ISBN: 0-671-87892-1 Order from: Amazon.com
A competent continuation of the popular series about "Horatio Hornblower in Space", a bit slow in the middle due to shifting viewpoints, but coming to an exciting resolution.
Reviewed by David on August 08, 1998 (rev. 2)
Genre: Science Fiction (Military, Naval Adventure, War)
Synopsis: The book describes the continuing war between several large (multi-system) states in a future where the technology of interstellar travel and weapons causes naval combat to resemble 18th century sail battles. Honor Harrington, a naval flag officer in a future war, is captured by the enemy. With a few friends from her ship, Honor struggles to survive on the brutal penal planet Hades, and to gain the means to escape from the heavily guarded world.
Full Review: The book starts after the conclusion of the last one, In Enemy Hands: Honor and a few friends survive the Enemy's (People's Republic of Haven) kangaroo court and their attempt to execute her. To hide the embarrassing details of Honor's presumed death, Haven's PR ministry broadcasts a computer-generated video of her hanging. As a result, both her enemies and her allies believe she is dead. There are a number of scenes describing the effects of Honor's "execution" on her parents and friends.
Honor, maimed by her erstwhile jailers has to strengthen her body as well as her ragged band to survive and subvert the nearly perfect prison the Havenites have created on the planet Hades. She also has to cope with the effects of brutality on her jailed allies, and fight the seductive call of revenge. As usual, there is a conflict with a hostile but senior officer from Honor's own navy, for whom Honor's competence and courage is a bigger threat than the Havenite Navy. On Manticore, the pro-military centrist government is again under attack from all opposition parties.
The book alternates between multiple viewpoints on the sides of both Allies and the People's Republic. Some of the characters are familiar, others are created on the fly to illuminate some aspect of war, developed for a chapter or two, and then (usually) killed. This shifting viewpoint is perhaps necessary to draw the picture of war on a larger scale than Honor can experience, but it slows down the pace and requires frustrating amount of effort to assimilate new characters which serve only as cannon fodder. In addition, the course of the war seesaws, with this book being almost completely negative for the Manticoran Alliance. A possible cause is that real peril is needed for a truly glorious victory, and Weber is building up the peril at this point.
As in the previous novels, both sides are making significant strides in improving both technology and tactics of combat. The technological advances are handled realistically: no new technology is introduced and deployed in less than several years, and the breakthroughs (secret weapons) confer only partial and temporary advantage until the other side counters the new advance. Grayson continues to play a larger and a more positive role than Manticore: perhaps Honor will become a true immigrant.
As in Weber's other books with wars, the image of destruction is on a massive scale and somewhat abstract. Enormous casualties are sustained with pain and blood in every battle, yet the narrative is curiously detached when describing the war in the large. It is only when Honor is center-stage that the reader can experience the fear, horror and excitement of combat.
There is also a short but interesting snippet of introspection for Honor when she considers the true causes of her military skill and dedication.
In addition, in keeping with the secondary meaning of the title, several discussions occur relating to the nature of honor on both warring sides. The disturbing implication is that while all honorable soldiers must condemn the despicable, sadistic (and 2-dimensional) State Security (SS) goons, the warriors acting in perfect honor will, in fact, continue to inflict horrendous casualties and destruction in the best traditions of duty and patriotism.
Whether this theme will be extended in future books—somewhat paradoxically considering the military heroism motif of the series, or allowed to die a quiet death, is an interesting speculation.
There are a few subtle hints of a future romance for Honor, as well as a few awful puns ("Russ Perot"?). The last part of the book concentrates the narrative on Honor again, recaptures the suspense and pacing, and ends with an emotionally satisfying resolution.
Overall: 7; Plot: 6; Characters: 7; Style: 6; World-building: 7; Originality: 6;
Copyright date 1998, Baen Publishing Enterprises (Baen), October 1998, Cloth, 569 pages
ISBN: 0-671-87892-1 Order from: Amazon.com