Here’s the latest in my series of reviews of the Honor Harrington series in more or less chronological order.
War of Honor by David Weber
I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this book for some time now, because this is the book where the Honor Harrington series first truly “jumps the shark.” It doesn’t take place all at once—there is another major change in the offing over the next couple of books—but this is the first place where Honor Harrington first becomes something other than what it started out as.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad book, or even that I don’t like it. There are parts of it I love. I have eclectic tastes, so it doesn’t bother me so much that a series that began as a space navy space opera is now political/personal soap opera. But I can see where people who were all about the space navy could start to feel nonplussed that the naval action is moving largely into the background.
The soap opera elements have been present since the beginning—torrid romance, assassination, honor duels, even a return from the dead—but this is the first book where those take the foreground for an extended period of time. So let’s see what we have.
War of Honor begins with Honor Harrington helping her mutual crush, Hamish Alexander, Lord White Haven, fight against some of the stupider moves of the current hostile High Ridge government (so-called because Baron High Ridge is the Prime Minister). Although Haven’s new President Eloise Pritchart continued the peace negotiations Oscar St. Just had opened at the end of the previous book, Ashes of Victory, the new government has expressed little interest in taking them seriously.
The reason for that is that ending the war would necessitate new general elections—which would also end the emergency war taxes that have been bringing so much money into government coffers (and which the coalition of far-left and far-right parties in power have been spending on as many things other than the war as they can, not to mention siphoning portions off for themselves).
Another political initiative the government is keeping deadlocked is the admission of the planet of San Martin to the Kingdom of Manticore, because the new influx of largely-centrist peers would change the balance of power and also force the creation of a new government.
The soap opera comes in when members of the High Ridge governmenthit upon a scheme to neutralize the effectiveness of Harrington and Alexander, two of the opposition’s hardest hitters: they will leak to the press the rumor that the two of them are lovers. Given that Alexander is married to one of Manticore’s most tragic figures, a once-famous and still-beloved video actress who was almost completely paralyzed in an air-car accident, this would have the effect of polarizing public opinion against them.
It doesn’t help matters that Honor and Hamish are secretly in love with each other, and were already spending every waking moment angsting over it. This new development makes it even worse, and they spend several chapters moping around until Emily herself finally takes a hand. She’s not happy that their political adversaries are using her as a weapon against the man she loves, and invites Honor over to discuss strategy. The matter of Honor and Hamish’s feelings for each other come out, and though they are able to pull the fangs of the vicious rumors in the press, they are still left unsure of how to deal with this love triangle. And in the middle of all this, the emotional strain Honor and Hamish were under abruptly caused Hamish and Nimitz’s mate Samantha to form a psychic bond similar to Honor’s bond to Nimitz. What a tangled web, huh?
Not pleased with the failure of their rumor gambit, the High Ridge Government next hits upon the idea of removing Honor Harrington from the local political scene by sending her out to fight fires in the Silesian Confederacy. The Silesian Confederacy is a loose-knit cluster of stars where the Andermani Empire, another star nation, has been making potential noises about expanding its borders. The Andermanis have apparently decided to take on a more provocative stance, which has lit the fuse on a potential powder keg.
And speaking of potential powder kegs, the High Ridge government aren’t the only political malfeasants. Arnold Giancola, Haven’s new Secretary of State and Elaine Pritchart’s chief political rival, has decided to play his own part in raising tensions between Manticore and Haven. He has been falsifying political correspondence from both sides, in the hope of forcing a crisis that he can step in to resolve. However, he has failed to realize just how much steel there really is in Pritchart’s spine.
As tensions have escalated, Haven has dispatched a fleet detachment to station itself near Honor’s command in Silesia, in the interest of taking out her fleet—which represents a considerable portion of Manticore’s navy now that the High Ridge government has slashed its budget to put the money into other things (and their own pockets). Events are building toward a climax that may bode ill for both sides.
That’s the plot in a nutshell. Now let’s discuss it.
As Honor Harrington books go, this one has relatively little naval action (though there is some, most notably a big battle toward the end of the book). It’s mostly politics and personal angst. And yeesh, is there ever the personal angst. As one of Harrington’s adversaries notes, she has this tendency to shut down and go into self-denial when something she wants conflicts with her duty—and that tendency gets one of its biggest displays in War of Honor. She may be adept at solving military problems and some political problems, but every personal problem she has in this book has to be solved by someone else for her.
That does at least make her less of a Mary Sue character—but given how uber-competent she still tends to be in the rest of her life, I don’t know that giving her this one major Achilles heel is really an ideal answer. But I suppose at least it’s something.
Emily Alexander’s solution to the rumormongering at the book’s midpoint does at least make sense, but the answer to the larger problem of the love triangle effectively comes out of nowhere, literally on the second-to-last page of the entire book. It seems just a wee bit too unrealistically pat to solve a problem that’s been dogging Honor and Hamish for literally the last four books (counting this one) in just a few paragraphs. It smacks more than a little of deus ex machina.
And then there’s the politics. Good Lord, the politics. Someone new to the series could be forgiven for expecting that, given the regime change that has finally restored some sanity to Haven’s government, the peace negotiations, and everything else, the war should be just about over and this book should see it finally starting to wind down and peace breaking out. But just as it seemed like everything was about to wrap up, boom! They’re off again into another political misadventure in the making. Will it never end?
And that’s another element in the shark-jumping mix that will show up in the next couple of books. This is the last book in which the major players in the war are just Manticore and Haven. In the next couple of books, a major new faction of villains is going to come right out of nowhere. There’s literally one single hint in this book that something mysterious might be going on behind the scenes—but that particular subplot is about to jump right into full swing with almost no other foreshadowing whatsoever.
But again, that’s not to say this story is all bad. There are plenty of enjoyable elements as well, such as the continuing consequences of teaching treecats to communicate via sign language. With their native intelligence fully on display, the cats are finally coming into their own—and they may have an even bigger role to play in future books. My only complaint is that we don’t get to see the results of their communications all that often at this point. But I’m looking forward to more of that in later books.
Speaking of later books, the next two books in the Honor Harrington series are Crown of Slaves and The Shadow of Saganami—the launches of the two spinoff series that show what’s happening in other parts of the human galaxy, as the story’s gotten just too big to be incorporated only in books focusing on Honor Harrington herself. But even though these are spinoffs, they cover events that will have repercussions for the main story as well. I’ll be looking at Crown of Slaves in my next review.
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
- Ashes of Victory
- Setting up the spinoffs
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.