This is the story of The Republic of the Sphere launching a military offensive against the Draconis Combine – striking first at Dieron. As with most novallas, there is a lot packed into a relatively small package. Jason Schmetzer does an admirable job of giving us the fight for Dieron far above and beyond what was published in the Shattered Fortress sourcebook.
For a decade or more, the Republic has hidden behind Fortress Republic. Suddenly they reappear mounting a dagger-thrust into the Draconis Combine. That alone is enough to make you want to pick this novella up.
Sourcebooks tend to be like the bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation. Stories like Shell Games put some meat on these and tell the kind of in-depth coverage of battle that fans have come to love. In this, Schmetzer does a great job of taking two paragraphs of sourcebook and turning them into a story of characters, strategy, and honorable struggle.
Most folks have written off The Republic of the Sphere. Let’s face it, they have suffered defeat-after-defeat throughout the Dark Ages. Now they strike at the Combine led by Paladin Max Ergen. Ergen goes after the Combine with the precision of a surgeon, carving up his enemies with a calm that is a mix of confidence and a dollop of arrogance. Using the secrets that Devlin Stone possesses to outmaneuver the Combine defenders; this is a story of someone manipulating his enemies and them attempting to not play his game. We learn a lot about Ergen without him saying very much in the story – testimony to Schmetzer’s writing skills.
One thing I liked about this story is that it emphasized that the Republic is not a push-over – they can and will strike and strike hard. More importantly the paragraphs on Stone inheriting the secrets of the Word of Blake were fantastic. You get a creepy vibe from these two paragraphs about Devlin Stone, without him saying a word. The phrase that came to my mind was: That when you inherit the secrets of your enemy, you become the enemy.
Novellas are tricky. You have limited runway to develop characters. Schmetzer works well in this format. We learn a great deal about the characters through their actions and dialogue. I loved his one word from a Combine officer when they realize they are being invaded. That one word told me a lot about the character without forcing me to read a lot of sentences. That one word was powerful and perfect writing – a trademark of Schmetzer’s style.
This is a fight where you find sympathies with the junior officers and front line troopers more than the leaders. This is their story after all. True, we get an epic fight between Max Ergen and Tai-shu Kambei Okamoto, Warlord of Dieron, but that is not what this story is about.
I enjoyed the story because the focus was less on the BattleMech battles than it was the execution of a strategy. I like characters that outthink their foes. On this front, Schmetzer delivers. Overall, I give this a five out of five stars for me – enjoyable with some memorable characters.
I couldn’t find this on Amazon – but you can get it from the Catalyst Game Labs store.