One unexpected pleasure of my new call center job has been the rediscovery of a lot of free time to read. Management doesn’t want us using our smartphones, but they seem to have no objection to personal web browsing between calls as long as we immediately minimize them when a call comes in. And there’s a reasonable amount of time between calls, and Google Play Books is perfectly accessible via a work browser.

Sadly, I expect that free time to largely go by the wayside for the next month or so, as call volume usually ramps up after the first of the year when the new health insurance plans go into effect—but for now, I’ve been looking at words again.

I started a review of the long-running Honor Harrington series on the old site, and here are all my entries in it thus far:

  1. Introduction
  2. Treecat Trilogy
  3. A Beautiful Friendship
  4. Young Honor and Elizabeth
  5. Prince Michael rescues and Honor dances
  6. On Basilisk Station
  7. The Honor of the Queen
  8. The Short Victorious War
  9. Irresponsible captain, itinerant noble
  10. Field of Dishonor
  11. Flag in Exile
  12. Honor Among Enemies
  13. In Enemy Hands

I’ve been inspired to try picking it up again. My original intention was to review the series in chronological order; however, a number of new stories have been published since then, including quite a few set in earlier eras. I’ll probably go back and pick those up at some point, but for now, there are a few entries left in the still-freely-available Baen CDs to cover so I might as well get to those first.

Although the direct links to individual ebooks had to go when Baen launched its new arrangement with Amazon, Baen has allowed The Fifth Imperium to keep the CD contents available to download as zipped ISOs or directory structures, which is pretty nice of them. As a result, you can download a free (and DRM-free) copy of all the Honor Harrington ebooks up through Mission of Honor via the Mission of Honor CD. Those and subsequent ebooks are also sold DRM-free via Baen, or via Amazon for those who prefer to take advantage of the Kindle ecosystem.

Here’s the next review.

Echoes of Honor by David Weber

As far as the rest of the galaxy knows, Honor Harrington has just been executed as punishment for the crime of allegedly destroying an innocent merchant vessel (the Havenite Q-ship she took out all the way back in On Basilisk Station). Her friends and family are grief-stricken but vow to carry on; meanwhile, Manticore tries out a new experimental ship concept: light attack craft (LAC) carriers, using a new breed of space fighter upgraded with fission-plant technology from Grayson. But Haven isn’t sitting still either—with Esther McQueen now commanding the navy, they’re about to launch a new offensive that could rock Manticore back on its heels.

However, Honor Harrington isn’t quite as dead as advertised. She’s just marooned with the rest of her crew on Hades, the most inescapable prison planet in the galaxy. It’s just a matter of using the two fully-loaded combat drop shuttles in which they escaped the State Sec starship Tepes to take over the planet, then luring in enough enemy starships to carry a few hundred thousand prisoners home with them. No problem, right?

Echoes of Honor is a bit of an odd book in that it could actually be considered two novellas (or, at the length Weber writes, novels) shuffled together. It’s divided into six parts, with the odd-numbered parts concentrating on the rest of the galaxy and the even-numbered parts focusing on Honor’s sojourn on Hades. Given that the stories only intersect at the very beginning and the very end, reading first the odd parts and then the even parts would be just as valid a way to experience the story as reading them in order. It might seem like an odd decision to tie these two unrelated storylines together instead of publishing them separately, but as I noted in another review, sometimes you just don’t have any choice in a late-series book.

I have a special affection for castaway, prison break, and heist stories, and the even-numbered half of this book combines all three elements. Often I’ll reread just that half, because it’s fun to watch Honor and company overcome their obstacles and make their way off the planet. I don’t find the other storyline quite as compelling, in part because it doesn’t have the same tight focus on one set of characters—it covers “the rest of the galaxy,” which means some time spent on Grayson, some on Manticore or in Manticore space, and another look at Haven politics. We also get to see the well-deserved fate of Elvis Santino, a minor villain from earlier in the series.

Apart from that, there are the usual Weber foibles: sympathetic characters get killed off, info is dumped, and long scenes consist solely of conversation and internal monologue. But if you’re not used to that by now, why are you still reading? Infodumps or no, the writing is still up to Weber’s usual standards of clarity and readability—a marked contrast to a poorly-written self-published book I read recently that also involved an escape from a jungle prison planet.

That said, this is probably the last book in the series to be a simple, straight space-naval adventure with a minimum of soap opera. Hamish Alexander does berate himself over driving Honor away by accidentally falling in love with her, but he thinks she’s dead so the angst is limited to just a scene or two. And Honor is too focused on trying to escape Hades to have much time to think about that whole mess.

But that’s going to change with the next book, when the soap opera returns in force—and then within just a few more books (counting a couple co-written by Eric Flint), Weber suddenly and unexpectedly shifts villains. That may be another reason some people feel the series started “jumping the shark” at about this point—up until now, it was a simple war between one set of good guys and one set of bad guys. Suddenly adding an ancient evil conspiracy to the mix might excite some readers, but others are upset that the series they started reading as one thing has unexpectedly changed into something else.

In any event, in the next book, Ashes of Victory, Honor starts to discover some of the problems with returning from the dead…and her life becomes ever more soap operatic.