Baen, March 2009
Storm from the Shadows is David Weber’s latest book set in the “Honorverse.” A fact that is amusing given that the titular character, only has a marginal pressence in this novel. Indeed the hero’s point of view belongs to Michelle Henke (amongst others) and focuses on the events in the Talbot Cluster, the newly annexed star cluster that expands the Stark Kingdom of Manitcore into the Star Empire of Manticore. The book clocks in at a massive 800 pages and, in truth, suffers a bit as a result. Read on for more….
Weber, especially in a lot of his latest fiction, suffers from what I call “talking head syndrome” where in lengthy expository passages between two, or more, characters take up significant percentages of his work. Where in Weber’s Safehold series a lot of these sequences seem directly unrelated to the plot, Storm from the Shadows at least features sequences that directly impact both the plot of this novel and that a future novels set in the Honorverse.
Regardless, these sequences important though they may be, are a chore to get through; especially when they involve characters who are not already familiar to readers. These slow points in Weber’s narrative only stand out all the more given the strength of the narrative in other places. Weber is, in my opinion, a master at crafting epic space battles. There has never been a battle scene in any of the novels thus far that has lost my interest and that continues here. In fact Weber’s ability to keep his battle scenes fresh by providing incremental improvements to the technology of the participants is an absolutely wonderful and seemless means of providing variety. I would have liked to seen more action but unfortunatley political manuvering puts the big action on the back burner.
Also placed on the back burner is the character development that was a huge focus of the previous Honor-specific novels in the series. I’m not afraid to admit that I like a bit of romance in my giant space operas and we get a little bit of that here. The romantic element, featuring Henke’s flag leuitenant attemping to woo an anti-aristocratic Talbot cluster diplomatic liason, offers a change of pace from the larger political scheming. Unfortunatley this plot point, is lost midway through the novel. I can never really agree when character development is shunted asside just so the plot can advance. Weber’s ability to create strong emotional ties to the characters is weakened by the sprawling narrative and continuously shifting point of view. I get the impression, that while certainly a veteran writer, Weber doubts his own ability to craft emotional ties from character to character and from character to reader; thus his reliance on the political and military aspects of the novels. If that is the case the Weber should trust his instincts as the glimpses at character that we do get reveal a deft hand and left me, for one, wanting to more about the people we see in this story. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into things.
Given the political and diplomatic scheming that occurs in Storm of Shadows it ends up feeling more like a set up for the next arc in the Honorverse rather than a complete story in and of itself. Previous novels at least maintained some semblence of a self-contained story and that much is somewhat still true here, as the bulk of the novel deals with the escalating confrontation between Manticore and the Solarian League, but the majority of novel focuses rather intensely on laying the groundwork for the Mesan threat (a shadowy corporate based coalition of worlds heavily investing in gene crafting). Add in the fact that the beginning of the novel overlaps chronologically with events towards the end of At All Costs followed by a big cliffhanger ending I would argue that this is least self-contained novel Weber has written thus far.
If Weber intended Storm of Shadows to be the introduction to the next big arc in the story of Manticore and the Honorverse it would have been nice to see a book aimed more at attracting a new audience. The shift in focus from Honor to Michelle Henke would have provided a wonderful jumping on point for new readers. Unfortunately as the book stands now it really only works as part of a greater whole. While it suffers from many of the same pitfalls of Weber’s latest work the fact that we have many new players here keep even the longer expository portions of the novel at least somewhat interesting. The huge variety of different POVs keep the narrative moving while at the same time don’t allow for too much character development. In the end fans of the series that are already strongly invested in the world(s) Weber has created will likely find a lot to like here and while featuring a new conflict with new(ish) enemies knowledge of the old novels is a prerequisite. My ARC had a foreward by David Weber that provides some interesting facts about the Honorverse (even the fact that Honor was supposed to die in a previous novel) and I think fans will apreciate Weber’s candor in revealing how his character(s) and story have evolved beyond, and in some cases without any regard, for his initial narrative direction. Reccomended for fans of the earlier novels, new reader should be wary.