and guns-blazing action. We follow the strategies of the Steel Wolf clan's commander, Torrent, who is trying to take over the planet for his clan. Also, the conflict is heated further by the meddlings of a kind of private army called the "Swordsworn." These Swordsworn pretend to be defending the Republic, but they have a hidden agenda that is self-serving, and a raw grab for power. Then last, there is the planet's native government, trying to defend against these factions. All these intrigues explode into conflict, and they result in hot action at a number of points in the book. But as in many of these books, bullets alone cannot solve the problem. Raul and the planet's defenders have to unravel the skein of entangled betrayals and loyalties. In the end, strategy and craftiness by Raul and his friends prevail where bullets alone have failed. Another fascinating character is Tassa Kay, a beautiful and mysterious woman who flirts with Raul repeatedly. She is also a master mechwarrior. Her Ruyken mech is a fascinating ride for a fascinating pilot. Bring her back in future novels, please! The book's protagonist, Raul, is a kind of futuristic "Horatio Alger" -- the poor "loser" who makes good and prevails. Raul is a failure who has "washed out" from military cadet training. But with the onset of a war, and because of several extraordinary happenings, he winds up piloting one of the planet's few battlemechs. And piloting it very well-- turns out that Raul is a "natural" -- a gifted mechwarrior. Every aspect of this book deserves praise. The descriptions, the characters -- who seem sympathetic and real -- and the plotting. As for the "Dark Age" setting of the current battletech books-- I am still groping to understand it, but am willing to give it a chance. I do wish the editors would include more graphics such as drawings or maps. The maps that are supplied seem wrong somehow. One cannot find some of the very planets that are key to the story. Are these old graphics that were dragged out of someone's drawer, rather than commission new graphics? There are some "dumb" errors in dates. Some of the chapter heading dates substitute "May" for "March," which is what they should read. There are a few other inconsistencies or errors of detail that suggest the copy editing is pretty thin at the publisher's. However, these books are not Shakespeare-- they are intended to meet a popular demand and probably go through the publishing cycle pretty rapidly. So we can live with it. Some of us have read a number of Loren L. Coleman novels during the years that BattleTech novels have been coming out. We have seen him go from a green rookie writer toward greater experience. At this point, he is really getting good. Keep it up, Mr. Coleman! All in all, folks, purchase of this book is money well spent. Patrick J. Callahan
Certainly a lot of past B-Tech readers of Coleman's works groaned as I did when hearing he would be authoring the second book of Mechwarrior:Dark Age. Yes... he still uses the same words too frequently, but his narrative has improved tremendously... so much in fact, that I wonder if he really wrote it? A Call To Arms, being the second book in the new Mechwarrior line has something for both the old and the new. While the beginning pages contain the standard "this is the universe under inter-stellar communications blackout" it then rockets past there with things both new and familiar. New mechs such as the Jupiter and Legionaire debut here in their first lengthy battles, while classics such as the Timberwolf and Blackhawk retain their sense of history. The strategy of the commanders plays a big part in this book as battle after battle unfolds definately intriguing the tactician in all of us. Players of the MWDA Collectable Miniature Game get to meet Yulri Wolf, a prize in the March Campaign, as well as seeing a favorite from Ghost War and the redemption offer making a cameo appearance. Most importantly for all the true believers out there is that the new Black Widow has arrived... full force I might add. *HINT* Read the Wolf's Dragoons books. This book is a definite read for B-Tech and MWDA fans out there... the foreshadowing tells us that there will be many more nasty fights ahead in this universe as there were in the 50 or so Classic B-Tech books.
I do have to say that I was one of many who groaned about Loren L. Coleman writing this book but I was definitely and pleasantly surprised. Great story and great characters! I love the idea of the not-so-great pilot redeeming himself and becoming a hero. Many of the BT novels told stories of gifted pilots who just needed a chance to hone or test their skills and prove to everyone that blah, blah, blah... I definitely prefer the story of the underdog as opposed to some mechwarrior prodigy like Kai Allard Laio or Morgan Hasek Davion. Like I said, great story with some awesome characters (look for Tassa Kay to show up later). Also to Loren L. Coleman, great job with the Classic Battletech site. It is definitely appreciated.