Jay Allan’s Blood on the Star space opera series concludes this week with Empire Reborn, the 18th in the series. Blood on the Stars has earned praise on this blog as the successor to Honor Harrington. Will its conclusion live up to the Salamander’s? While that review will be written soon, here’s a retrospective of Castalia House reviews of the series.
War is coming.
The Confederation battleship Dauntless has spent ten months patrolling the border, alone, watching for an attack from the enemy Union. Her crew is exhausted and the aging vessel needs repairs.With the fleet mobilized, and the forward bases overloaded beyond capacity, she is sent clear across the Confederation, to a base along the peaceful and sleepy sector known as the Rim.
But the quiet frontier isn’t what it seems, and when a distress call is received from a mining colony at the edge of Confederation space, Captain Tyler Barron must take Dauntless forward into the unknown.
Barron and his crew have their ship–and each other–but they can expect no reinforcements. His superiors believe that Union deceit is at play, that the attack is merely a diversion, intended to draw Confederation forces from the disputed border. Their orders are clear: no ships will be transferred from the front. Stopping whatever is happening on the rim is Barron’s responsibility, and his alone.
Barron’s grandfather was the Confederation’s greatest hero, the father of the modern navy. His name has always carried great privilege, and crushing responsibility. Now he must prove that he has inherited more than just a name. He must face the enemy, and win the victory.
Before the Confederation is caught between two enemies and destroyed.
If The Dark Wing is the philosopher’s choice, and With the Lightnings the historians, Jay Allan’s Blood on the Stars is the adventure fan’s choice. Allan uses World War II as a model for space combat, relying on the familiar mix of fighters and battleships to hammer apart fleets. Instead of the Manticore Missile Massacre, the deciding factor in this naval conflict is, the bravery of engineers at their stations is just as vital as the gunners and pilots. Allan manages to illustrate this damage control race in broad strokes without resorting to technobabble, detailed technological descriptions, or deus ex machina, preserving a backdrop of suspense to the clashes between captains. Tyler Barron’s career echoes Honor Harrington’s, from the dueling ships at the start of the war to leading fleets through two separate and vicious wars, complete with backstabbing from the politicians back home. But like the worldbuilding, the conflicts are described in broad strokes, with enough detail to paint the situation without delving into minutia like Weber can. The result is a stripped-down version of a naval space epic focusing on the action and emotion battle and intrigue that is among the best current stories in all of science fiction, not just indie.
In the opening moments of Black Dawn, by Jay Allan, the remnants of the once-proud White Fleet are leading the far superior ships of the Hegemony on a wild goose chase through unexplored space. The longer they can prolong the pursuit, the more time Admiral Tyler Barron has to rally the Confederation’s defenses before the Hegemony discovers Confederation space. But the Union has engineered a scandal to engulf the Confederation in chaos, implicating Barron as the center of corruption. Now Barron must escape custody, rally the Confederation’s fleets, and save his White Fleet from destruction.
Many military science fiction writers have been vying to become the next John Ringo; Jay Allan instead sets his sights on David Weber and David Drake. In broad strokes, Tyler Barron’s careers share much with Honor Harrington’s, where a brilliant ship-to-ship action heralds the meteoric rise of an officer’s career in a meat grinder of a war, only to watch as a more insidious foe based on genetic slavery shatter the hard-won peace. But where Weber follows in the wake of C. S. Forester, Allan instead draws on the recent Battlestar Galactica for inspiration. Fighter pilots and repair crews decide battles, not the huge salvos of the Manticore Missile Massacre. This change in approach makes space combat fresh again and personalizes the stakes. Fortunately for such an ensemble approach, Barron is a firm leader who does not overshadow the rest of the characters, a novelty not seen in many fleet mil-sf books. Keep an eye out for upcoming Blood on the Stars books; the best from Jay Allan is yet to come.
Jay Allan’s Blood on the Stars series, of which The Grand Alliance is the eleventh book, is the heir to David Weber’s epic Honor Harrington series.
High praise, to be sure, and a statement that sets high expectations for readers. This feat is even more impressive as Allan is not writing Hornblower in Space, yet still conveys the heart of the naval tale: wooden ships and iron men. Denied the escalating technological arms race of Honor Harrington, Allan’s Tyler Barron must rely on leadership, motivation, diplomacy, and his damage control crews to outfight the numerically superior Union and the technologically superior Hegemony. In earlier books, Allan conveys the tension of a damage control race between opposing ships vying to bring their guns back online first without resorting to Star Trek physics-defying wizardry or Honor Harrington’s occasional forays into the accountant’s view of war.
In The Grand Alliance, now-Admiral Barron is gathering forces to retake the Confederation’s capital after the brutal battle that stopped the Hegemony’s invasion. He needs time to rebuild his fleet, time that will only make the Hegemony invaders increasingly stronger than his forces can ever become. While the rump of the Confederation’s government seeks to negotiate with the invaders assimilating their citizens, Barron decides to risk it all in one last drive to the Capital. But first he must draw away enough Hegemony ships to give his strike a chance.
The resulting campaign, from first raid to the final and decisive throw of the dice, forces the fleet to endure hardship, attrition, and even setback. Allan humanizes these costs without grinding the reader down or diving into anti-war cliche. It is right, good, and necessary to fight for one’s homeland, but scars are unavoidable. This human focus means that when it comes time to determine if Barron’s gamble leads to victory or disaster, the action is riveting as Confederation fighters lash out at Hegemony escorts and the lines of battleships duel, uninterrupted by clinical descriptions of ordnance and volume. The result reads like a “good parts” abridgment of a Honor Harrington novel while still maintaining its own identity.
The Invasion of the Highborn.
The mysterious enemy has come, and Tyler Barron and his allies prepare for the final battle, the desperate struggle to save the Rim. Barron’s spacers are ready to fight, as always, but this time they know little of the enemy, and they face technology far beyond their own.
They will fight to the end if necessary, battle with their final breaths to hold back the deadly enemy. They will stand alongside their old enemies, the Hegemony, united for one massive battle, one all out effort to stop the Highborn.
But, even as they prepare to make a stand, they will learn exactly what they are facing, who the Highborn truly are and where they came from…and they will discover that nothing is truly as they’d believed. From the legends of the old empire to the desperate struggle for the future, everything is about to change.
The Last Stand has hit online bookstores, bringing with it another invasion, another desperate alliance, and some vital revelations as to why the galaxy was plunged into a dark age. The 14th book in Jay Allan’s Blood on the Stars series continues to deliver a hybrid of Honor Harrington and Battlestar Galactica action without resorting to escalating tech races. Fighters and damage control win battles, and whatever tactical edge that exists gets blunted through new counter tactics.
However, the Highborn come off as the Hegemony 2.0, complete with genetic castes, superior tech, and a long war on another front. They are the same peril from beyond known space, with the same conflicts and concerns, just carried to a further extreme. And like the Hegemony, the Highborn’s hope for a quick invasion and integration of a previously unknown region gets dashed to pieces by a desperate last stand. Once again, the tactical edge lays in the Confederation’s fighters and bombers, and in the leadership of Confederation Admiral Tyler Barron. And Barron’s confidence rests in his disciplined and proven crew and the technological wizardry of his chief engineer, Anya Fritz.
However, Barron and Fritz take a back seat to Barron’s wife, Andromeda, and the Confederation’s ace of aces, Jake Stockton. Andromeda’s search through the ruins of the fallen Imperium for traces of the Highborn’s history becomes the most compelling thread through the book. The demands of leading mayflies into battle against giants wears on Stockton, even as he contributes miracle after miracle. There’s a clever and game-changing twist at the end of Stockton’s story which offsets some of the heavy-handed foreshadowing in the book. This twist is going to get a lot of people killed in the story.
Blood on the Stars never shies away from the human costs of war, both in the butcher’s bill and the cost to the survivors. As such, the cast is starting to be stretched thin, not just by the fifth consecutive major war, but by attrition itself. There’s just not enough named cast remaining for another fight after this war, and the Confederation is next to exhausted already. And there are at least two more conflicts in the works, including the continuing Union Civil War. This has been a long thread through Blood on the Stars, and what foreshadowing might exist has been played close to the vest. While it is yet to be seen how that will tie into the ongoing galactic fight, it is certain that the conflict will require Barron’s attention before too much longer. However, the repetitive nature of this fight, the weariness of the crews, and the sudden galactic revelations causes one to wonder how much steam is left in the series. Stakes can only be escalated so far, after all.
Blood on the Stars is still the heir to Honor Harrington. Hopefully, it doesn’t get stretched thin like Honor’s books were. As for The Last Stand, it is a must read for those already on this long ride, especially for the twist at the end.
It’s been four years since the Confederation and her allies stopped the advance of the Highborn invasion. Now, with sacrifices back home blunting enthusiasm for a much needed defense, Admiral Tyler Barron is compelled to take the fight to the Highborn before they launch a renewed offensive. However, the attack will certainly be a trap, and the Highborn have developed their own fighters. The one advantage the Confederation had over the Highborn is now gone. And as Barron’s fleet flies to certain doom, the Highborn exploit the tensions back home.
Empire’s Ashes is the latest in Jay Allan’s Blood on the Stars series, a worthy successor to Honor Harrington. The past couple books, however, prompted fears about the series growing too fond of desperate last stands and a procession of increasingly stronger enemies. Fortunately, Empire’s Ashes tries something new for the Blood on the Stars series as Tyler Barron embarks open-eyed onto what should have been a naval blunder. As always, the bravery of the men and women of the Confederation is the key to Barron’s success and survival. The stakes are personalized in the fighter duels between the Confederation ace and the Highborn’s mysterious yet familiar ace–a conflict that only heightens the terror of the Highorn’s favorite brand of technological tyranny. The result invigorates a series that had grown comfortable and was drifting close to formulaic.