One of the great things about BattleTech is the way that its setting is handled. The game’s published setting started with the 3rd Succession War era where the five great powers of the Inner Sphere were fighting a low-level war consisting of border raids for food, supplies, and water. Then as new books have been released, the timeline has both been advanced forward and historical eras have been filled in with more details. Despite moving the timeline forward in the setting, the game’s publisher has remained committed to supporting play across all of the eras.
When WizKids bought BattleTech and released the MechWarrior: Dark Age game, they decided to jump the timeline forward by about 60 years from where it had been in the previous BattleTech books and novels. In this new era, the hyperpulse system that allows for interstellar communication had been sabotaged throwing the Inner Sphere into chaos and forcing planets to fend for themselves. Classic BattleTech books continued to be published, but it was limited to supporting the older eras without continuing to advance the timeline toward the new Dark Age.
After WizKids shut down, the classic BattleTech timeline once again began to move forward from where it had paused rather than jumping right to the Dark Age. Catalyst has released a series of books describing the Word of Blake Jihad and the birth of the Republic of the Sphere, and have now reached the point where they will be publishing material set in the Dark Age. The Coming Releases section on the BattleTech site lists Era Report: 3145 and there have also been hints that there will be a Technical Readout: 3145 as well as a couple additional books covering the era in the next year or so.
In preparation for the game books, I’ve started reading some of the Dark Age novels that were published alongside the MechWarrior: Dark Age game. So far I’ve finished the first two novels, Ghost War and A Call to Arms, and I hope to start another one soon. While I doubt I’ll manage to read all 30 of the Dark Age novels before Era Report: 3145 is released, the few that I do read will hopefully be fun reads and help catch me up on a BattleTech era that I’ve had very little experience with.
Ghost War is the first Dark Age novel and it starts shortly after the blackout of the hyperpulse grid. Following the communications breakdown, the planet Helen is seeing growing unrest as a militant environmental group begins to attack lumberjacks. One lumberjack, Sam Donelly, is caught in the middle when he uses his LumberMech to try to save a police force under attack but is then accused of helping the ecoterrorists escape. The story eventually broadens to show how various factions within the Republic of the Sphere are attempting to take advantage of the blackout and how the Republic’s agents, known as Knights, are attempting to maintain peace and order. Like the normal residents of the Republic, the Knights are struggling with the blackout and having a hard time gathering reliable intelligence while various minor factions threaten to tear apart the Republic of the Sphere.
The second book in the Dark Age series, A Call to Arms takes place on the planet Achernar and features a largely different cast of characters. The main character is Raul Ortega, a customs security officer and reserve MechWarrior, who gets called to active duty when the planet is attacked. Achernar is one of the few planets in the republic with a working hyperpulse generator, so it has become an important objective for two rebellious factions: the Swordsworn and the Steel Wolves. Each faction is trying to seize control of the station while the Republic Militia is forced to contend with both. The story’s focus on Raul gives it a good personal feel and helps to show how the battle for control of the planet is affecting its normal residents.
While I enjoyed both books, I found A Call to Arms to be a more enjoyable story and a better introduction to the Dark Age. Ghost War has a broader scope and has more details on the Republic-wide situation, but I enjoyed the more local focus of A Call to Arms and its focus on relatively everyday people rather than higher ranking Republic agents. A Call to Arms also focused more on ‘Mech warfare rather than covert actions which is always welcome when reading a BattleTech story.
The third book in the series is The Ruins of Power, but I’m tempted to skip ahead to the fourth book based on the back cover blurbs. The Ruins of Power sounds like it moves to another entirely new set of characters on the planet Mirach, but A Silence in the Heavens picks up the story of one of the characters I liked from A Call to Arms.