Monday, 19 July 2010

The Lost Regiment Series (William R. Forstchen)

The Lost Regiment
-William R. Forstchen

The first thing you need to understand about the Lost Regiment series is that it’s a series to extreme. None of the books make sense unless read in strict chronological order. While some of the books are better than others, they must be read in order.

The basic plot of the books is simple. A Union Regiment from the US civil war is swept through a portal built by an alien race to a planet a long way from Earth. Luckily for the regiment, there are other humans here, unluckily, there are also three tribes – or hordes – of alien human-eaters. The whole plot of eight books is concentrated round wars between the humans and the aliens.

The setting is very neat. The Lost Regiment arrives near Rus, which was founded by descendents of Russians who arrived though the ‘gate of light’. This is a feudal system with boyars and a Tsar, but the Americans start to introduce their ideas and their technology – centuries ahead of the Rus tech – to the system. Then the Regiment meets a member of the Tugar Horde and learns the sick truth – the humans of Rus are preyed upon by the horde, who eat them alive. Once you get over the problems with genetic compatibility, it’s a good setting.
Naturally, the regiment prepares to fight. The Rus revolt against their lords in their main city and join the Americans. There is a massive battle with the Turgars, including viewpoints from both sides, and finally the horde is defeated and nearly wiped out. And that’s all in the first book.

The next three books introduce both limited political elements and a new horde. The new republic (pun not intended) has absorbed the rest of Rus. In a parallel to the US reconstruction era, the Americans have been forced to accept the involvement in local politics of the remaining boyars, most of whom are a dead hand. Meanwhile, a human renegade has been arming the Cathas (descendent of a Carthaginian fleet) and using them, under the Merki horde, to attack the Roum. The first part of that war is a masterpiece of strategic planning. Books three and four are far more limited tactically, although we see much more horde politics and the introduction of Tamuka, a character we all love to hate. His crusade against the humans leads to the murder of the horde leader, who he’s sworn to guard, and ends with a surprising side-switch by the remains of the Tugars from book one.

The final four books expose the fledgling republic to its greatest challenge. The Bantag horde, already larger than the others, receives a new leader and messiah from a world as advanced as our present day. For the first time, the humans are outmatched technologically by the horde, facing tanks, aircraft and other tricks – as well as a whole new art of using them. After much daring-do, the republic lures the horde into a mutual destruction trap, and convinces them to agree to a permanent peace.

So, what are my thoughts about these novels? Unlike the WorldWar books, the aliens here are fairly imaginative and well-defined. The hordes do have a surprise (on the lines of Rouke’s drift) when they bump into the human forces for the first real battle, but then they learn and adept. The first horde was primitive, but if they used their weapons right, it did not matter. The tactical action is superb. The viewpoints are wide enough so that we get a good idea of what’s happening everywhere. One thing that’s not well defined is the ESP that some of the aliens have. What is it and what can it do?

On the other hand, I don’t buy the massive technological advances made in ten years of fighting. It’s just too quick, how could one person, who is even less equipped than the Regiment, convince an entire Horde to change their ways? Even with the myth of a messiah, it’s a stretch.
Speaking of that guy, he’s probably the only character in a novel to regress in character development. In his first two books, he’s the foe you love to hate (such as Doctor Who’s Master), but in his last, he’s just a tactical moron like Hitler.

The series is well-worth a read, but be sure to read them in order, or you’ll get hopelessly confused.

#1 Rally Cry
#2 Union Forever
#3 Terrible Swift Sword
#4 Fateful Lightning
#5 Battle Hymn
#6 Never Sound Retreat
#7 A Band of Brothers
#8 Men of War (The final book in the series, or so I thought)
#9 Down to the Sea

1 comment:

  1. A personal favorite of mine.

    The first book is the best. However, unusually for a series, the following books are also good.

    Mr.Fortschen has stated his intention to continue the series at some point.