By Schism Rent Asunder
Macmillan Audio, 2008
For me David Weber’s Safehold series lacks the sparkle and draw of his Honor Harrington series while at the same time managing to be a compelling and well-written series. The basic premise of the series, of which By Schism Rent Asunder is the second book, is that while fleeing a technologically a group of human were sent to live on an Earth-like world and having their memories wiped we to build up society from pre-industrial times over many generations.
Merlin, a time displaced cyborg from the past, seeks to aid the country of Caris in a fight against an oppressive church leadership while at the same time try and move the nation, and the world at large, towards a greater industrial revolution. I’m not really doing the plot justice but it’s close enough. By Schism Rent Asunder is a strong novel but suffers from several minor flaws. Weber’s perimise, conceptually a pre-industrial Earth set about reclaiming and rediscovering technology is both a fascinating excercise in science fiction and a frequent narrative trap. The latter occurs through often lengthy dialogue, or worse internal monologue, passages where characters are forced to come up with or reconceive object, tools, and theories in a way slightly different, or wholly new, from what we the reader might be familiar with. At the same time these rediscoveries must deal with as yet undefined scriptures of the church that prevent certain undefined technologies. Weber frequently gets bogged down in these explanations which despite being interesting reduce the novel’s pace to a crawl.
While the novel is definatley science fiction it frequently comes of more like fantasy in tone. Scheming rulers, warring kingdoms, and thrilling naval combat create a thrilling narrative tapestry that enhanced and supported by the science fiction elements (seen through Merlin’s eyes alone). I wish Weber would have dabbled in the futuristic sci-fi elements a bit more as several mysteries on that front still loom and have been around since Off Armegeddon Reef. Regardless even the novel is a compelling read dealing strongly with politics, religion, and faith. Indeed the world of Safehold is remarkebly similar to Weber’s Grayson, the religious world from his Honor Harrington series, though not exactly the same it is clear the Weber enjoys the examination of religion within a political body.
Oliver Wyman returns to narrate for the this volume here. His reading is fairly straightforward and offers little to complain about and at the same little to raise his work above that other readers. On the one hand his reading allows the often complex plot elements to come out crystal clear with no theatrics to muddle the delivry. On the other hand that same lack of theatritics creates some rather bland portrayals of characters and lends a sense of similiartiy to each character that doesn’t help some of the lengthy expository move along. All in all I’d say the good outweighs the bad and his work is always far from unlistenable.
By Schism Rent Asunder is an exciting entry to the Safehold series. While I feel the characters in the novel, both as a result of writing and reading, come off as a little bland the political intrigue and examination of faith the novel create a compelling read. If you read (or listend to) Off Armegeddon Reef and liked what you found there then by all means you fill enjoy the second outing just as much, if not more.