Mission of Honor
Mission of Honor marks David Weber’s twelth main entry into the Honorverse as it’s known amongst fans; though it is in truth a follow up to Storm from the Shadows; which Baen is marketing as a Disciples of Honor novel. Mission of Honor returns the titular character to the forefront though the sprawling events of the novel indicate that Weber’s Honorverse has become increasingly informed by his work on the Safehold series; a fact that is something of a double-edged sword. Some spoilery summary occurs after the jump so skip the next paragraph if you haven’t read the previous books.
In Storm from from the Shadows; the newly christened Star Empire of Manticore butted heads with the sprawling Solarian League. In the Talbott Cluster Honor’s portege, Michelle Henke, stomped the arrogant Sollies. Towards the end of At All Costs the Manties have, more-or-less, deficively defeated the Republic of Haven once and for all. The plot threads of Storm from the Shadows and At All Costs roll together in Mission of Honor as our heroes turn to face the new threat from the entrenched Solarian League and the shadowy threat of Manpower and the mysterious Mesan Alignment Navy (MAN). In many ways these new threats are what the series seems to have been building towards all along and Weber does a fantastic job of using the relative unknowns of Manpower and the MAN to create some definite tension leading up to the attack known as Oyster Bay.
As mentioned above there are elements of Mission of Honor that remind me of the Safehold series; though it is entirely possible these have been aspects of Weber’s fiction for longer than that. Namely, as I also mentioned in my review of Storm from the Shadows, there is a distinct tendency towards “talking heads.” There are multiple scenes throughout Mission of Honor wherein different groups sit around a table and discuss their course of action. While I suppose this is somewhat realistic from a political standpoint it does not always make for the most thrilling reading. To be completely fair this is more a case of overabundance as Weber remains remarkably adept at crafting dramatic scenes through this method. Notable in Mission of Honor are Honor’s initial meeting with Prichart, the meeting which occurs right after the reappearance of a key intelligence operative,the villanous Deitweller of Manpower’s speech to his troops, and even the final section of the book (though I’ll get to that later) all of which generate some real dramatic tension.
Like the Safehold series and, if I remember correctly, previous Honorverse books Weber also delights in the technical aspects of his world. Going off on lengthy, and frequently fascinating, tangents about the science behind the technology of the world. By now, long time readers have grown accustomed to how impeller wedges work, the use of FTL drives and communication, and the advances Manticore has made in missile technology. In Mission of Honor the advances come from Manpower and Weber delights in unveiling the secrets of their new “spider drive.” His enthusiasm is palpable yet at the same time that same description delays the final unveiling of Oyster Bay and I likely didn’t quite appreciate just what Weber was talking about. That sort of “awesome, but…” bit happens a bit more often than I’d like.
Mission of Honor is also a bit light on the giant space battles. If there is one thing I’ve always loved about this series it was the giant space battles and the absence here, save for a couple of brief encounters, left me a little disappointed. However, the final unveiling of Oyster Bay was beautifully constructed. Weber gives us little slice of life snippets as events unfold and they work extraordinarily well to highlight the cost of Oyster Bay. At the same time Honor’s reaction to the events due to the personal toll the attack takes on the Harrington clan, particularly when it came to Hamish’s observation during her routine swimming towards the end of the novel, hammers home the emotional nail; so to speak.
Weber is decidedly “old school” in his approach to space opera. Notable is the near complete lack of aliens, outside of the telempathic treecats, is one that always strikes me as odd within the genre. Similarly there isn’t a real vein of posthuman theme outside the villains of the series as they use cloning and gene modification to improve themselves. There is of course some human variation since most human have lived long enough to have their evolution effected by their home planets, but the lack of an sentient space-faring species outside the human is something a novelty. Indeed, in his two big series both science fiction, Weber is focused on the power of human ingenuity and our ability to improve ourselves. Sure the Safehold series mentions aliens, but they are something of a bogeyman and more-or-less irrelevant to the plot of that series. Indeed I’m not sure I can think of another science fiction author that employs a similarly insular and somewhat lonely view of humanity within the broader scope of the universe.
Finally, my largest complaint is that the book ended. The climax comes early and the final quarter of the book, while certainly gripping, lacks the involvement and action of the big fleets of ships exchanging missile fire that capped many of the previous books. Not to mention that, while I wouldn’t quite call it a cliffhanger, Weber still manages to end this on a note that leaves me cursing his name and desperately wishing the next volume was in my hands right this minute. If you’re already a fan of this series Mission of Honor will due little to dissuade you from that path. A respectable entry to the series and a definite improvement in pacing over At All Costs (Mission of Honor is about 250+ pages shorter than the 850+ page At All Costs) Mission of Honor will satisfy fans while leaving eager to see how the game changing finale plays out.