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.
A Rising Thunder (Honor Harrington #13)
The library was sent a copy of David Weber’s A Rising Thunder via the fine folks at Baker and Taylor and snagged it the second I saw it. I’ve spoken of the Honorverse before and my love of Weber’s magnificent space opera series. Along with Campbell’s Lost Fleet series the Honor Harrington novels are ranked at the top of my sci-fi series list and I’m always excited when a new books comes out. That was made all the worse this time out thanks to Weber’s frustrating cliffhanger at the end of Mission of Honor. Thankfully A Rising Thunder takes all the awesome and amazing moments built upon in the previous book and really rolls things forward.
Some spoilers ahead from Mission of Honor so if you have yet to read that book stop here.
How Firm a Foundation (Safehold Book 5)
MacMillan Audio, 2011
I missed out on reviewing David Weber’s fourth Safehold novel A Mighy Fortress. The audiobook just got lost in the shuffle at the time. However, when the fine folks MacMillan Audio offered me a review copy of How Firm a Foundation I jumped at the chance and am I glad I did. My initial feelings towards the first few volumes of David Weber’s Safehold novels were typically positive with some reservations. My major complaints for By Schism Rent Asunder were outlined primarily as follows:
Weber’s perimise, conceptually a pre-industrial Earth set about reclaiming and rediscovering technology is both a fascinating exercise 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 (sic) 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.
With How Firm a Foundation (hereafter HFF) that quibble has by and large disappeared. As Merlin’s secret has been outed to more and more people over the course of the series the narrative has been able to open up and include more detail on the characters and political maneuverings across the surface of Safehold. HFF is for me the first time this series has moved beyond being good into being something great.
Note: Having listened to the audio and only listened to the audio I can guarantee that I have spelled some if not all the character’s names wrong. Weber’s decision to spell things oddly (Caleb as Cayleb, Merlin as Merlyn, etc.) doesn’t help at all either.
Out of the Dark
Out of the Dark is a novel that is far too straightforward to be entirely successful. For those that don’t know Out of the Dark is an intelligently written alien invasion penned by military-sf master David Weber. The Hegemony, a council of alien races capable of interstellar travel, are horrified by the brutality and violence of the recently discovered human race have. In response they have allowed the Shongari, one of the most war-like and less-respected members of the Hegemony, to send a fleet to Earth for “colonization.” What ensues is a very straightforward invasion story that touches upon the classic themes that subgenre has come to be known for: underground resistances, underestimation of human capabilities by a more “advanced” species, and the unification of different people and groups in light of a common threat are just some of the familiar elements Weber employs in the majority of Out of the Dark.
Where Out of the Dark stands, particularly in its advertising, is the inclusion of vampires. Yes, you read that right. When humanity’s back is to the wall it is the vampires that rise up to aid in humanity’s defense. Which is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m totally willing to embrace the ridiculous in the name of awesome. The problem seems to be that I’m not sure Weber is similarly willing. While Out of the Dark is certainly a competent alien invasion/resistance novel for the first three-quarters of the text; it takes a sharp turn towards B-movie-ville in the final quarter. Now, that b-movie vibe is pretty fantastic but considerably less so given the dire tone and straight-faced storytelling of the majority of the novel.
I’m heading into spoiler territory, it’s hard to discuss the vampire-laden section of the novel without it, so bear with me here. Those I haven’t scared away from the novel by the above comments would still due well to check it out for themselves. This is still a classic Weber sci-fi novel to start and if the addition of craziness to that model tickles your fancy I think you’ll have a good time with Out of the Dark. Now, for everyone else, hit the jump for some more spoiler laden discussion.
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.
By Heresies Distressed
David Weber, read by Jason Culp
Tor/Macmillan Audio, 2009
By Heresies Distressed is the third novel in Weber’s Safehold series. For the uninitiated the plot revolves around the planet Safehold where, centuries prior, a group of colonists and scientists fled the merciless G’baba (sp?). In order to avoid detection by the G’baba it was decided that the colonist’s memories would be wiped and the technology level reduced to something more akin to medieval times. Unfortunately for the colonists control of the project was taken over by Langhorne who set himself, and his allies, as an archangel/deific figure. Other scientists rebelled against Langhorne’s unethical actions but were cut down by orbital weapons. Now, centuries later, Safehold is home to the Church of God Awaiting who follow the “theological” teachings of Langhorne and his archangels.
The first two novels focused on the cybernetic being Merlin Athrawes, a sort of failsafe left behind by “good” scientist Pei Shan Wei, as he attempts to steer the kingdom of Charis towards an industrial revolution while simultaneously trying to uproot centuries of religious indoctrination. In Off Armageddon Reef, Charis fought off the combined forces of several nations thanks to the technological innovations brought on by Merlin though they lost their King in the process. Declaring an official Schism with the church Charis, under the leadership of King Caleb, begins the slow march to empire adding several key areas to its domain in By Schism Rent Asunder. Now, almost an empire in truth Emperor Caleb has launched an assault the Princedom of Corrisande and it’s long-time ruler and long-time ruler Prince Hector.
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….
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.
- On Basilisk Station
- The Honor of the Queen
- The Short Victorious War
- Field of Dishonor
- Flag in Exile
- Honor Among Enemies
- In Enemy Hands
- Echoes of Honor
- Ashes of Victory
- War of Honor
- At All Costs
It has been a little over a year since I started this series and it has been, on the whole, an entertaining ride. It is hard coming at a review from this angle so bear with me here.
Honor Harrington starts off as a Captain in the Royal Navy of Manitcore. For 11 books she is beaten, abused, triumphant, exalted, loved and hated by people in no less than three star systems, fights enemies both foreign and domestic, and grows along the way. Across the eleven books readers follow what is essentially the ongoing struggle between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People’s Republic of Haven. Set amidst the backdrop of interstellar war and politics is the very human story of Honor’s maturation from green Captain to important personage. Indeed both the political and military aspects of the novel work in tandem with the emotional development of Honor’s character to create a compelling narrative tension that drives you forward from book to book. Emotion certainly plays a strong part in the series at large thanks to Honor’s bond to a treecat named Nimitz. Treecats, sentient cat-like creature that are both empathic and telepathic, form strong bonds with humans. While not true in the early books Honor’s bond (contrary to other people’s bonds) allows her to sense the emotions of other people through Nimitz’s own empathic abilities. While animal-human bonding is a hallmark of fantasy literature (Hobb’s Farseer trilogies come to mind) Weber provides a fascinating and engaging twist in a sci-fi environment, in the process creating a society of creatures that could perhaps stand on its own in a wholly seperate series.
I would argue that the first five novels offer the strongest outing by Weber, with the best elements of personal tragedy and grand scale action managed in a taught well-paced narratives. Later in the series things start to suffer a bit from page bloat, copious infodumps, and occaisonally unnecessary recaps. That last of course comes with a small caveat since, having read the novels over the course of some 13 to 14 months, the narrative was typically fresh in my mind. Of the later novels both Echoes of Honor and Ashes of Victory suffer most from the info dump. Characters grow long winded in discussion or, where they are brief, are interupted mid-dialalogue for lengthy sections of exposition that brings the pace to a screeching halt. However the later novels also feature some of the best battle scenes, and Weber’s command of space naval combat is something worth reading. Furthermore War of Honor has some of the most politically interesting story elements of any of the novels and tames some of the exposition down a bit.
Regardless of the weaker narrative in the late volumes I have enjoyed my foray into the ‘honorverse’ and would recommend it to anyone interested in grand scale epic space opera. As Novelist was my initial introduction to the series (Novelist is a reader’s advisory service provided by Ebsco host and typically available in most medium-large public libraries) I feel obligated to point out that their recomemdation that fans of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorksokian might also like Honor Harrington was right on the money. Like the Vorksogian series Weber’s Honorverse features a strong dose of the romantic that occaisonally slides into the melodramatic but never threatens to overwhelm the narrative, in fact Honor’s bond with Nimitz often takes what could be construed as melodramatic and makes it a far more potent element of conflict.
While I’ve been using my library to borrow all of these books I should hasten to point out that they are available for free online. With the release of At All Costs Baen published a CD of Weber’s books that has since made it’s way online. Anyway as I said this is a fun, space opera, adventure series well worth a look for any genre fan.