Here’s the latest in my series of reviews of the Honor Harrington series in more or less chronological order.
Ashes of Victory by David Weber
The pivot begins. You know how March is said to go “in like a lion, out like a lamb”? Well, Ashes of Victory goes in like a space-navy space opera, and out like a political soap opera. And it’s just the beginning. The next few stories and books in the universe after it represent the sudden introduction of an entirely new villain in the game, who takes over the “main cartoonishly-evil bad guy” slot so quickly all the main characters’ heads spin.
That being said, Ashes of Victory still isn’t a bad book. The first few chapters contain plenty of joyous, tearful reunions between the believed-dead Honor Harrington and all her friends and loved ones. For people who’d been following her adventures over the last couple of books, it’s definitely a satisfying catharsis.
For much of the rest of the book, Honor deals with the sometimes-embarrassing consequences of coming back from the dead, including a ship and class named after her and an immense statue on Grayson, where she’s become a beloved figure. While she’s convalescing and being fitted for new cyberware to replace missing body parts, she takes on a round of teaching at the Saganami Island naval academy and rehabilitates the career of promising tactical officer Andrew Jaruwalski.
Meanwhile, Admiral Hamish Alexander, Lord White Haven, takes the battle to the Peeps, using the new technological advantages Manticore developed over the last couple of books to drive toward Haven’s home star system, at the same time as Haven’s internal politics undergo a couple of major changes. (In particular, there’s one change that shows that while certain Honorverse characters might be based on historical figures, Weber isn’t going to guarantee they meet the same success as their real-life forebears.)
But Haven’s politics aren’t the only ones to be affected. In the last third of the book, Manticore’s government undergoes an unexpected sea change of its own, setting up a hostile political landscape for the books to follow. I’ll have more to say about that in coming reviews, but suffice it to say, Weber is setting up another wringer through which to put his characters.
All in all, Ashes of Victory is still an enjoyable book, but there’s no mistaking the new direction the series is starting to turn. The introduction of a new set of unpleasant, mustachio-twirling villains does not bode well for those who would prefer their space navy drama to be unleavened by primetime soap opera antics.
Weber’s writing is still serviceable, for all that a number of sympathetic and long-running characters get the axe, but it’s worth noting that there’s one major incident that takes place entirely off-camera. It was pulled out of the book and placed in its own stand-alone novella, which I’ll be covering later in this post.
After reading it, it’s easy to understand why it was pulled—it’s a pretty big chunk of drama largely unconnected to events in the rest of the book, and leaving it in place would have caused a serious hit to Ashes of Victory‘s pacing. And leaving it out means readers can experience the same shock characters do later in the book when they’re informed of the aftermath. Still, it’s a bit jarring to have something so big happen entirely in the background. When you hit chapter 33, you might want to pause and read “Nightfall” from the Changer of Worlds story collection before going on.
On the bright side, the most obnoxious element of personal emotional soap opera—in the form of Honor’s and Hamish’s feelings for each other and the awkward consequences they could engender—is still largely absent here. But boy, does it ever come back in spades in the next Honor Harrington novel, War of Honor.
“Let’s Go to Prague” by John Ringo (The Service of the Sword anthology)
I’m not sure what it is about the Honorverse that makes John Ringo get zany, but both of his novellas set in the universe are decidedly on the lighter side. I’ve already discussed “A Ship Named Francis,” his story about the wackiest ship in the Grayson space navy. “Let’s Go to Prague” isn’t quite as far-out as that one, but it’s still considerably more humorous than the average.
The premise involves a pair of Manticoran spies who’ve grown bored with life at their base, so they blackmail their quartermaster into forging travel papers and Haven State Sec identities so they can go take a vacation on Prague, a well-to-do planet in Haven’s territory. Once there, they immediately get mixed up with an old flame and a Havenite admiral who wants to defect, and have to figure out how to smuggle him safely back to friendly lines.
It’s an enjoyable-enough read, though none of the characters have shown up in any other Honorverse works so far. From the point of view of overall plot significance it can be safely skipped.
“An Act of War” by Timothy Zahn (In Fire Forged anthology)
Here’s another story featuring Zahn’s mysterious con man/agent provocateur Charles. In this tale, Charles has been caught by Havenite authorities, who aren’t best pleased at some of his antics from prior stories. The personal stakes in his little game have gotten considerably higher than usual, as he now has to play for his life while trying to nullify the threat of a captured Manticoran warship no one yet knows Haven has.
My only problem with this story is that the international incident covered herein should be major enough to have repercussions in future main sequence Honor Harrington stories, but to the best of my knowledge it isn’t ever mentioned again. Still, Charles is an interesting character and it’s fun to watch him wriggle out of yet another impossible situation. There aren’t yet any other stories featuring him after this one, but I certainly wouldn’t object to seeing more in the future.
“Nightfall” by David Weber (Changer of Worlds anthology)
And here’s the chunk I mentioned that was excised from Ashes of Victory. Mistakenly believing that the order for her early “retirement” has just been given, Esther McQueen kicks off a half-cocked coup attempt against Rob S. Pierre and Oscar St. Just, with unfortunate consequences all around.
There are no problems with the writing style—it basically reads like a chunk of Ashes of Victory that’s been lifted out and set aside. But given the fate of certain characters, it’s almost anticlimactic that they happen off-screen in the novel itself. This story sees the end of more than one major character who were at least somewhat sympathetic in their portrayal in prior titles.
As with other such events in prior books, this shows Weber is not at all afraid of changing the game. But given what happens in subsequent stories and novels, perhaps he changes it just a little too far, too fast.
Prior reviews in this series
- Treecat Trilogy
- A Beautiful Friendship
- Young Honor and Elizabeth
- Prince Michael rescues and Honor dances
- On Basilisk Station
- The Honor of the Queen
- The Short Victorious War
- Irresponsible captain, itinerant noble
- Field of Dishonor
- Flag in Exile
- Honor Among Enemies
- In Enemy Hands
- Echoes of Honor
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.