Review: Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn

Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn
Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn by Yoshiki Tanaka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alright, there’s no getting around it: I’m going to be honest and admit that I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book as much without the stellar narration of Tim Gerard Reynolds. I was introduced to TGR through his work in reading Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, which fully convinced me that I will listen to just about anything this man reads. He could read me the dictionary and I’d still be there. There’s something about his voice and the way he delivers his narration that completely captivates me.

And this book is no exception. In fact, the very reason I chose audio over print or digital was because I saw that Tim Gerard Reynolds was going to be the reader.

While I went into this novel because of a book club in which I participate, I was already vaguely aware of Legend of the Galactic Heroes prior to picking up Dawn. As a fan of both anime and science-fiction, I had heard Heroes brought up many a time as a kind of “hallmark series” for science-fiction anime lovers from many fans and reviewers of the genre. It’s been adapted for anime, manga, PC games, and even a stage play — let’s just say that Galactic Heroes has gotten around since Dawn‘s initial publication in 1982.

Now it has finally been translated into English for non-Japanese readers like myself to consume, and I have a feeling my star-rating would be at least one star lower had I chosen a different consumption format (i.e. print or digital over audio). I did enjoy the book, don’t get me wrong, but there are some things that definitely irked me while listening.

The writing style is very “cut and dry” with the kind of “this happened and then this happened and then this happened”-style that detaches me from the reading experience. This particular style is something I’ve noticed more in science fiction than any other genre I’ve read, so perhaps it comes with the territory. That being said, I think the style actually does a disservice to the various battle sequences that Tanaka peppers throughout the novel. I didn’t feel any serious excitement or tension going into them because the language wasn’t sumptuous or evocative; it wasn’t sucking me in as much as it should. Again, with Reynolds’ narration, which buoyed it up just enough to pique my interest, the different accents and voices of the characters helped to keep me involved. But the book should not be dependent upon its narrator, no matter how good he/she is.

As for the characters…meh? Like the writing style, they’re fairly straightforward with little more to them than what we get within their initial introductions. I found this lack of growth frustrating. Yes, I am aware this is a 10-book series, but there should still be small-scale character development, especially within the first novel. There is also the problem of the two protagonists, Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wen Li, never physically interacting. A game of “cat and mouse” is all well and good, but you do need to have your characters in the same room at some point. I was practically begging for these two to speak, to give me some sense of why I should be invested in their rivalry.

Furthermore, what this book really needed to do was give me a reason to care about the Free Planets Alliance. I mean, I get it: never-ending war between them and the Galactic Empire because of differences in ideology, but…why am I supposed to care? I found all of the characters of the Empire far more interesting, probably because Lohengramm — although criminally underused in this book, which seemed to focus far more on Yang — was a more dynamic character than his counterpart.

On the whole, this would normally be a 3-star book: yeah, it’s fine, but I don’t think it’s anything to call home about due to an overly-dry writing style and characters that go effectually nowhere. But Tim Gerard Reynolds’ narration shines in the face of these challenges. He adopted a plethora of accents for the myriad of side-characters, manipulated his pacing and pitch throughout the battle sequences, and brought life to what was otherwise a “meh” kind of story.

Would I read the sequels? Only if Reynolds is back to narrate.

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