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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Third in the Nimue Alban/Safehold series, 13 Aug 2009
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This review is from: By Heresies Distressed (Hardcover)
I found all the books in the "Nimue Alban" series impossible to put down, and am sufficiently hooked that I had to pre-order this one to read as soon as it came out. When I had read it over every spare moment in the next two days, my next reaction was - 'Aargh - now I have to wait a year for the fourth installment ...'

The five books in the series to date are:

1) Off Armageddon Reef
2) By Schism Rent Asunder
3) By Heresies distressed
4) A Mighty Fortress
5) How Firm a Foundation (Safehold).

As seems to be the case with everything David Weber writes, some people will love this series while others hate it.

Not all the ideas are new: the story is an interesting re-working of a number of the ideas in a some of Weber's earlier books, particularly the Dahak trilogy "(Mutineers' Moon (Dahak Series)," "Armageddon Inheritance" and "Heirs of Empire (Dahak Series)" - the whole trilogy has also been published as "Empire from the Ashes".) But IMHO Weber uses 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 first book, and the threat of whom hangs over subsequent books, 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 the heroes and heroines are struggling against throughout the first three books bears a striking resemblance to the church on Pardal in "Heirs of Empire," the third book in the Dahak trilogy. But in both cases the presentation of those ideas is even better done.

None of the statements in this review are spoilers for "By Heresies Distressed" but my description of this third book may infer more than you want to know about the outcomes of the first two books if you have not read them yet. If that is the case I suggest you navigate to the page for "Off Armageddon Reef" or "By Schism Rent Asunder" without reading further.

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 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 attentions and simply hide.

The anti-technological faction in the leaderships of the new colony, Safehold win, and construct a totalitarian theocracy whose main aim is to stifle any technical change. For eight hundred years nobody on the planet knew that it was a colony, that humanity has a deadly enemy out among the stars, and that the real reason for the ban on technology was to avoid attracting the attention of that enemy.

But that situation has changed: eight hundred years after the founding of Safehold, a cyborg was activated which contained the mind and memories of Lieutenant-commander Nimue Alban, a brilliant tactician who had been one of the thousands of officers and men who gave their lives that the colony fleet could get through. When the corrupt leaders of the church attempt to destroy the nation of Charis for being a bit too innovative, as a warning to others, Nimue adopts the persona of "Merlin Athrawes" a warrior mystic, and helped them to defeat the initial church invasion.

At the start of this third book, the war between the church and the nation of Charis has become a global conflict as nation after nation is forced to take sides. Through brilliant diplomacy the young King of Charis, Cayleb has created an empire, marrying the Queen of one neighbouring state which is a traditional ally of Charis. Cayleb has even persuaded another neighbouring state which was formerly a bitter enemy to voluntarily join the new Empire of Charis and made its' former ruler, who tried to have Cayleb assassinated at the start of "Off Armageddon Reef" (and would have succeeded but for Nimue's intervention) into a loyal ally.

In a less well-written series this about face would seem quite implausible, but Weber handles it so beautifully that most readers may not even stop to think how difficult such a diplomatic triumph would be to bring off.

In the Temple, the corrupt leaders of the Church are licking their wounds while they build up their military forces and prepare to declare Holy War. But they don't intend to let Charis consolidate it's position without interference: a fifth column of spies and traitors, some very close to the rulers of Charis and Chisholm, are preparing a devastating plot against the rebel nations ...
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