Ashes of Victory
Volume 12 in the Honor Harrington series
by David Weber
(Baen, £7.99, 645 pages, paperback, this edition published March 2001, hardback edition published in 2000.)
The Honor Harrington series is a grand epic of military sci-fi, detailing the exploits of its heroine against the backdrop of a massive interstellar conflict, which Weber has broadly modelled on the events of the Franco-British conflict at the time of the French Revolution. Harrington is in the Nelson role, her nation, Manticore, stands in for Britain, and her enemies, the People's Republic of Haven, do sterling duty as the French. And to date it's all been good, clean, punchy fun, full of exploding Dreadnoughts, the mighty clash of Battlecruisers, conspiracies, assassination attempts and mayhem both subtle and gross.
Harrington, whom we first encountered as a lowly Commander in charge of a single elderly light cruiser, is now winning massive fleet-level engagements. With the aid of her empathic partner, the Treecat Nimitz, she foils the despicable Havenites time and again and when necessary is not above plucking up a sword or gun and dispatching the enemy hand-to-hand.
In this volume, however, Weber is showing signs of metal-fatigue. Honor has just returned to Manticore after her spectacular escape from a supposedly escape-proof Havenite prison planet. While recuperating from her wounds, she is assigned teaching duties at the Naval academy, and also picks up her various political responsibilities. Many good things might have been done in this relatively placid arena... but Weber has been distracted by irrelevancies. So, for instance, we learn that Honor's father, Alfred, is a cordon-bleu cook, that the Crown Reserve properties in the Unicorn asteroid field are fabulously rich, and about the difficult technical issues to be addressed when teaching Telepaths sign language... In effect we are lectured upon the social, cultural and political intricacies of Honor's life.
Tedious? Yes. Very.
This is a 500 page novel, puffed up to 645; the excess should have been ruthlessly cut from the first half. The last 100 pages, as Weber brings his naval plot lines and conspiracies to the fore, show a remarkable return of pace and intensity. This redeems the book from being actively bad, but illustrates vividly just how much waste was packed in earlier. Die-hard Honor Harrington fans will eagerly absorb this book... but if it had been my first exposure I would not have read far, and I wouldn't have come back for more.
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© Simeon Shoul 11 August 2001