Review: Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Dawn by Yoshiki Tanaka

Posted by DarkChaplain at 5/07/2016
“The Golden Brat” Reinhard von Lohengramm, a military prodigy and admiral of the Galactic Empire, has ambitions beyond protecting the borders or even defeating the Empire’s enemies. He seeks to overthrow the old order and become a truly absolute—yet benevolent—dictator. His rival, the humble Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance, wishes to preserve democracy even if he must sacrifice his political ideals to defeat the Empire. Their political and military battles play out over a galactic chessboard in an epic saga fifteen centuries in the making!
The Legend of the Galactic Heroes signifies a major failure of the publishing world. It is an overwhelming shame that volume one, Dawn, was waiting for a total of 34 years(!) to be officially released in english, translated from the japanese original. The series itself spans ten main novels plus side stories and tie-ins, won awards back in the 80s and received multiple media adaptations, from anime to games. There is even a new anime adaptation scheduled for 2017 - which I am eager to see for myself.
This series is big and exciting if volume one is anything to go by, and I sincerely hope that Haikasoru will see the whole series released in the west at long last. It is looking good, with the first three books scheduled for 2016 already.

The Story:
"“The Golden Brat” Reinhard von Lohengramm, a military prodigy and admiral of the Galactic Empire, has ambitions beyond protecting the borders or even defeating the Empire’s enemies. He seeks to overthrow the old order and become a truly absolute—yet benevolent—dictator. His rival, the humble Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance, wishes to preserve democracy even if he must sacrifice his political ideals to defeat the Empire. Their political and military battles play out over a galactic chessboard in an epic saga fifteen centuries in the making!"

The Review
As somebody who only saw glimpses of the anime adaptation at best, I can tell you that this is a cracking read with more depth and character than many modern SciFi works. None of the trappings of modern japanese light novels are present here, so leave your prejudices in the drawer when it comes to the heavily trope-laden stuff you see nowadays.

This is a scifi story with large-scale space battles (with thousands of battleships on either side, usually), intriguing characters, strong politics and exploration of human history, fascism, patriotism, philosophy and more. It is the full package of what I enjoy about science fiction.

I previously said in my review of The Emperor Expects that I'm not usually fond of space battles. Well, of course I would pick this book up next, not fully realizing just how many of those I would get! However, as large as they are described, I felt that every battle was firmly anchored around the overall strategies and generals, their reactions to the enemy and also their follies. Rather than lasers, pew-pew, it was all the more about fleet formations, tactical maneuvering, attempts to outwit the opponent.

It was also commenting a whole lot on the selfishness of the higher echelon and political leaders who would gamble with the lives of soldiers and their families back home, all for the sake of maintaining their own power, or increasing it. There are strong threads of anti-war messages in Dawn, and plenty of examples of extremist factions, short-sighted management and how a democratic civilization can go wrong.

When the book opened up with a prologue outlining humanity's growth and decline over the course of centuries, including the rise of a galactic empire established by what are essentially space Nazis, I was hooked. Most of them even have german names and still use german terminology in the book's present day. It isn't trying to hide its influences by any means, but then, it didn't need to in my opinion; The messages it was trying to send were amplified quite a bit this way.

On the other hand we have a galactic alliance of free planets, which, as it turns out, lost its ideals and is on the route of becoming no better than the empire it seeks to free the galaxy from. It depicts the precarious balance society has to maintain to not end up like the very evil it seeks to overthrow. Throughout the novel, the alliance became more and more openly abhorrent to me. The sheer hypocrisy of it all made it clear that neither of the two opposing sides in this conflict can hold much of a higher ground, and both have their share of relatable characters.

The protagonists of these two nations are the "Golden Brat" Reinhard von Lohengramm, supported by his childhood friend Sigfried Kircheis (which translates to Churchice. Had it been Kirscheis, with an added s, it would have been yummy cherry ice cream, which I got reminded of every time... But I digress), as well as the alliance's magician admiral Yang Wen-li and his closest friends.
Both of these characters are charismatic in their own way, and go the whole mile from promotion to promotion.

They're two sides of the same coin; Where Reinhard is ambitious and often ruthless, Yang would like nothing more than to quit the navy and keep his subordinates safe. Where one uses warfare as a means to propell himself through the ranks, the other scoffs at the waste of lives. Yet both are masterful tacticians who draw on different sources of talent and strategic knowledge. Both despise the system they are caught up in. Both care deeply about their close ones, even though their attitudes are very different from one another.

They both present the different cultural backgrounds of empire and alliance in a way that made it all matter to me, as the reader. I could understand these characters, and being told about their childhood experiences helped that along nicely. There is a lot of clever writing involved, and their pasts mirror each other in a sense.
All these parallels and strong differences made their growing rivalry and clashes throughout the book tough. I rooted for both of them and their goals, while condemning neither. While it seems clear that Reinhard isn't as easy to like and trust as Yang, who does not seem to realize just how good a leadership figure he is, I found myself drawn to count von Lohengramm's natural charisma.

Adding the strong supporting cast to it all, from the war orphan Julian, who Yang took in at some point before the story began and rocks his household, over the generals and political figures, everything falls into place around the duo. I cannot wait to see where they are headed next.

Honestly, I cannot do more than condemn the circumstances that saw this novel only see its way into the english language now. Legend of the Galactic Heroes Vol.1: Dawn is an underrated, often overlooked gem of international science fiction that can play with the big ones.
It is a political space opera of the best kind: Engaging, thought-provoking, relatable and with a good sense of humor and sarcasm where applicable.

I already preordered my copies of volumes two and three, and am prepared to go nuclear if the publisher decides to stop translating this series halfway through. Let us hope it will not come to that. The best way to achieve that would be to take my enthusiasm at face value and pick this book up: It is very well worth reading.
It would be a shame if you decided to let it pass you by.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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