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

Posted by DarkChaplain at 7/17/2017
Remnants of the high nobility, manipulated by the third power of Phezzan, abduct the seven-year-old Emperor and, with the cooperation of the Free Planets Alliance, declare the establishment of a traditional Imperial government. Reinhard, however, has turned the tables by making a secret pact with Phezzan high officials, and plans a grand invasion of the Alliance by way of the Phezzan Corridor. So begins an epic battle to the death between Yang, who despite surmising Reinhard s true intentions must defend Iserlohn, and the Imperial Army's peerless fighter, von Reuentahl.
Getting my hands on this hasn't been an easy task. I preordered the paperback back in November 2016, yet still didn't get my copy until almost 3 weeks after its June 21st release. Likewise, there was no shortcut through an audiobook edition like with the previous three (please, go pick up Tim Gerard Reynolds' narrations!), so I was forced to wait it out.
Once I got it, I was through in a little over a week, despite many appointments and stressful nonsense going on. So let's see about this review, eh?

The Story:
"Remnants of the high nobility, manipulated by the third power of Phezzan, abduct the seven-year-old Emperor and, with the cooperation of the Free Planets Alliance, declare the establishment of a traditional Imperial government. Reinhard, however, has turned the tables by making a secret pact with Phezzan high officials, and plans a grand invasion of the Alliance by way of the Phezzan Corridor. So begins an epic battle to the death between Yang, who despite surmising Reinhard s true intentions must defend Iserlohn, and the Imperial Army's peerless fighter, von Reuentahl."

The Review:
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Stratagem is the fourth of ten volumes in the classic japanese space opera series. Originally released during the 80s, it has only recently made its way to an english release. I could go on and on lamenting the sluggishness of US/UK publishers in picking up this well-loved classic, but I believe I've done that already. Right now I am actually happy that we'll be seeing the midway point later this year, and volume six by April 2018. Stratagem, being the most recent installment I got to read, has done nothing to blunt my enthusiasm for this series. If anything, I am more eager for volume five to find its way into my hands.
This being a good way into the series, expect spoilers for the first three books. I reviewed the previous volumes already, so if you're new to it, best to start there.

Unlike previous books, especially volume three, Stratagem focuses little on the Free Planets Alliance, and with it Admiral Yang Wen-li and his crew. Instead it turns the reader's eyes towards the Galactic Empire's capital of Odin, its semi-dictatorial ruler Reinhard von Lohengramm, and his dealings with the merchant-dominion of Phezzan. While I was initially a little disappointed with not getting to see as much of Miracle Yang and co, his role is a passive one in general. Unlike last time when he had to go up against a court of inquiry and rush back to Iserlohn Fortress in a last-minute defense against the empire, here he is stuck at the base, waiting for Reinhard to make his grand moves. He has little chance to take the initiative, which is in great parts down to the inertia of the Free Planets Alliance's bureaucracy and incompetent leadership.
So in my eyes it makes perfect sense to point the camera to where the history of the galaxy is being written: In the Lohengramm camp.

However, that is not to say that Yang and co have no relevance here. If anything, things are being set in motion to break the status quo at Iserlohn, in a multitude of ways, and put Yang on a path that has been hinted at for quite some time. For one, Julian Mintz, Yang's ward, is promoted and sent to Phezzan as a military attaché, on command of the bigwigs on the FPA's capital of Heinessen. Julian benefits from a good chunk of development throughout this novel, with more promised in the next installment, while Yang's own position is destabilized somewhat. Thankfully it is not all doom and gloom, and Yang, Julian and co offer some of the most amusing scenes in the series yet.

But let's turn towards Reinhard here. Last we saw, he had put down the nobility's rebellion, placed himself in the position of de-facto ruler of the Galactic Empire, while maintaining a seven year old child as the official emperor. Unable to deal with a child the same way he might with a full-grown despot, he is forced to wait for a chance to fully bury the old Goldenbaum Dynasty that has reigned for nearly 500 years. When Phezzan reaches out with an elaborate plan to abduct the child-emperor, Reinhard makes his move by allowing it to proceed and in doing so offer him a casus belli against the FPA and gain undeniable advantages in the coming war.

Almost the entire book deals with this situation, from inception to the military push spearheaded by Reinhard's fleet commanders Wolfgang Mittermeier and Oskar von Reuentahl. Both of these have been interesting to watch over the last few books, friends as they are, but here their paths might begin to diverge a little. Von Reuentahl receives the bulk of development, exploring his own ambitions and role at Reinhard's court. He goes up against big odds here, trying to prove his worth not only to the imperial marshall, but also himself. Tanaka is building up towards an eventful escalation over the coming book or two.

Meanwhile, Phezzan's meddling in the two big civilizations' respective political systems and businesses leads to quite a lot of tension. I loved seeing how arrogant and selfish the Phezzanese are depicted here. They are self-serving to a fault. This time they may or may not have miscalculated in their schemes, but then, we know from previous volumes that their real goals are far less obvious than people think.
Through Julian and some later chapters we actually get a good look at Phezzan's way of life, which I found to be an interesting contrast to the other two major powers. It also made it appear that, for all their mercantile talents, the Phezzanese might be living in a bubble of their own making.

Another thing that got satisfying developments was the relationship between Reinhard von Lohengramm and his chief secretary, Hildegard von Mariendorf. I really am quite fond of her, as she is presented as a character with a strong moral code yet also utterly loyal to her lord. Her role diminishes somewhat in the later chapters, but early on she scores a lot of points in my book. Her interactions with von Lohengramm are in a way reminiscent of those between the Golden Brat and his lost friend Siegfried Kircheis, who of course isn't forgotten either.

The big war efforts, however, are mostly confined to the later parts of the book, and most likely the next part. The book focuses instead on the build-up, the plan, the schemes that lead there and the way they may turn against their makers. This is the book where the breaking of the status quo between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance truly begins, but also that for Reinhard and Yang respectively. Things are inevitably going to change, and Tanaka made an impressive show of how that could be achieved.
While the book errs on the shorter end of the spectrum, clocking in at just over 200 pages, it was full of character development and even explorations of the historical background of the Galactic Empire and its former rulers. Some of these excursions into history were actually pretty shocking and gruesome, giving another reason to the reader as to why Reinhard might be justified in burning the Goldenbaum Dynasty to the ground. But while the end may be laudable, it is questionable whether the ends justify the means.

But then, this series has been building up towards a variety of role reversals for a while. Stratagem continues hinting towards these, just how previous novels have made the empire under Reinhard appear fair and heading into a more liberal direction, whereas the FPA keeps regressing towards political tyranny. This, in my eyes, is one of the coolest, most satisfying aspects about this entire series; the perversion of ideals, the realization that to do good in the long run you might have to do bad in the short term, the reader's deliberations on who is on the right side of history, it all adds up to a hugely engaging, pseudo-historical narrative the likes of which you don't see often.

Considering how strongly Stratagem continues the series' trend of excellent character building and leads right up to what should be the mid-series climax, my love for Legend of the Galactic Heroes just got reaffirmed. The pendulum of human history keeps swinging and I wonder what repercussions the counter-swing will have in the future.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol.4: Stratagem 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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