“Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Volume 4- Stratagem” 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 4: Stratagem

Stratagem is the fourth novel in the Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and it is perhaps the first where Tanaka steps back and develops the political machinations more than anything else.

We’ve had some epic battles through the first three books of the series, sometimes comically huge battles, to be honest. I’ve said it multiple times, but it should be said again–the scale is intentional. It’s a kind of anime level of absurdity to get the point across of the epic-ness of the conflict. Readers looking for military realism should look elsewhere than this series. Here, however, the battles take a backseat to the planning of a coup in the Empire and the overthrow of Phezzan’s mercantile blockade of resources from both sides.

The coup is a major theme of the book as the 7 year old emperor is used as a pawn for multiple sides of the internal Imperial politicking as well as the actions of the Free Planets Alliance and Phezzan. Reinhard appears to be pulling the strings, aware of what’s happening even as he allows things to happen so that he can manipulate them more effectively towards his own ends. Tanaka’s style of writing–that of a kind of dispassionate historian reporting all the events in the story–struggles occasionally with characterization here. It’s clearly a choice Tanaka has made at this point to tell the story in the fashion he’s been using, but it also means that we don’t get as much of the internal dialogue or conflict as one might expect from some characters, especially Reinhard. What is his ultimate motivation? We can only know through the few vignettes we have in which others essentially ask him the same question. It’s frustrating at times, but I wonder if the payoff will be high towards the end of the series.

The conquest of Phezzan is another major turn for the galactic conflict, demonstrating the stakes that are involved much better than the last book’s conflict between two massive space stations. While Tanaka managed to make the latter of interest by hand waving some science fiction magic to make the locale essential, he’s done a significantly better job making Phezzan a kind of economic third player that has been a juggernaut in politics for books 2-4. Now that we end this one with the conquest of Phezzan, I wonder where Tanaka will go from there. One thing is clear–the Black Fox of Phezzan, Adrian Rubinsky, will have something to say and do about all of this. I think that character is one of the more tantalizing plot threads Tanaka has dangled thus far.

Stratagem ups the ante for the conflict’s scale, and sets up several characters to have larger parts in the series to come. I look forward to seeing where Tanaka takes us next.

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