I feel like at this point my relationship with the Honor Harrington books is beginning to resemble my late 90s relationship with The Wheel of Time. I feel like I both dread and anticipate each new release. While the series never meanders in quite the way the middle books of Robert Jordan’s series do I still find a certain lack of satisfaction in each of Weber’s newer Honorverse novels. Over the course of each novel that sense of excitement and satisfaction waxes and wanes but the long(ish) gaps between novels makes what feels like a lack of forward momentum somewhat disheartening. The latest novel in the Honorverse, Shadow of Freedom, continues that trend. A Shadow of Freedom overlaps a bit chronologically with A Rising Thunder with the effects of the Oyster Bay attacks trickling out to the more distantly stationed Manticore fleet helmed by Michelle Henke. The novel focuses on the aftereffects of Manticore’s aggressive response to its being attacked on its home soil.
These aftereffects unfurl on two fronts: the seizure of Manticoran Merchant ship and her crew, and the Mobius Liberation Front’s struggles against a Frontier Fleet backed regime. This latter part is the hardest to get into at first. Weber loves his conversation scenes whether it be in a political office or on the bridge of a ship the man loves to set his characters scheming and planning. This is all well and good when those characters are ones the reader is familiar with and when those discussions represent an aspect of the novel with which the reader has a previous emotional attachment. Whether its Baroness Medusa discussing the ramifications of Oyster Bay for the Talbott Quadrant, or Michelle Henke discussing with her officers or subordinates the tactics and strategies of her fleet these conversations represent an important and enjoyable aspect of any Weber book. However, these types of scenes are far less interesting when they represent new aspects of the series. Such is the case when it comes to the introduction of Mobius Liberation Front. Introduced early in the novel, and touched upon frequently as things proceed that initially introduction felt to me like a huge hurdle. David Weber is something of a master planner when it comes to the big picture so surmounting that hurdle has a nice payoff in the end but it was slow going getting through these section when what I really wanted were the characters I was more familiar with.
As I have stated in past reviews the “series” nature of the Honorverse has grown increasingly complex. Including the main series and any other ancillary titles Shadow of Freedom marks the 26th book in the Honorverse and the 14th novel in the series main sequence. As has been the case in the later novels Shadow of Freedom while taking place as part of the core series relies heavily on titles that took place outside the main Honor Harrington titles. Confused yet? I know I am. What I’m trying to say is that the Honorverse is huge and complex and the David Weber has been carefully interweaving elements of this shared world for quite some time. It feels like many of those elements are now being distilled and focused towards what feels like will be one big, epic confrontation. It also makes this series almost impervious, that is to say completely opaque, to new readers. I’m sure some intrepid readers are willing to play the catch-up game but I pity anyone who saw this title on the shelf and picked it up on a whim; it would make almost no sense. I don’t expect each new book in a series to be immediately accessible to new readers but I would think it would be in both the publisher’s and author’s best interest to find a way to bring new readers into even long running series (the comic industry has been doing this for years from alternate universes, rebooted #1s, etc.). Regardless, I felt that Shadow of Freedom offered some major insight into the massive fight that the Star Empire will have on its hands; a fight I am eagerly waiting to witness.