Randall N. Bills,
Hunters of the Deep
(Roc, 2004)

Many Battletech fans have yet to embrace the new Mechwarrior Dark Age series, and -- unfortunately -- Randall N. Bills' Hunters of the Deep isn't going to help matters in this regard.

Bills is something of an expert when it comes to Battletech technology and hardware, which makes it all the more disappointing that there is so little actual Mechwarrior action in this novel. Most Battletech fans want battle action, and plenty of it. Hunters of the Deep consists predominantly of politics inside Clan Sea Fox, and there's really not much of a tie-in with events taking place throughout the Dark Age universe as a whole. There is talk of an invasion of the Republic by House Marik, but that invasion is given exceedingly short shrift in these pages. To put it mildly, I found the politics of this novel somewhat confusing. Worst of all, there is really no one to admire in this story; indeed, I wasn't even sure who I should be pulling for until I got about halfway through the book. You basically have two ovKhans of Clan Sea Fox pitted against one another; one, ovKhan Sha Clarke, seeks to break away his Spina Khanate from Clan Sea Fox, a most unclanlike thing to do, while the other, ovKhan Petr Kalasa, is a weak leader with a history of loss and defeat at the hands of Sha. Petr's only saving grace is his loyalty to Clan Sea Fox, but I couldn't help but wonder throughout the novel how such a tainted, rash leader who allows his primary aide to endlessly bait him for his past failures has managed to hold on to his position for so long.

Clan Sea Fox should be an interesting clan, for its members spend almost all of their time on naval vessels, wandering from one world to another making trade deals by negotiation and/or intimidation. As space naval men, though, they spend comparatively little time inside 'Mechs practicing or waging battle. As such, they are not exactly experts at battle maneuvers or strategy -- Petr certainly isn't. His rashness has allowed Sha to best him more than once in the past, and there's no reason to think that things will change when his current negotiations with the merchants of Adhafera are disrupted by Sha's own bid for trade rights with the planet (for such disputes are generally settled with a duel between ovKhans). Sha is up to something, though, and Petr finds the most unusual of information sources in a female assassin named Snow. Their clandestine meetings become exceedingly tiresome because they always consist of little more than bizarre flirting sessions, made all the more unbearable by the frequent descriptions of Snow's exceeding ugliness of features and perpetual filthy, smelly state. Still, Snow, who seems to be linked to the Republic in some way and certainly knows more about Sha's plans than Petr's intelligence agents even suspect, makes it possible for Petr to try and protect Clan Sea Fox (and the Khan) from Sha's traitorous power play.

Bliss has the annoying habit of starting at the end and working backward when it comes to describing important events -- such as the one-on-one duel between Sha and Petr in the Rituals of Combat surrounding a Trial of Bloodright. Sometimes, I found little explanation of any kind for certain major happenings. In the end, I can't help but feel that Hunters of the Deep represents the Mechwarrior Dark Age series at its least appealing, as it seems to specialize in the very things many classic Battletech fans like least about the new series.

by Daniel Jolley
10 September 2005

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