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In the early part of the twenty-fifth century, the Gbaba had succeeded in almost making humanity extinct. Had the Gbaba known that even one human remained, they would have hunted him down and finished their task. In a last desperate move, the people under Admiral Pei gave up their lives to insure that a few human beings slipped away without the Gbaba's knowledge. It was called Operation Ark and was to create a refuge for humanity without the betraying high-tech spoor which might draw Gbaba scout ships to it. The colonists aboard the Ark would sleep for many, many years.

The sleeping colonists had volunteered to have false memories of a false life implanted. None of them expected the colony's chief administrator, Langhorne, and the colony's chief psychologist, Bédard, to also program them into believing that Operation Ark's command staff were gods. There were quite a few among the command staff who balked at the notion of people actually worshiping them, mere humans no matter how advanced in technology, but it was too late. The deed had been done. A short revolution ended with the deaths of all the command staff.

The colonists led simple lives on the planet they named Safeholden. Invention, progress, change, any advancement at all is strictly forbidden. In orbit, a surveillance system still sweeps the planet, automatically striking anything that emits tech spoors. The colonists believe these rare blasts to be lightning bolts from their god, Langhorne, to keep them in line. Even in death, Langhorne would have won had it not been for Pei Kau-yung and a few select others. Kau-yung's elite few hid a PICA (Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar) deep beneath a mountain. It looked, thought, felt, and basically WAS the human female named Nimue Alban. The biological Nimue had been one of the more brilliant tactical officers the Terran Federation Navy had ever produced. She had been one of the many that sacrificed her life for Operator Ark to succeed. A PICA may not have a heart, but it is identical to a real human, fully functional. This Nimue can eat, sleep, bleed, feel emotions, and more. However, this Nimue can do so many things that a real human could never accomplish. Kau-yung also left Nimue several high-tech gadgets. But nothing that would attract the attention of the orbital surveillance system. This Nimue "slept" beneath the mountain until Kau-yung's recording "woke" her up...750 years later.

Nimue Alban's task is to undo the mess created by Langhorne and Bédard's extra programming to the colonists. She is to restore the rich, varied heritage to the humanity from whom it had been stolen. And since this Nimue is 98% as real as the biological Nimue, she takes her tasks very seriously indeed.

**** Author David Weber never writes a short novel. This is because he is so descriptive, especially when it comes to weaponry and tactical maneuvers. There is absolutely no way that I can write a clear, concise synopsis of the book without it being over triple the size of this one. However, I believe I managed to give enough so that potential readers can decide whether or not this book is one they wish to purchase. This is the first of a new series by Weber, who has taken the sci-fi community by storm since his first Honor Harrington novel was debuted. And it has created a solid foundation upon which the rest of this series will build upon. Very well done and highly recommended! ****
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on 28 February 2009
As I was reading this I was trying to remember where I'd read it before. It then came to me that the story was a re-working of the third in the Mutineers Moon series. Not exactly the same but the premise of backward world ruled by religious hierarchy being toppled by superior technology from the former glory days. I enjoyed it and am waiting for the next in the series but in my opinion it wasn't as fresh as previous books by this author.
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on 8 March 2007
Okay folks, for those who are new to Weber's works...you'll love this. It's got action, adventure and political intrigue but, such is Weber's steady hand, none of it overwhelms the other. The pacing is excellent, the main characters, with one or two exceptions, deep enough that we can actually care about them.

Now, despite the 5 stars, a word of warning to all those who are familiar with Weber's other works. It feels VERY familiar. It reads almost exactly like any of his Honor-verse books, or especially the Dahak-verse series.

Some of you may hate it for this very reason, I will admit, it struck a chord with me and for a fleeting moment, i felt a little shortchanged but ten chapter's into it and I felt like I was being visited by and old and welcome friend.

I really, really liked the overall premise and the concepts involved and once you get past the jarring familiarity that the names of the character's present (White Haven = Grey Harbour for example), its a damn fine read.

Worth the money and the wait.
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on 12 January 2008
I've always enjoyed Weber's books and this one was no exception. He's maintained his usual ability to tell a gripping story mixing combat with a political relationships background and an interesting historical review of the evolution of weaponry and tactics.

However what prevented me from giving this the 5 stars I'd expect to rate a Harrington series book is that the plot itself seems to be recycling previous Weber scripts. The technologically advanced stranger picking a society suitable to be boot-strapped up the scientific ladder so he can accomplish his goals. Unfortunately although the story was still of a high calibre, I kept thinking to myself - I preferred the "original stories" with Prince Roger MacClintock improving the Mardukan ships so he could reach the starport or how Sean MacIntyre and colleagues used their superior genetics and science to raise arms against a corrupt church.

Don't get me wrong I'll be buying the next book when it comes out to see how the story progresses, because regardless of any other point Weber is an excellent storyteller and I came very close to finishing all 700 pages in one sitting.
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on 12 January 2008
Earlier reviews describe the content well, and the context in terms of earlier books by this author. To me this author is new as I had become increasingly limited (sad I know) to pursuing novels from a few trusty writers - Iain M Banks, Hamilton and above all C J Cherryh. So this particular book came to me as a complete surprise and I found it to be a superb read. Complex, gripping, satisfying and promising much more fun. In particular it was a pleasure to see an idea, that in part has been tried before, of seeking to leverage a medieval culture towards one much more highly advanced, developed so well. In contrast, K J Parker's 'Engineer' trilogy has been far less satisfying in every way, even though it initially held so much promise. So perhaps not an entirely new idea but executed here very well indeed, giving me much pleasure.
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on 3 October 2011
The book is well written, but I found the whole idea questionnable. You create a futuristic human system which is then destroyed by aliens. Then the few remaining humans flee to a remote planet where they are forced to become medieval humanity again, battened down by the church. The story then revolves about a quasi human who can do miracles of course (ie science) and gradually over umpteen books detailing basically the rise of western civilisation, helps the poor put down fellows "regain" technology. So this book, book one is a detailed acocunt of how galleons replaces galleys....right out of history 101. Nice cheap way to write an epic eh? Shame on you David Weber. It reads like some 1960-70's book by A E Van Vogt....nicely written but not modern sci fi.
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A book that has taken a new take on an already established myth and reworked it into something entirely new. Not for Webber the plain old Arthurian tales of old but taking from the futuristic worlds where mankinds in its final days after aliens destroy the world in the prologue only to leave a few survivors fighting in a medieval world with no idea as to how they got there or the glorious achievements that mankind achieved beforehand. That is, of course, until a reborn survivor of mankinds fleet comes onto the scene and enacts the part of Merlin through the use of technology. Whilst the tale may appear simplistic within the pages, it's the sheer depth of the descriptiveness of the tale that makes this such a huge book. Is it required? Certainly as its this that separates David's work from many others and will endear him to fans who have only just discovered this author who's work may well become the next big epic as this tale springs into three separate stories from differing angles. Great quality writing with highly descriptive combat maturely blended with big screen mis-en-scene and characters who live a 3D life with emotional conflict. A real pleasure to read.
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on 10 February 2016
I don't often give 5 stars but this is one of those books that deserves it. I am now on to the 3rd book in the series and they are not getting any less wonderful. There are so many parts that make it a 5 star where do I start. The story line is magnificent in scope, starting off with disaster of an epic scale and a safe refuge created for humanity thousands of light years away. Then the hijacking of humanity by some of those charged with the protection and the creation of a technophobic society to ensure invisibility from the Gbaba. The weaving of religious strands into the whole mix with fanaticism and bigotry rising to the surface. The creation of a "protector" lying in wait for a thousand years, the avatar of a long dead young girl and the change of her gender into a man in that avatar. A fascinating exploration of that gender change and how it impacts on an artifical intelligence. Good v Evil in boat loads. A well trodden plot of scientific up scaling from the perspective of knowledge. But and here is one of the best parts, the twisting of the naming and spelling protocols which if you are smart you can detect some real characters from other literature behind. Nahraman Batz (Norman Bates from Psycho?) and one that is seriously subtle (Zhaspahr Maysahn for Zaspar Makann from H Beam Piper's Space Viking). There are others I am sure - have fun finding them. Seriously a great read with epic space opera scale and grandeur. Charters whose interaction brings a tear to your eye. Realpolitik shown in the decisions of many of the senior players in the story. Loved it, loved the second and loving the 3rd.
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As seems to be the case with everything David Weber writes, some people will love this book while others hate it. It is the first in a series which currently stretches to three books but looks likely to have a lot more, and I found all three completely impossible to put down.

The three books published to date are:

1) "Off Armageddon Reef"
2) "By Schism Rent Asunder"
3) "By Heresies Distressed"

The fourth, "A Mighty Fortress" is due for publication in April 2010.

The story is an interesting re-working of a number of the ideas in some of Weber's earlier books, particularly the Dahak trilogy which begins with "Mutineer's Moon" continues with "The Armageddon Inheritance" and concludes with "Heirs of Empire (Dahak Series)." (The whole trilogy has also been published as "Empire from the Ashes".) But IMHO Weber deploys the experience he has gained in the meantime to re-use the same basic ideas much more effectively and with some original twists.

For example, the alien attackers who are at war against humanity at the start of the book will remind many Weber fans of the Kangas from "The Apocalypse Troll" and even more of the Achuultani from the "Dahak" trilogy. The anti-technological church which dominates the planet on which "Off Armageddon Reef" is mainly set bears a striking resemblance to the church on Pardal in "Heirs of Empire," the third book in that trilogy. But in both cases the presentation of those ideas is even better done.

The basic idea for the series is that, in the 25th century, humanity finds evidence that other intelligent races have recently existed on nearby stars - but that a xenophobic alien race is exterminating them. The Terran Federation has just enough warning to be able to make a fight of it when that enemy finds us and attacks ten years later. The war lasts fifty years - but at the end of that time it is obvious that humanity is losing.

Operation Ark, a final desperate attempt to plant a colony outside the area patrolled by the enemy, is launched. If they succeed, the colonists will face a choice: try to build a civilisation powerful enough to defeat the attackers, or abandon any technology which might attract their attention and simply hide.

The main action of the book begins eight hundred years after that choice was made, as a cyborg is activated containing the mind and memories of Lieutenant-Commander Nimue Alban, one of the people who had fought a sacrificial action to get the colony fleet through ...

David Weber proves in this book that he can write as well or better about wet-navy battles involving galleys, galleons and technology at about the level of the historical 15th century as he does about those involving far future spaceships. While the technology and capabilities of the ships and weapons involved will remind most students of naval history of the Battle of Lepanto, Weber borrows even more than in the Honor Harrington series from the battles of Horatio Nelson (particularly the Nile and Trafalgar) for the tactics and stories. And large parts of the plot relating to the religious arguments in these books will remind many readers of the story of the Reformation. But the fact that much of the plot is lifted from history doesn't spoil the book, and I highly recommend it.
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on 29 April 2009
As you would expect from reading Weber's other books, the world that he constructs to host his tale is very large, and with few exceptions is consistent and logical. And also as you would expect there's plenty of naval action and people clewing in the top-gallants on the focs'l yards and whatnot. It's a fantasy, but being by Weber it has a sci-fi back-story - one that isn't particularly important to the story itself. The theme for the whole series is fairly obvious - it's going to follow its world through an *ever* so close analogue of our Reformation and Enlightenment, although I suspect that this world will go from galleons to exploring the galaxy in only a coupla hundred years at most. This, the first installment in the series (there's one other volume already published, and the third is due out later this year) was enjoyable. I do worry, however, that he's going to shadow real history rather too closely. The politics and theology we've already seen certainly does. If that's the case, then he's going to try to cram a hell of a lot of material into the books, and in this and in a couple of his <em>Honorverse</em> books he has shown something of a tendency for expository rambling and too much political intrigue. But hey, I enjoyed it anyway, and have already ordered the next book.
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