translated by Matt Treyvaud
December 18, 2018
* here be spoilers!
It got real in Desolation.
To everyone reading the Legend of the Galactic Heroes series in English, we’re in the home stretch: just two more books left, in which Tanaka wraps up this galaxy-spanning space opera about human nature, political organizations, and history/historiography. It’s been a long, winding, fascinating road, and I admit to checking the Haikasoru site every other day to see when Volume 9 is coming out.
But back to the story. We left off in 7 with the Free Planets Alliance getting an unsurprising beat-down, with the Yang fleet hunkering down on Iserlohn, desperately trying to figure out what to do next. Desolation opens with Yang and his advisors still puzzling over that next step, Reinhard figuring out how best to grab this last remaining crumb of the galaxy and integrate it into the empire, and some low-down assassins plotting Yang’s death (since some in the Church of Terra worry that Yang and Reinhard might actually form an alliance- something the church really doesn’t want).
As in the other books in this series, Tanaka delivers some battle scenes to get the adrenaline pumping, complete with brilliant Yang tactics based upon his clear-eyed view of human nature and classic military strategy. Tanaka also continues his exploration of the tensions and anxieties that drive Yang and Reinhard: while Yang worries about the future of democratic society and his followers falling into hero worship; Reinhard seeks to take over the entire galaxy and vanquish Yang, but also secretly worries about what he’ll do once he’s accomplished all of this. On some level, Reinhard has thoroughly enjoyed locking strategic and psychological horns with Yang, and the thought that this might come to an end, even in Reinhard’s favor, leaves him with a sense of dread.
Tanaka’s meta-exploration of history and the nature of historiography, too, extend into Desolation, with multiple characters writing down their own perspectives on the war with the Galactic Empire. Throughout the book, the narrator quotes several, sometimes conflicting, sources that, long after the war, tried to explain why certain battles turned out as they did and what Yang and Reinhard were thinking at crucial moments. Such moments in the text underscore the relative nature of historical accounting and the idea that one “Truth” doesn’t exist, especially when it comes to human nature.
The real shocker in Desolation came with the assassination, which left me honestly stunned. I kept thinking that Yang was going to be fine, it was all a mistake, he wasn’t actually dead (the same things that Julian and Frederica thought), but, sure enough, Yang was killed by assassins on his way to meet with Reinhard. My favorite character in this series- how could Tanaka do this?? I mean, Julian is great, but he’s no Yang.
I’m looking forward to 9, in which Julian and Frederica, along with their military advisors, pick up the pieces and try to solidify this one last democratic stronghold in the galaxy.