First published under the title Ginga Eiyu Densetsu, 1984’s Stratagem is the fourth volume in Yoshiki Tanaka’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Tyran Grillo’s translation was published by Haikasoru in 2017.
In any other era, military genius Reinhard von Lohengramm would have been just as successful at conquering the breakaway Free Planets Alliance as he has been at commandeering the reins of power in his native Galactic Empire. Fate was unkind to Lohengramm; the Free Planets have their own military genius in academic Yang Wen-li. Thus far, the Free Planets remain free.
Scheming merchants and disloyal aristocrats may be about to hand von Lohengramm the means to finally defeat the Free Planets.
Practically speaking, the Goldenbaum Dynasty is defunct. Legally speaking, von Lohengramm controls the Empire on behalf of a child emperor, Erwin Josef II. The ever pragmatic von Lohengramm will not simply have the boy dragged out and shot; that would be a PR disaster. Perhaps later the boy can be compelled to abdicate; until then, von Lohengramm is forced to appear to bend his knee to a child.
The surviving remnant of von Lohengramm’s rivals for imperial power fled across the imperial borders to the Alliance and to the independent mercantile state of Phezzan. Sensible people would have kept a low profile. The rivals, Leopold Schumacher and Count Alfred von Lansberg, eschew mere caution in favour of audacity. With the help of elements within the Phezzan government, the pair infiltrates the Empire with the intention of rescuing — or kidnapping, if the boy resists — the child emperor.
It’s a plan so bold as to be worthy of Edmund Blackadder himself. It is not surprising that the pair are betrayed to von Lohengramm long before they get near the imperial palace. Forewarned, von Lohengramm declines to take action. In his possession, Erwin Josef is an impediment. In the hands of his rivals, the boy will be a pretext for war with Phezzan. Possession of the Phezzan Corridor would allow the Empire to bypass the Alliance’s impregnable fortress Iserlohn.
Yang Wen-li is canny enough to realize what von Lohengramm is up to. Unfortunately for Phezzan, the Alliance, and Wen-li, there’s nothing the scholar can do to stop von Lohengramm.…
The entire subtext of “conniving merchants with a secret religious agenda manipulating the great powers” is still kind of creepy (I wonder if it has the same subtext in Japan). The Phezzan talent for conniving seems to have backfired on them in this volume. Ah well.
Stratagem’s prose seemed rougher (IMHO) than that of Dawn, Ambition, and Endurance, the three earlier novels in the series. The first three were translated by Daniel Huddleston, while this volume was translated by Tyran Grillo. So perhaps I am just reacting to the change of translators. Or, it could be that Tanaka’s prose, in Japanese, has changed. His prose has always resembled the Empire’s military strategies: full speed ahead and damn the subtleties. Any bilingual readers care to comment?
Readers alarmed that von Lohengramm is on the verge of a sudden, overwhelming, total victory should consider that while this volume provides drama — secret tunnels! kidnapping! fainting maids! meetings! — there is a certain inescapable element of middle book syndrome. What it is really doing is setting up the grand conflict I assume will play out in the next book (or the next few books). I predict that Wen-li will be presented with an insurmountable opportunity even if, for the moment, everything seems to be going von Lohengramm’s way. Fourth volume in a ten book series, after all.