Everyone who reads BattleTech has a favorite novel. I’m no different, except that I also write BattleTech books, so people often want to know mine.
So I made a list.
1. Wolves on the Border
If you know much of my BattleTech writing history, this first one won’t surprise you. The top of the list is Robert N. Charrette’s Wolves on the Border. Wolf’s Dragoons and the Draconis Combine just before the Fourth Succession War. First published in March 1989.
The general perception of this book is that it’s one of the best-written ones. I would agree. There are a lot of really good BattleTech books, but the list of really good books that happen to be BattleTech books is shorter. Wolves on the Border is up there.
Here’s the story in a nutshell: Minobu Tetsuhara, a samurai of House Kurita, is assigned as liaison officer to the five-regiment elite mercenaries called Wolf’s Dragoons. The Dragoons are mysterious, having appeared twenty or so years earlier out of nowhere. They have a deserved reputation for excellence, professionalism, and secrecy. Tetsuhara’s mission is to steward the Dragoons through their service with House Kurita, but he never expected to become friends with Jaime Wolf, the Dragoons’ enigmatic leader.
Against the two are the opportunistic and greedy Warlord Samsonov, who seeks to control the Dragoons for his own purposes, and Jerry Akuma, an ambitious MechWarrior unfettered with principles beyond his own enrichment.
In the end, it comes down to Wolf’s Dragoons against the Kuritans.
Now, that’s a pretty good story. I’d read that. But what keeps you coming back to this book are the characters. Minobu is our main protagonist, but we get glimpses inside the Dragoons from Dechan Fraser, a young MechWarrior adopted into the secretive Dragoons. We see their enemies’ points of view, to see how the other side views the Dragoons and the Kuritans. It’s combat and betrayal, and surprises, and double-crosses, and payback, and more.
I read this book when I was first becoming a writer, and it stuck with me. And if you’re a longtime fan, like I am, you already know how all the secrets will play out, and what is coming. But even if you don’t, it’s a damn good book.
As a faction among readers, the Dragoons get called out a lot. They never lose (except they do), or they have plot armor (which doesn’t stop a lot of them from dying), or they’re playing with a stacked deck because of their origin (for twenty or more years!?), or we writers just refuse to let them die.
When you read this book again, here’s what I hope you see: watch for Minobu’s critical eye on the Combine even as he continues to serve it. Watch what it costs a person to do their duty even when it conflicts with what they know is right. Watch for the hints of what groundwork we writers lay to make all those criticisms above less powerful. Listen to the colonels argue about contracts and missions, and note the importance of the tech staff and staff work.
BattleTech is a war setting, and the Dragoons are the consummate warriors. But even as they get to shoot, their enemies get to shoot back.
The ebook is 99 cents on Amazon. If you buy it from this link, Amazon is going to give me 4 cents from their cut. It won’t cost you any extra, and obviously, I’m not getting rich off it.
2-4. The Saga of the Gray Death Legion
My next top book is actually three books because you can’t really read them apart. Well, I mean you could, but I’d never suggest that. The good news is, you’re not going to be out a bunch of money if you take my advice: on Amazon, these books are bundled into a box set in ebook.
The number two book on my list is actually Mercenary’s Star, the second book of William H. Keith’s Gray Death Legion trilogy. Together with Decision at Thunder Rift (first), and The Price of Glory (third), these three books are often held up as the “first” BattleTech novels.
(We don’t talk about The Sword and the Dagger.)
The Gray Death Legion was one of BattleTech’s first mercenary units. All told there would be seven Gray Death Books by Bill or his late brother Andrew (it may be nine by the time you read this, there’s a new one coming!). The stories followed Grayson Death Carlyle and his mercenary band as they grew, fought their enemies, and ultimately faced a horrendous betrayal. But I want to talk about Mercenary’s Star.
After the Legion fights for its founding in the first book, the middle book is their first official contract. And it’s everything you’d expect from a ragtag band of freedom fighters learning to be professionals. It’s got new characters, new equipment, fights on an entirely new world, and just fun evil bad guys.
This is a book with consequences. Decisions are made. People die. And actions have consequences. I won’t ruin the plot for you, but there is fighting and love and betrayal and redemption and bravery and cowardice and and and… you get the picture.
I can’t recommend these books any higher. I will warn you though, they’re going to read a little differently from Wolves on the Border, and other BattleTech books. When these books were written they were still figuring out how to describe the combat mechanics. It’s not bad, by any means, but it’s something to mention.
If three books is a lot, you can get the first one for just $0.99. Just saying.
5. Highlander Gambit
You’re going to get a theme here pretty quick. Mercenaries.
My choice was about Wolf’s Dragoons. The second, the Gray Death Legion. This one’s not going to be any different. I’m talking about the book Highlander Gambit, which is about the Northwind Highlanders—another mercenary group.
Hint: the next choice will be about mercenaries, too. 🙂
The Dragoons are consummate professionals. The Legion, scrappy fighters who always seem to find their way to victory. The Highlanders, though… their tradition of victory is tainted. They switched sides during the last big war because the new side offered them their homeworld back. But the Capellan Confederation, their previous employer, never forgot.
Enter Loren Jaffray: spy, saboteur, deadly MechWarrior, and a member of the Capellans’ elite Death Commandos. He is sent, by himself, to punish the Highlanders for their betrayal. Because he has a secret weapon: his grandparents were Highlanders. And the Highlanders, feuding with their new employer, are primed for conflict.
One man alone could spark a fight that will destroy regiments.
Isn’t that FANTASTIC!?
There’s plenty of the political intrigue that flavors a good BattleTech story here. And of course, some great ’Mech battles, some lies and betrayal, and of course, lots of action.
I like this book not just because it’s about mercenaries, but because it adds some fun life to a new group of characters in the setting. I’ll confess, the Scottishness gets on my nerves sometimes, and the main character is just a little too sure of himself sometimes, but even those negatives pale under just a good story. It’s not perfect, but it’s in my Top 10. I hope you like it.
6-8. Camacho’s Caballeros
I told you this list would be about mercenaries. And I meant it.
Don’t act surprised. I warned you. 🙂
In BattleTech fandom, people either love or hate this group. Or at least the main character. I’m talking about the late Victor Milan’s EXCELLENT trilogy about the mercenary regiment known as Camacho’s Caballeros: the novels Close Quarters, Hearts of Chaos, and Black Dragon.
I’m going to put all three covers down there—be ready, it’s a LONG article.)
The Cabelleros are mercenaries, yes. But I will challenge you, find a more unique collection of characters anywhere else in BattleTech. Their main character is an infantry scout who is borderline insane and fights BattleMechs with knives. They call their support staff aztechs. Their leader is a neo-Spaniard nobleman. They have cowboys and Jews and boys and girls and lots—LOTS—of baggage. Oh and Jesuits.
If you don’t like Father Doctor Bob, well… I can’t help you.
Oh and their employer? A hugely fat Buddha Kurita.
Their enemies in the first book, Close Quarters? Yakuza. Who also happen to be their good friends.
I LOVE these books. I really do. First, because they’re just FUN without being farcical. And because they feel really really REAL. The Caballeros are professionals, just like the yaks they eventually fight. It’s not personal. Just business.
Every time I read these books, I laugh out loud. And sometimes I cry. Get the book here. You won’t regret it. Trust me.
The next book? The middle book? It’s called Hearts of Chaos. It opens with a Christmas attack where Cassie flirts with the second-ranking Kuritan super-spy in the setting. Did I forget to mention that in the last book?
Then they pack up under contract to a Kurita to stop Kuritans from conquering a Davion world.
This book is one of my all-time favorites. It’s sneaky fighting and desperate battles and bad guys you love to hate and terrible losses and righteous fury and revenge. The scene I think is arguably the best scene in BattleTech is in this book. I’m going to go re-read it again after I finish writing this article.
You can get it here; you won’t regret it. It’s a gem. It’s got more rednecks and bars and a guy who would be in Top Gun if his plane wasn’t a wind-up toy.
The last Caballero book is called Black Dragon. And it ties up all the big hooks from the first two books in an amazing way. The Caballeros, recovering from their ordeal on Towne, are summoned to the Combine capital for the Coordinator’s birthday celebration.
Because when you’re the ruler of hundreds of worlds, you have a big military parade for your birthday? I know, right!?
I’m not going to ruin the story for you, but let me tell you about the people in. The yaks from the first book, the Ninth Ghost Regiment, are back. The fat Buddha Kurita is there, and he has ninja girl personal assistants who get him drinks and carry laser pistols. A guy blows himself and some bad guys into space.
Oh, and one of the minor characters is the Combine version of John Woo. If John Woo worked for the KGB. If you like movies, you’ll like him.
The bad guys? Literal freaking evil ninjas. Oh and lots of BattleMechs.
It’s a fantastic end to the trilogy. I really can’t recommend these books enough. They’re just so much FUN.
This probably should have been separate articles, but I’m so in love with these books that I think you should just buy all three right now and get reading.
We had Victor Milan getting ready to work on new BattleTech novels when he passed. I was supposed to work with him on one, but I never got the chance, and I will regret that for a long time. I never got the chance to tell him how much I adored his books. So instead I’m telling you.
You will laugh and cry. Or else I don’t want to hear about it. 🙂
9-10. The Capellan Solution
Good news! These last two books aren’t about mercenaries!
Okay, there are some in the books, but they’re not the main characters. Good enough?
First, I want to talk to you about Threads of Ambition. From Loren L. Coleman. You may have heard of him. 🙂 This is the first book of the Capellan Solution duology. There’s a lot to unpack in these stories, but first, let me tell you why I like them.
A lot of BattleTech books focus on, well, battles. And that’s okay and fun. But we have a habit of ignoring the societies fighting. BattleMech against BattleMech, regiment against regiment, that’s our meat and potatoes. But all those regiments are made up of people, who have families and childhoods and traditions they were raised in. And while sometimes BattleTech planet-conquering just means you change the flag and the face on your money, sometimes it doesn’t.
Like when the neo-socialist Capellan Confederation comes calling. Even better, when they come calling on wayward brothers and sisters in the breakaway St. Ives Compact. This is Liao vs Liao action. And what makes it so interesting, is that Loren does such a good job of showing both the high, ruler-of-the-nation view, as well as the guys-on-the-ground view.
Let’s just do the list, shall we? Aris Sung and the Warrior House Hiritsu (warrior-monk MechWarriors), double-agent betrayals, peacekeepers from the Star League Defense Force (?!), idealistic St. Ives MechWarriors trying to do the right thing and failing, mercenaries appearing everywhere (you didn’t think I’d ignore them forever, did you?)… this book has it all.
Get Threads of Ambition on Amazon here. Isn’t that the craziest cover you’ve ever seen!?
The second book, of course, is The Killing Fields, the second book of the series. I like this one because now that we’ve got the setting down, this book just dives into the combat and the fighting and the in-your-face kind of action that makes BattleTech books so good.
When you read as much war fiction as I do, you find a lot of the kind of story called a bildungsroman: the story of a protagonist moving from innocence to maturity. Sometimes it’s literally that, a child becoming an adult, but often it’s a character moving through psychological growth. They witness or perform acts or actions that cause their worldview to change.
One of the things Loren does very well in The Killing Fields is force almost every character to go through some kind of change. Warner Doles, the hotheaded commander from the first book, becomes more levelheaded; Maurice Fitzgerald learns to be a good MechWarrior and teammate; Cassandra Allard-Liao matures as a commander and a noble of the St. Ives Compact.
And, in the end, the supposed good guys—the St. Ives Compact—surrender rather than destroy all that they are. It’s a book that forces you to reexamine who your idea of “good guys” really is.
Or, even challenges to pick good guys at all. Get The Killing Fields here.
And there you have it: my Top 10 BattleTech novels.
Now, to be sure, I like almost every BattleTech novel. Even the MechWarrior: Dark Age ones that a lot of people hate on. Sure, a lot of them don’t pass some of the tests for “what is a BattleTech novel” but they’re not bad books. They were just written from a different set of standards.
I can’t quite recall what my first BattleTech novel was. I think it was an original-edition Warrior: Riposte. I know I came into that series in the middle, and it took me forever to find a copy of Warrior: Coupe. This would have been in the late 1980s or early 1990s, before the internet in any serious form. What I do recall is that fun mix of combat and politics. The idea of a few people making a difference. And the overriding primacy of ambition of all else.
As I write this I just finished writing a BattleTech novel in 2022. If you’d asked me, back then, if I’d ever be doing this, I’d have laughed in your face.
But here we are.