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4.0 out of 5 stars Third in the Honorverse "Shadow" series, 15 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Shadow of Freedom (Honorverse) (Hardcover)
This is the 18th of a group of novels set about two thousand years from now in the future which David Weber initially created for his character Honor Harrington. Within that group this is the third in a sub-sequence of novels, after "The Shadow of Saganami" and "Storm from the Shadows" which are set in an area of space known as the Talbott Quadrant.

Honor Harrington does not appear at all in this book, despite the fact that she is prominently featured on the cover illustration. (Which was naughty of Baen Books.) The central character of "Shadow of Freedom" is her best friend, Michelle Henke.

Currently (March 2013) there are eighteen full-length novels set in the same universe at the same approximate time, not including a prequel series set five centuries earlier, (e.g. fifteen hundred years in our future) and featuring Honor's ancestor Stephanie Harrington.

The first eleven Honor Harrington books delivered a "Ms Hornblower in Space" storyline which told the story of a conflict between the star nations of Manticore (clearly inspired by Britain at the time of Nelson) and Haven (which has elements inspired by the nazi and soviet states but is mainly equivalent to Revolutionary/Napoleonic France). However, the major battle at the end of book eleven, "At All Costs" which very roughly corresponds to Trafalgar, effectively completed that story. Over the last few books the narrative has been gradually shifting to a different story arc in which a sinister conspiracy, unknown to most of the galaxy but referred to by its' inner circle as the Mesan Alignment, is trying to manipulate pretty well the whole of human space into a gigantic series of wars, including one between Manticore and the largest power in known space, the vast "Solarian Republic."

During those past few books the situation between Manticore and the Solarian Republic, which is the biggest star nation in the galaxy, has been getting worse and worse. The reader knows, but at first most of the characters don't, that they are being manipulated by the "Mesan Alignment" into an all out war designed to reshape humanity into the Mesans' eugenic and racial vision of genetically purified perfection. It was clear before the start of this book, both to the reader and to many characters in the series, that the entire galactic order is in danger of collapsing into war and chaos.

This book is set at about the same time as the most recently published previous book in the series, "A Rising Thunder: Honor Harrington, Book 13." However, that book covers events all over the galaxy but particularly in Manticore system and on Earth, and takes an overview of the crisis between Manticore and the Solarian republic, while "Shadow of Freedom" takes place entirely in the Star Empire of Manticore's Talbott Quadrant or the nearby Madras sector of the Solarian republic, and concentrates on aspects of the crisis which are taking place in that part of the galaxy.

It's not one of those David Weber books with constant battles: there are a few land and space battles in this book but it is as much about intrigue and diplomacy as fighting.

Six of the "Honorverse" books covering a slightly earlier phase in the story are organised into three linked but distinct sub-series which portrayed unfolding events with the focus on three different perspectives of the galactic situation. One of those sub-series was the "Shadow" sequence in the Talbott Quadrant. Weber appeared to be moving away from that approach with "Mission of Honor" and "A Rising Thunder" both of which covered the whole picture, but this one reinstates the "Shadow" sequence.

In the process Weber has the problem of whether to assume that readers of "Shadow of Freedom" will already have read "A Rising Thunder." In places he repeats significant sections of that book word for word: in others he bends over backwards to avoid giving a detailed description in this book of events in "A Rising Thunder."

For example, chapter six of this book, about the trip back home from Mesa of two super-spies who discovered in the book "The Torch Of Freedom" an outline of what the Mesans are really up to, is a word-for-word recapitulation of chapter four of "A Rising Thunder." Similarly chapter twenty of this book recapitulates chapter seventeen of "A Rising Thunder."

In other places, when characters in this book receive reports about the events described in "A Rising Thunder," David Weber goes to some lengths to avoid explaining exactly what those reports contain. He appears to be assuming that readers of "Shadow of Freedom" will fall into one of two categories: either

a) they will be people who have already read "A Rising Thunder" and won't need to be told the outcome of the main events of that book, or alternatively

b) they will be people who are likely to read it in the future and for whom he does not wish to "spoil" that book.

If you have not read any of the Honorverse books and are interested in doing so, do not start with "Shadow of Freedom" as these stories work far better if read in sequence. Start with the first book, which is "On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington)."

As hinted above, the first eleven "Honor Harrington books, despite the futuristic setting, exhibited strong parallels with Nelson's navy. Assumed technology in the stories to this point imposed constraints on space navy officers similar to those which the technology of fighting sail imposed on wet navy officers two hundred years ago. Similarly, the galactic situation in the novels up to the eleventh book. "At All Costs" had marked similarities to the strategic and political situation in Europe at the time of the French revolutionary wars. However, from "Mission of Honor" onwards, the story has developed in a wholly different direction.

This divergence applies to both the political diplomatic storyline and to naval technology. For the first few books there were close parallels for the characters, nations and ship classes with those in C.S. Forester's "Hornblower" series or the real history of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. E.g. Manticore was Britain, Haven was France, Honor Harrington was a mix of Horatio Nelson and Horatio Hornblower, Rob S. Pierre was Robespierre, the Committee of Public Safety was the Committee of Public Safety, "ships of the wall" were ships of the line with superdreadnaughts as first rates, etc, etc. One book, Echoes of Honour (Honorverse) was even an almost exact parallel to the Hornblower book Flying Colours.

However, as the story diverges from that of the Napoleonic wars, so the parallels with 20th century naval warfare or with space battle games like "Starfire" (of which Weber was one of the creators) have become stronger than those with the age of fighting sail. First he brought in Q-Ships, then spaceships which correspond to aircraft and carriers, and a ship type introduced in "Mission of Honor" could be seen as equivalent to submarines.

Before the tensions between Manticore and the Solarian Republic led to actual hostilities, those tensions could be seen as equivalent within Nelson-era parallels as imposing similar strategic considerations on the Manticoran navy to those which the threat of war with the USA (which, of course, eventually happened as the war of 1812) had on the British Royal Navy prior to 1812. But the Solarian Republic in this story is so much more relatively huge, populous and wealthy relative to Manticore than the infant United States was in 1812 relative to the British Empire, that the Nelson era parallels are no longer helpful.

If you are trying to work out in what order to read the "Honorverse" books, here is a description of the sequence of the first 18 novels. The main sequence of 12 novels prior to "A Rising Thunder" follows the career of Honor Harrington herself, and consists of

1) On Basilisk Station
2) The Honor of the Queen
3) The Short Victorious War
4) Field of Dishonour
5) Flag in Exile
6) Honor among Enemies
7) In Enemy Hands
8) Echoes of Honor
9) Ashes of Victory
10) War of Honor
11) At All Costs
12) Mission of Honour

I would have considered "A Rising Thunder" to be number thirteen in that list because it is the next novel in which Honor Harrington herself is a major character, and Amazon list it as "Honor Harrington Book 13." But although you can make a case for this, David Weber himself apparently does not agree. The author's website lists only the 12 novels above as the "Honor Harrington" books and then describes all subsequent novels in the same universe as "Honorverse" books. I presume this is because, although she is still a major character, Honor herself does not dominate subsequent books to the extent she does the first twelve.

The "Torch" or anti-slavery sequence (with Eric Flint as co-author) focusses on the battle for freedom of people who have been held in slavery by "Manpower," which at first is seen as a huge and corrupt company corresponding to the slave trader interests in Britain and America some two hundred years ago. The books with this focus are

(i) Crown of Slaves (set at about the same time as "War of Honor"), and
(ii) Torch of Freedom (set at about the same time as "At All Costs").

The "Shadow" or Talbot Quadrant sequence consists of three books which focus on that area of the Galaxy, and particularly on the rapidly worsening crisis between Honor Harrington's home star nation of Manticore and the Solarian republic. The books to date in this sub-series are

(a) The Shadow of Saganami (overlaps the 1st half of "At All Costs"), and
(b) Storm from the Shadows (overlaps "At All Costs" but starts and finishes later.)
(c) Shadow of Freedom (set at about the same time as "A Rising Thunder")

According to David Weber's website, he is collaborating with Eric Flint to write another Honorverse book which will have a title influenced by Shakespeare's Macbeth: he was originally going to call it "Cauldron of Ghosts" but is now thinking of "Cauldron Boil, Cauldron Bubble."

"Mission of Honor" pulled the threads together again, beginning shortly after the end of "Storm from the Shadows" and taking forward the characters and stories from that book, "At All Costs" and "Torch of Freedom." As explained above, this book then continues the story of events in the Talbott Quadrant after "Mission of Honor" and "Storm from the Shadows."

I ought for completeness add that besides the volumes listed above there are several collections in the "Worlds of Honor" series of short stories by Weber and co-authors set in the same universe, and featuring a range of characters, some from the main series of books, others new.

Having mentioned the prequel series I should also explain that one of these short stories was extended to form the first of a new Honorverse series for young adults, with the eponymous novel "A Beautiful Friendship" released in October 2011. It features Stephanie Harrington, a member of an earlier generation of Honor Harrington's family, who lived about 500 years before Honor and was the first human to be "adopted" by a "Treecat," a member of the planet Sphinx's native intelligent species. The Treecats are telepaths among themselves and can read human emotions, and some of them form a lifelong telepathic bond with humans: for example Honor Harrington has been adopted by a treecat called Nimitz.

The second book in the prequel series is called "Fire Season (Star Kingdom)," and this will be followed by "The Treecat wars" which is due for publication later this year.

"Shadow of Freedom" is slightly shorter than some of the recent books in this series, and a better book for it. Weber has also been working on his tendancy to give far too much detail about the vast size and power of the fleets which his characters are commanding or in which they serve.

The "Mesan Alignment" behind Manpower, who have been moving other characters in the story around like chess pieces for the past few books, began to act more openly with devastating consequences in "Mission of Honor." But in this book, as in "A Rising Thunder" they are frantically trying to cover their tracks.

The best way I can think of to give a potentially interested reader a hint to help you decide whether you want to read about these guys, without spoiling the story, is to say that their leader Albrecht Detweiler is what you might get by combining

* Dr Soong from Star Trek Enterprise but without the scruples,

* the rulers of Lois McMaster Bujold's Cetaganda but without the humour, and

* the arch-villian from the James Bond stories, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, without the cat. Honor and some of her friends are the ones with cats - or rather treecats - in this series.

I can recommend this book. My biggest concern about David Weber is that he has so many projects on the go: he says on his own website that

"I have more stories I want to tell than I have time in which to tell them."

He quite rightly adds that this is a better problem than the reverse. At the moment he is working on or considering books in no fewer than eight different series. These are

1) the Honorverse (with sub-series set in various quadrants and different centuries),
2) the Multiverse series which begins with "Hell's Gate" although this one is stalled for the moment while he works on other things,
3) the Bahzell Bahnahkson/War God series in which book four "War Maid's choice" has just come out and there will be at least one more,
4) The Safehold/Nimue Alban series which begins with Off Armageddon Reef); the most recent in this series was "Midst Toil and Tribulation" and the next one will be "Like a mighty army" due September 2013.
5) The Prince Roger/Empire of Man series in which a prequel about the founding of the empire is being considered
6) The Dahak trilogy which he would like to expand to five books by adding a prequel to the currently first book "Mutineer's Moon" and a sequel to the third one, "Heirs of Empire."
7) Dave Weber would also like to write a couple of additional books in the "In Fury Born" universe, and
8) His editor has asked him to consider extending the book "Out of the Dark" to a series.

Wow! That should keep him busy for a few decades!
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