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This is the official blog of Phoenix Roleplaying, a multi-genre simming site, created in August 2010.

Run by the players, we hope to achieve great things.

Where our journey takes us, who knows.

Monday, 26 March 2012

That's how you do space warfare (Review: 'Honor Among Enemies' by David Weber)

You may or may not be aware that I am trying to get a sim going at Phoenix set in the Honorverse of David Weber’s novels starring Honor Harrington. As such, it seemed appropriate for me to review one of the books – in this case, the sixth novel, which I have just finished reading.


I would like to start by praising the London Libraries Consortium. This particular service allows for a library user registered in one borough of Greater London to order a book on reservation from another for a very small fee and this is how I have managed to read a good number of the books in this series.


So, as Honor likes to say, let’s be about it.


The Honor Harrington series


Often described as “Horatio Hornblower in space”, David Weber’s series is set two thousand years in the future, when humanity has spread out among the stars. While faster than light travel is possible, communication in real-time between the stars is not and so things are rather “Age of Sail” like where it might take weeks for information on a battle to reach home and starship Captains have to make a lot of decisions without consulting higher authority due to lack of time. The diaspora of mankind has formed into a number of Star Nations, such as the Star Kingdom of Manticore (think Britain) and the People’s Republic of Haven (think a cross between Revolutionary France and the USSR), who are as of Honor Among Enemies, fighting a war with each other.


The star of this series is Honor Harrington, an officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy (RMN), a hard charging, very intelligent officer with a propensity for ending up where the fire is hottest and succeeding against huge odds (she’s been criticised for being a “Mary Sue”, which is partly justified, but only partly, because she can be ruthless at times). In the first novel, On Basilisk Station, then Commander Harrington’s aging cruiser stopped a pre-war Havenite attempt to take a key Manticoran system via subterfuge in what is still the best space battle I’ve ever read, setting her on the path to fame, fortune and ennoblement. It hasn’t been an exactly smooth path.


Where we’re at


As this novel starts, Captain Harrington is still in half-pay “exile” (a result of her actions in Field of Dishonor) in the Star Kingdom’s allied state of Grayson, where she is a national hero, high-ranking noble and second highest ranking admiral in their growing navy. She wants to go home and one of her political opponents, trillionaire Klaus Hauptman, arranges for her to do exactly that. Manticore has been suffering increased losses of merchant shipping in the fairly lawless Silesian Confederacy and they arrange for her to be placed in command of a squadron of Q-ships (disguised merchants) to tackle the problem, figuring that either she’ll get rid of the pirates – or vice versa.


Manpower shortages mean that Honor has to take along the best of the newbies and the dregs of the rest of the RMN, as she heads west for the Confederacy…


What works


Weber’s vision of space combat is one of the more plausible (on relative standards) I’ve seen. Unlike the “fighter jets in space” style combat prevalent in much of sci-fi (*cough* Star Wars *cough*), this is a universe involving relative motion and engagements at multi-light-second ranges, with some interesting tech features that make the space combat interesting and provide nasty surprises for both sides. It’s also a brutal, deadly business – hits here will generally kill at least some of the hundreds of crew and the chance of going up with all hands is pretty high, with a good number of the supporting characters not making it to the end of the book. The final battle is worth the price of admission alone as Honor faces the possibility of real and total defeat in a vicious, desperate action to save a civilian liner.


The Silesian Confederacy and the Andermani Empire haven’t been really explored in the five books previously and the nuances of each are interesting to learn here – such as one Andermani Emperor who got herself legally declared male to take the throne and also the endemic corruption in Silesia.


The villains in this piece are well done. The pirates, led by a power-mad former dictator who thinks nothing of using nukes as a negotiation strategy (the final confrontation being a highlight of the novel), are a reminder of why old-school pirates were considered “enemies of all mankind”. In contrast, the regular ‘villains’ of the series, the Havenites, come off with great credit as a number of officers ignore their orders to act against these pirates, even to their own cost.


We also get an illuminating perspective into the lives of the enlisted RMN personnel through a subplot where a shipboard bully and thug is finally brought to heel via the actions of two of the new recruits – the choices of one Aubrey Wanderman aren’t ones I would have made, but one can understand them.


Finally, my printing of the book contains a “flip-book” style animation of an exploding spaceship – a good bonus.


What doesn’t


At times, this feels like the edited highlights of a soccer match, with frequent time jumps and a general lack of flow between chapters. There are also some rather large coincidences here and there. The Wanderman sub-plot is interesting (as mentioned), but ultimately extraneous to the whole story. One feature of the climax is a bit clichéd as well.




While this is arguably the weakest of the six novels I’ve read so far, it is still a highly entertaining read and I would recommend it.



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