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

Posted by DarkChaplain at 8/04/2016
In the thirty-sixth century humanity has conquered the galaxy and colonized countless star systems. The Galactic Empire, modeled along Prussian lines, and the democratic Free Planets Alliance are at war, and the fate of every human being in the universe hangs in the balance. This classic Japanese space opera, adapted into a legendary anime, is finally available in English for the first time.

After a coup d'etat erupts in the Free Planets Alliance, military strategist Yang Wen-li is ordered to use his tactical wizardry put down the rebellion, but the ringleader holding the capital is someone he had once trusted deeply. Meanwhile in the Empire, Reinhard will soon face a new trial as in the wake of the Emperor's death he stands amidst an intensifying power struggle among the aristocracy. The unbeatable magician and the unstoppable genius: the decisions these heroes make will send shockwaves across the galaxy.
I was so stoked to get started on this volume that I bought a copy of it while on vacation, for about $17, while I still had a preorder going back home, which I was paying 12€ for. I left the first copy back in the US with my girlfriend for her to read (as she is currently reading volume one and enjoying it... and my bag would have been too heavy) and picked up my package once I was back in Germany. Yes, I am digging this series that much!

The Story:
"In the thirty-sixth century humanity has conquered the galaxy and colonized countless star systems. The Galactic Empire, modeled along Prussian lines, and the democratic Free Planets Alliance are at war, and the fate of every human being in the universe hangs in the balance. This classic Japanese space opera, adapted into a legendary anime, is finally available in English for the first time.

After a coup d'etat erupts in the Free Planets Alliance, military strategist Yang Wen-li is ordered to use his tactical wizardry put down the rebellion, but the ringleader holding the capital is someone he had once trusted deeply. Meanwhile in the Empire, Reinhard will soon face a new trial as in the wake of the Emperor's death he stands amidst an intensifying power struggle among the aristocracy. The unbeatable magician and the unstoppable genius: the decisions these heroes make will send shockwaves across the galaxy."


The Review:
I really loved the first Legend of the Galactic Heroes book, as should have been apparent from the review a couple of months back. Ambition continues on from where Dawn left off. Admiral Yang Wen-li is in control of Iserlohn Fortress while Imperial Marshal Reinhard von Lohengramm is furthering his political and militaristic career by forcing the monarchy of the Galactic Empire into a corner.
Everything seems like a natural extension of the first novel, whether it be plot or characters, and as a result, my love for the series has only been growing over the course of volume two.

Unlike the previous installment, this one does not focus on big clashes between Free Planets Alliance and Galactic Empire. Instead, both are dealing with internal conflicts; while Reinhard is working on purging the aristocracy by branding them "Brigands and Usurpers", a coup d'etat keeps Yang and his allies busy around capital world Heinessen. This might mean that both plotlines are somewhat isolated, but also allows for both Yang and Reinhard to grow individually, within their own environments, without constantly banging heads in mighty space battles. On top of that, it gives more attention to the workings of their respective societies, and once again shows that, while on the surface very different, Alliance and Empire are becoming eerily similar.

The title, Ambition, is rather fitting in my opinion. It highlights the discrepancy between Reinhard and Yang, in that the former desires full control of the Empire and tearing down the aristocracy, while Yang shies away from praise and would prefer a quiet life in some backwater. It also points at various other characters throughout who wish for promotion or try to maintain their level of power to the detriment of all else.
A lot of the book spins around ambitions, power and self-deceptions on part of the players, which makes it a thematically consistent read.

While most of the origin stories and anecdotes of the protagonists were taken care of in Dawn already, there are still some small scenes here and there that flesh out various characters, including Siegfried Kircheis, Reinhard's right hand man and dearest friend. These scenes were touching and evocative, and contributed a lot to understanding of Reinhard and co. On Yang's side, more attention was given to Julian, who accompanies his patron throughout the novel, rather than being left at home on Heinessen. He is developing into a compelling character who propells Yang to new heights by his actions and attitudes. Those are just two examples of characters with renewed spotlighting, but there is a whole bunch of them in this book. If there's one thing Tanaka excells at, it is developing natural, likeable, competent characters who not only drive the plot forward but also offer insights and questions to the reader.

But Ambition is also about space battles, military action and conspiracies, all of which I felt were nicely executed and provided a good amount of challenge for the characters. While Reinhard seemed for the most part ahead of the aristocracy's game, passing the trouble on to his subordinates, Yang had to deal with a lot of problems head on. Like in Dawn, there were opportunities for most of his senior staff to prove their worth, whether it be Frederica Greenhill or Walter von Schönkopf. The author somehow manages to keep all these characters relevant to the overall story while building them up for future events that might move them closer to the center.

The battles themselves felt well executed, and even featured a big ground assault on a space fortress, which introduced an extremely violent but somehow still appealing character in Senior Admiral Ofresser. While rather bloody compared to the rest of the book, the chapter dealing with him and the battle was highly exciting and a great change of pace from massed fleet maneuvers and politics.
That doesn't mean that the space battles were dull, however. In fact, they were extensive, clever and at times even saddening. It was a great mix of different pieces of action with introspection and, at least on Yang's side, a bit of a negative look on warfare as a waste of lives.

That kind of political and societal commentary flows through the book, like it did in Dawn already. It may seem odd that a title such as Legend of the Galactic Heroes appears to have so much bad to say about war, politics and power, but then, I think that is kind of the point. Tanaka didn't seem to write a story about glorious leaders of war, but relatable characters caught up in the gears of history as they turn inevitably towards a cataclysm that will shake the galaxy to the core. While he praises tactical genius, he also makes the reader aware of the great weight of responsibility on the generals' soldiers, and the guilt an expedient solution might produce. There is a sense of tragedy in a lot of events sketched by the book, and I cannot help but appreciate it.

If there is anything to take away from the end of Ambition, it is that this series is just getting started. Big changes are occuring in both factions, and even within them. Strings are being pulled behind the scenes, and both Yang and Reinhard are left on shaky ground after sudden realizations hit them. Future novels, the third of which will be released in the coming winter (I already preordered it, too!), will be heavily influenced by the events of this second volume. It is a turning point with far reaching consequences - and I cannot wait to read what happens next.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol.2: Ambition 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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