Banner of the Stars: Thunder of the Empire

By Hiroyuki Morioka and Toshihiro Ono. Released in Japan by Hayakawa Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Giuseppe di Martino.

And so we finally catch up with Banner of the Stars, a series whose last three volumes have come out over the course of the last twenty years, so I’m not sure when the next one in the series will be. This book takes place ten years after the last one, though honestly it took the author telling me that to actually make me understand it. The Abh are long-lived and don’t really age, so there’s a certain stasis to their lives, and it makes it hard to get a real sense of time. As for this book in particular, it’s very good news for those who love long, detailed descriptions of space battles, though as always these are somewhat remote, vaguely realistic space battles taken on by dry, sarcastic space elves, so don’t expect dramatic pew pew laser fights and heroes screaming out as they are killed. What we get instead is the Abh slowly trying to take back what they lost, and to regain contact with the other half of their split Empire, which is also trying its best.

Unlike the last book, Lafier gets quite a bit to do, as she’s promoted from training the new troops (which she’s been doing since the end of the previous book) to having a fleet of her own, whose job it is to retake the capital!… wait, no, that’s not its job, much to Lafier’s irritation. Instead they’re going after a different strategic site, trying to gauge the strength of the enemy, take out the enemy, force the enemy’s leaders to surrender, and seize the day. This is not quite as easy as it sounds… but it mostly is, with the Abh winning fairly one-sidedly. The drama comes from, as I said, Lafier not being a very happy camper. She’s still inexperienced for an Abh, and knows she would not have her own fleet if she weren’t Crown Princess. She has a minder on board, with orders to relieve her of duty if she screws up. And Jint, who is still by her side, is, well, starting to look older than her.

While talking about this book on Twitter, I noted that folks who started the series reading about the adventures of Jint and Lafier, who were hoping for more scenes of them together like we saw in Crest, are probably very disappointed by now, as it’s clear that’s not remotely what the author wants to write about at the moment. It was also pointed out to me that I don’t think like an Abh, and by their standards Jint and Lafier are sickening sweethearts, which is also true, I suppose. (We do see some good shots of Sporr and Cfadiss, which is the only other relationship we see in this series anything like the one Jint and Lafier have, and I appreciated it.) That said, Lafier does think about the fact that, as the years go on, Jint is going to look older and older and she isn’t. I’m not sure that makes her happy, but not much she can do about it. Still, any furthering of the romance will likely have to wait for the end of the war.

When will that end? Well, we’re not sure, as the next book isn’t out in Japan yet. This came out in 2018. I am hoping the gap between books will be more like the 5 year gap between 5 and 6, rather than the 9-year-gap between 4 and 5. till then, this is recommended for science fiction readers who like reading about military tactics.

Banner of the Stars: Destiny’s Refrain

By Hiroyuki Morioka and Toshihiro Ono. Released in Japan by Hayakawa Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Giuseppe di Martino.

I admit, I frequently have difficulty plowing through these books. I enjoy the plotting and characterization, but the writing is a bit on the dry side, not to mention all the bolded vocab. Usually I have a lot of banter between Jint and Lafier to hold me over, but in this book they appear less than they have in any of the others – and for good reason. If you ever looked at the massive Abh Empire and thought “wow, they seem arrogant, I wish they’d lose everything they have”, well, wish granted, my friend. We get an awful lot of dead cast members, though most of the ‘current’ younger generation, including our two leads, are fine. But it does mean that you’re reading an entire book about the downfall of an entire people, which can be… bleak. Honestly, it’s at times like this that I’m grateful for the Abh’s blase attitude towards everything, as this would be a lot worse if people were screaming and crying as they died.

Picking up right where the last book left off, it turns out that the Hania Federation has pulled a fast on the Empire (and indeed on its own negotiators), joining with the Three Nations Alliance. The Abh very quickly realize that they are screwed, and a good deal of the book is seeing them trying to evacuate to a safe haven as many people as possible while also having those in change (including the Empress, Lafier’s grandmother) nobly try to hold off the enemy as long as possible. Lafier’s brother Duhier also gets a subplot as he tries to be a soldier despite the entire world working to make sure he can never do anything productive – it would normally be funny, but we feel his frustration. As for Jint, he’s busy moving gravestones, which to the Abh are far more important than his own life or Lafier’s.

The book is not entirely a downer. Sporr makes a welcome return towards the end, as does her aide, and they’re as hilarious as ever, as she is essentially the Abh version of the princess-curled ojousama. Jint manages to talk to the old Baron who helped them escape from his son’s clutches, and there is some amusing teasing about his relationship with Lafier – literally everyone assumes that they are lovers, though if they are neither one communicates that to the reader. But for the most part this book is about last stands and picking up the pieces, and I suspect that the next book, when it comes (which is also the most recent book, having come out in 2018), will have the Abh taking on more of a freedom fighter sort of role. In the meantime, this is good space battle stuff, assuming you don’t mind the technical banter, the bolded words and, of course, the piles of death, most of which, like the Abh, is communicated to us very matter of factly.

Banner of the Stars: The Screech of Space-Time

By Hiroyuki Morioka and Toshihiro Ono. Released in Japan by Hayakawa Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Giuseppe di Martino.

In the Afterword for this book, published in Japan in 2004, the author apologizes for taking so horribly long to write it (the previous book had come out in 2001). Which makes me wonder how the next book, which came out in 2013, is going to top that. It’s also been a while since the last volume came out in English, but that’s OK, because the reader is dropped right back into one of the main features of Banner of the Stars: Epic Space Battles. Sadly, that is a mark against it for me, as I’ll be honest: I find a lot of the space battle writing in this book tedious. It is no doubt more realistic than, say, the ‘let’s fall out of our chairs’ battles in Star Trek, but there is a certain sterility to it all. Actually, this volume has quite a few marks against it. Jin and Lafier end up playing smaller roles, which is a shame as they’re the reason I read the books. More to the point, the Abh are still just not that likeable.

As I said, a lot of this book is space battles, as it reminds us that the Abh are at war with the various human federations that vie against them. But that might change soon – one of the minor players on the other side wants to negotiate a deal that might actually shift the tide and lead to the end of the war. This is good news, despite all the Abh talking about how much they love being in battle. That said, can the deal really be trusted? It helps that the idea for the deal came about watching the way that Jint handled his own planet recently, giving everyone ideas. As for Jint and Lafier, as I said, they don’t get as much time together as before, and what little there is is more down to showing off how Jint is still trying to assimilate and not quite making it. That said, given the cliffhanger the two of them will soon have much bigger things to worry about.

As I said, I like Jint and Lafier, and I like their scenes together here, but there are simply too few of them. We get a long stretch devoted to the current Empress and her discussions with aides on whether to accept the offer they’re being handed. It’s good f you like political realism, but again shows us that the Abh, in general, are simply too blase and matter of fact about everything, and it does not make for the most scintillating writing. It reminds me of bad Star Trek books that tried to write Vulcans but fell too hard on the “logical” side. At least there’s banter, and we’re reminded that the Abh basically run on it, but that’s sometimes not enough, especially when it’s not really clear if we’re meant to see them as the enemy or the protagonists.

Fortunately, we do not have a nine-year wait for the next book to come out. Unfortunately, I get the feeling I’ll be seeing a lot more space battles in it, given the events towards the end of this book. In the meantime, more Jint and Lafier being an obvious couple but never doing anything about it, please.