“Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Volume 2- Ambition” by Yoshiki Tanaka

The Legend of Galactic Heroes is a… well, legendary anime series. What far fewer people have experienced is the novels upon which it is based. I’m probably something of an outlier here–having only read some of the books while not having seen the anime. I wanted to write about the series of novels to encourage others to read them.

Volume 2: Ambition

The first novel of the series sets the stage for the epic back-and-forth battle between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance. The main protagonists are Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wen-Li, respectively. In that first novel, we find out about the war, its origins, and more. Tanaka writes from the perspective of an historian, reporting the events in a rather matter-of-fact way, while foreshadowing upcoming events.

Volume 2, Ambition, expands on the universe with more information about the Phezzan Dominion, an independent planet state that thrives on trade with both major powers in the galaxy. Because they thrive on that trade, it is in their interest to see the war happen while not interfering, selling freely to both sides. This seems like a recipe for disaster in later books, however. For now, they profit. Meanwhile, a coup attempt in the Free Planets Alliance and a power vacuum after the death of the Emperor in the Galactic Empire means that the main fighting stops while each side has to tend to interior struggles.

In this second volume, Tanaka also turns up the character building quite a bit. One, Senior Admiral Ofresser, turns into a monumental challenge in chapter 4. Here, Tanaka manages a devilish task: taking his massive, comically huge space battles and making a single fight in a single corridor somehow matter to the plot. It’s not uncommon for tens of thousands (or more) casualties in this series from a single battle. That means that the scale is so huge that single losses might lose meaning. But Tanaka, in the course of a single chapter, manages to use the narrative “historian” voice to make Ofresser into an almost unbeatable opponent who becomes both repulsive and intriguing to the reader. It’s a phenomenal set of scenes in one of the best chapters in the series so far.

Later, the huge scale of loss is used by Tanaka to cause moral turmoil for Reinhard. Having found out about a potential nuclear attack, does he rush to prevent it, or allow it to happen to muster even greater public outcry on his side? The few pages that cover this event have great weight. Because Tanaka has made huge numbers of losses seem so casually normal in the first book, the plight of the civilian was seemingly a non-issue. But here, he twists the reasoning, allowing major players around Reinhard to effectively argue that a few million dead in light of uniting 25 billion people seems like not such a great loss. And the hardest part is that it makes a twisted kind of sense! But only a devil would pay that butcher’s bill, and the toll it takes later on Reinhard will be interesting to see.

Other epic moments include the use of ice for a massive, debilitating attack in chapter 7. Chapter 9 is another great work of character building amongst otherwise matter-of-fact reporting from the narrative voice. Here, Reinhard tries to cool his relationship with Kircheis because he took advice about not sharing power. But when push comes to shove and Kircheis literally puts his life on the line for Reinhard, the latter realizes what a terrible mistake he’d made. It’s a powerful scene.

One thing that makes these books such a treat for me as a reader is how unexpected some of these character moments are. The way the books are reported, almost as if from a newspaper, makes it easy to think that you may not connect with the characters. But Tanaka uses that same narrative style to cleverly make these vignettes that make these newspaper figures so relatable and interesting in ways that as a reader, I didn’t expect. The series also, as I mentioned in the first post, reads like an anime. It was developed into an anime, and I wonder if Tanaka was thinking this as he wrote it. The epic scale lends itself to that format, as does the narrative style.

Ambition takes the massive battles and scope of the first book and turns the plot up a few notches. I am excited to see where it goes next. I forget exactly which volume I read through before, but I believe I got to 3 or 4, so there’s plenty more to go for new reads in this 10 volume saga.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates


Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.