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 think that I’ve mentioned before that this series reminds me quite a bit of Legend of the Galactic Heroes in places. They’re both Space Operas, but more importantly, we’re meant to root for the Empire much of the time. In LOGH we have Yang Wen-Li and company to balance that out, but the enemy in Crest/Banner of the Stars rarely gets any face time at all, and so naturally we root for the Abh because they’re the POV characters, even when they’re doing things that may be seen as rather heartless or odd. And while Jint may not have been born an Abh, a lot of his emotional reactions to things, particularly in the first half of this book, is starting to feel very similar. Admittedly, he’s helped out by the situation he’s placed in, a plotline which will make the reader cry out for more space battle banter. We get a bit of that as well (thank heaven for Sporr), but for the most part this is a story about a sordid little prison planet and their rebellion.
Jint and Lafier end up coming across this planet, one of the ones in the Abh’s freshly conquered territory. It’s divided into thirds: all men, all women, and mixed, with the men given vasectomies so that the prison won’t be overrun with children. All this overseen by a warden and guards. But now there’s a rebellion, helped along by a nasty drug trade on the planet as well as the men-only group deciding that they want to go over to the women-only group and start making babies. (The novel takes an emotionally distant approach to this – the word ‘rape’ is not mentioned in the book, but it’s clearly what the men, for all their talk about fatherhood being their dream, want to do, and Jint and Lafier do make sure the women-only side of the prison is evacuated first.) All sides want to get off planet, even to other prison planets. Ji8nt is caught in the middle… and when a revolution does come, Lafier, who is dealing with the space battle end of things, cannot stick around to save him.
As always with this series, it’s the interpersonal relationships that make it good, particularly Jint and Lafier. Little things like a near-death Jint writing poetry in Abh on the walls of where he’s hiding for Lafier to find, or the whole “Abh do not cry’ thing that’s a running thread throughout the book (and, unsurprisingly, total bullshit). By the end of the novel they’re closer than ever. And I do love the caustic yet hilarious relationship between Sporr and Cfadiss (and was very surprised at Sporr basically sacrificing a LOT to help Lafier here). That said, while I do appreciate what the author wants to do with the Abh linguistics and the space battle logistics, when the book is NOT about interpersonal relationships it can get quite boring. Sometimes it can even get annoying, particularly when one side of a group of prisoners is arguing about their inalienable rights to rape the other side.
As such, I’d call this volume more ‘variable’ than anything else, though the Jint and Lafier moments are fantastic. Next time they apparently return to his original homeworld. That should be safe and fun! But at least they’re going together.