It’s a little Pacific Rim. It’s a little Hunger Games. It’s a little of a lot of things we’ve seen before.
That about sums up Combat Frame XSeed from Brian Neimeier. The basic premise is that somewhere in the future, mankind has developed Gundams called “Combat Frames” with which to make war. Earth has fallen into ruin, with conflict between what’s left of those in charge and the colonies located at the LaGrange points. The actual politics of the piece are incidental, as much for the writer as for the reader, it seems. There are all sorts of machinations and plots and mustache twirling, but it’s on a more personal level for the characters. The overall politics of the solar system seem to serve only as incidental plot device moments.
It begins with a rescue mission that goes horribly wrong, and the only survivor, Sieg Friedlander, finds himself among a ragtag coalition of freedom fighters. And I have to say, it took me a few chapters to realize that Sieg had even re-appeared in the book after the rescue, mainly because Neimeier doesn’t make it clear that we’re dealing with the same character.
The other lead character, Tod Ritter, is a pilot for these battle suits, and I’m struck by the fact that his loyalties flip so easily when confronted by his options after capture. It’s just one example of the many moments of convenience — a character just happens to have just the thing they need; a character just happens to have a change of heart at the right moment — and at times it felt like these moments were too convenient. Hand-of-the-writer moments where something has to happen a certain way in order for the plot to go a certain direction. Characters decide to say or do certain things because they must do those things to get to the end point.
Fortunately, there’s no heavy reliance on a strong knowledge of anime or mecha stories. You don’t have to have a history of watching RoboTech to enjoy this book. But when I finished the book, I found myself a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more to it. More character development, especially. And more complexity to the plot.
Having said all that, one might think I may not have enjoyed reading this book. On the contrary. It was a fun story, despite the superficial nature of the characters and plot. And I guess that’s what bothers me about it: I enjoyed it, but with another pass and more depth to the characters, I think I could have enjoyed it more.
We’ll see what happens in the next one, since this one has a nicely placed cliffhanger…