(Author's Note: This review is dedicated to the memory of friend, grognard, and brother-in-gaming Jason Caldwell.)
WARNING, WARNING, WARNING: Blatant fanboying ahead. I've loved Battletech for twenty-fivish years. I make no apologies for it, but you have been warned.
I have, in the past, admitted to possessing a love of both Young Adult literature (I blame J.K. Rowling) and Science Fiction. You were just warned about my fascination with the Battletech universe. (It occurs to me that I haven't been to the Battletech Universe website in far too long.) I guess that's why I'm in love with Jennifer Brozek's Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident. Seriously. Those are some hardcore cadets. The plot moves. The kids perform in combat and action abounds.
I'll be honest: The beginning of this thing had me a bit worried. B:TNAI starts out as a bunch of cadets from the Nellus Academy find out that they'll be touring a refueling station in space. It sounded like a photo op kind of thing. I immediately became concerned because Battletech novels have always been about fighting. It's not Knitting Tech, it's Battle Tech. Actually, that's not totally true. Ilsa Bick did a BT novel that was a detective story. It was good but I wanted a more traditional BT novel. I wanted to go to war. I wanted to see some serious action. I got over it quick. This book is action packed.
I don't want to get into too many spoilers because that's not my style but suffice it to say that things take a left turn at one point. What seems like a joyride is actually not a joyride. I hate to use a comparison to Scooby Doo, but I think I'm going to have to. The gang shows up in town, things aren't how they originally seem and then everything goes to Hades. That's awesome though. I didn't see things going the way they went but it actually made sense than it did.
Also at the beginning, The Nellus Academy Incident really felt like it was going to be a mystery novel. When the big plot twist hits that changes quickly. This thing goes from a whodunit to a canwesurviveit at the drop of a hat. The kids adjust quickly and that makes sense. The Nellus Academy is a military academy. It's what they've been trained for.
I like the way these kids work together. It feels real. One would expect an author to show her cadets in a panic. It's not realistic when you've got a trained group working together but it's the cliche. Brozek is better than that. I wonder if she's had actual military service because these kids react correctly. They use their advantages unashamedly. They instantly know what their hierarchy is based on existing rank. They don't always agree on a course of action but they do follow orders.
Another reason that I suspect that Brozek may have some military experience is her firm grasp on the principle of Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. Brozek's little unit manages to find ways to do what they need to do even when they don't have the tools that they're used to. These kids don't screw around. If an opportunity to get closer to their objectives shows itself they do what they need to do.
That's not to say that the cadets are perfect. They do make mistakes. They don't always move precisely when they need to. They find themselves having trouble dealing with losses. They're people. That's what I want to see in any work: Believable protagonists worth rooting for. And believe me, these cadets are worth rooting for. It would have been way too easy for them to just go with the flow and hope the enemy would show some mercy. They didn't because they were trained better than that. Good for them.
Of course, one of the biggest thrills of Battletech is the 'Mechs. I don't want to spoil too much here, but we do get to see some 'Mech action. We get dropships and aerospace fighters too. This thing goes a bit bonkers at one point and that's not a good thing. It's an AWESOME thing. There is nothing so pleasing in a Battletech novel as when it all drops in the pot and things start to explode. Brozek does a good job of keeping the action that we need to see crystal clear and sharp and the background violence where it belongs... in the background.
Something else that Battletech has always done well, and that Brozek does well, is political intrigue. There are troubles brewing on the border of the Free Worlds League and the Lyran Commonwealth. It's about to get ugly and the opening moves are occurring. This is what our heroes find themselves dropped into. It's the foundation of the entire story. It works.
Oh, and since I mentioned the Free Worlds League...
It's nice to see something set in the FWL. We don't see much of them. They weren't involved much before the Clan Invasion. They weren't really part of the Clan Invasion. I don't remember hearing anything about them in the Mechwarrior: Dark Age either. I mean, they exist but we don't hear a lot about them. So kudos to Brozek for putting her story in an area that really needs a story. I'd love to see more.
Oh, and by the way, I'm excited. Brozek has a Young Adult Battletech Trilogy coming soon. I can't wait to read it. The e-book that I received had an excerpt in it but I don't do excerpts. I will say that if she writes this well in this universe I have more than enough confidence in her to lay down some loot (err... ok, plastic some loot over the internet. I miss having easy access to a local bookstore.) for a copy. I want to see more stuff go boom! Brozek has more than proven that she's got the skills to make it happen and keep it entertaining. I do find it a bit strange that Battletech: Rogue Academy will be the first YA BT trilogy. I did read the blurb though. That looks good. I'm geeked.
I don't really have any major complaints about the book. Brozek did a really good job here. Usually a blatant fanboy such as myself can find an excuse to bitch about a book because it's not perfectly perfect but I don't have one. So good job, Jennifer Brozek. Take a bow.
Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 ER PPCs
Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident
Catalyst Games Lab, 2018
Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident is available for purchase at the link below: