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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nimue Alban IV: I enjoyed this but not all Weber fans will, 18 May 2010
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This review is from: A Mighty Fortress (Safehold) (Hardcover)
This is the fourth book in the "Safehold" serues in which the major character is Nimue Alban.

Some readers will enjoy this a lot, particularly those who are already hooked on the characters and situation as a result of reading the earlier books in the series. As with the first three, I found it impossible to put down. However, a significant chunk of David Weber's fanbase will get bored with this book because it goes into a lot of detail about things which not all of them will be interested in.

It's a massive book with 690 pages of story followed by another 30 pages or so of appendices (character index, glossary etc.) Most of the first 500 pages are taken up with a detailed account of the consolidation which the heroes of the story would have to carry out to incorporate the territory conquered in book three.

One sub-plot involves a beautiful but lengthy description of a journey through the savage Safehold winter for a minor character who has been summoned to the Temple where the anti-technological church which dominates the planet has its' HQ. Another sub-plot, as the bad guys in the Temple prepare to crush any internal opposition within the church by the most cruel and brutal means, involves the attempts by the doomed leaders of that opposition to give as many as possible of their families and supporters a chance to escape.

If you have become very attached to and interested in the characters built up over the first three books, and the world which Weber has built for them, you may enjoy this as much as I did. If, however, you are one of the many readers who enjoy David Weber's books mainly for the battles, this is probably a book to miss. There are two or three small-scale naval battles in the early part of the book. Finally towards the end, the Temple starts to move the huge fleets they have been building and, unusually for this series, takes the good guys by surprise. Which leads to some nail biting moments and a major fleet action at the climax of the book.

By this point in the series, the technology with which the naval battles are fought appears roughly comparable to that of the mid-seventeenth century. Weber shows that he can create sea battles similar to those of the age of fighting sail as well as he handles futuristic space battles.

But this book will probably, like "Storm from the Shadows" in the author's "Honor Harrington" universe, be one of the books which a significant part of the author's fanbase hate because there are not enough battles. And his propensity for describing the full text of meetings and conference calls may get irritating for some readers. This must be the only novel ever set on a world with mostly seventeenth century technology where the main characters spend a significant proportion of their time holding conference calls!

If you're going to read this series, start at the beginning and work through in order. The five "Nimue Alban"/Safehold books published or due to date are:

1) Off Armageddon Reef
2) By Schism Rent Asunder
3) By Heresies Distressed
4) This book, A Mighty Fortress
5) How Firm a Foundation (Safehold) (Due September 2011)

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 "Mutineer's Moon," "The 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 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 four 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 better done.

None of the statements in this review are spoilers for "A Mighty Fortress" but the following comments about the setting of this fourth book may infer more than you want to know about the outcomes of the first three 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 the first book you have not yet read (see links above) 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 leadership of the new colony win, and set up 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, or that the real reason for the ban on technology was to avoid attracting the attention of that enemy.

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

At the start of this fourth book, through a mixture of war and brilliant diplomacy the young King of Charis, Cayleb, has created an empire comprising most of the maritime island nations in the part of Safehold around his original Kingdom. Most recently he has, with Merlin's help, conquered his nation's long-term enemy, Corisande. Unfortunately the Church managed to murder the ruler of that state - Prince Hector - when he was about to surrender, in such a way that many of the people of Corisande wrongly assume Cayleb was responsible for the assassination. This is making the assimilation of the country more difficult.

Meanwhile, in the Temple, the corrupt leaders of the Church are licking their wounds while they build a vast fleet and prepare to declare Holy War on Charis. And the evil Grand Inquisitor is also planning a terrible vengeance on anyone inside the church who gives him and his confederates less than 100% support ...
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