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Hell's Foundations Quiver (Safehold) Hardcover – 13 Oct 2015
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About the Author
DAVID WEBER is the author of the New York Times-bestselling Honor Harrington series and Safehold series. His many other novels include Mutineers' Moon, The Armageddon Inheritance, Heirs of Empire, Path of the Fury, and Wind Rider's Oath. He lives in South Carolina.
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It's quite a well-written book in terms of language and imagery (hotter than hell's hinges being a particular favourite), with very few proof-reading slips, but the story and character development have evaporated somewhat. In some ways, that was OK for me because I read it over a weekend when I was full of cold and it didn't over-tax my brain; it's comfort reading, a bit... Downton Abbey or Midsomer Murders. But really, we are paying quite a lot for these books fresh off the press and as they stretch out into a longer series, the cost of staying with it adds up. I shall stay with the series because I've invested in it and I'm an eternal optimist but if you haven't started reading this series yet, you might want to consider finding ways to borrow the books or buying them at a reduced price.
One more thing, and this is common to the series: having read it on Kindle, I was settling in for another day's reading at 84%, when, out of nowhere, the book ended. That's an ENORMOUS appendix (as the Bishop said to the Inquisitor).
Come on, Mr Weber, feed our imagination!
Some people love this series and others hate it. If you read this author mainly for his high-tech space battles, such as those in the Honor Harrington universe which kicks off with "On Basilisk Station (Honorverse)" you should probably leave the "Safehold" series alone.
Here is a possible test for whether you will like the "Safehold" series. If you play computer games or board games, the likelihood that you will enjoy this series is directly proportional to the pleasure you get from playing any of the versions of Sid Meier's Civilisation (link: Civilization VI (PC CD)) or similar games. The heroine of this series is doing what the successful Civ player has to do: shepherd a nation surrounded by enemies one step at a time from a pre-industrial era with muscle-powered weapons and units such as swordsmen and galleys through increasingly advanced periods of history and up to the space age while balancing the competing demands of defence against hostile powers, economic development, and scientific research, and simultaneously juggling politics, culture and religion.
Most of the books in this series are massive doorstops and this one is no exception. After four pages of maps at the front, he hardback edition runs to page 579, and then there are a further hundred and five pages of appendices such as an index of characters, Glossary, and tables. You will find the story suddenly coming to the end when there was still more than half a centimetre of pages to go in the hardback, or the progress bar at the bottom of the page on the kindle reaches about 85%.
This series is aimed at the kind of reader who is interested in the results of a job of really large scale and thorough world-building.
At the start of this novel the war between the Empire of Charis and the evil "Church of God Awaiting" has been going on for seven books with the good guys very gradually moving forward but, without wanting to spoil things, in this volume there is significant forward progress.
If you're going to read this series, don't begin with this book: start at the beginning and work through in order. The nine "Nimue Alban"/Safehold books published to date are:
1) Off Armageddon Reef
2) By Schism Rent Asunder
3) By Heresies Distressed
4) A Mighty Fortress (Safehold 4)
5) How Firm a Foundation (Safehold)
6) Midst Toil and Tribulation (Safehold)
7) Like A Mighty Army (Safehold)
8) This book, Hell's Foundations Quiver
9) At the Sign of Triumph (Safehold)
Not all the ideas are new: the story is a re-working of concepts from Weber's earlier books, particularly the Dahak trilogy "Mutineer's Moon," "The Armageddon Inheritance" and "Heirs Of Empire." (That trilogy has also been published in one book 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 Gbaba 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/Empire from the Ashes" trilogy.
The anti-technological church which the heroes and heroines are struggling against throughout the first nine 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 "Hell's Foundations Quiver" but the following comments about the setting of this ninth book may infer more than you want to know about the outcomes of the seven previous 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 here.
The basic idea for the series begins in the 25th century, when 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, the Gbaba, finds us and attacks ten years later. The war lasts fifty years - but towards the end of that time it is obvious that humanity is losing.
Operation Ark, a final desperate attempt to plant a colony thousands of light years away from 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 Gbaba, 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 on the planet "Safehold" 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 not God's command but to avoid attracting the attention of that enemy.
However, 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 too innovative, Nimue adopted the persona of "Merlin Athrawes," a warrior mystic, and helped them to defeat the initial church invasion.
At the start of the fifth book, through a mixture of war and brilliant diplomacy, Cayleb, the young King of Charis, had with Merlin's assistance created and consolidated an empire comprising most of the maritime island nations in the part of Safehold around his original kingdom. As Charis controls the islands and the seas, while the corrupt leaders of the Temple dominate the main landmass, we appeared to have the same sort of stalemate as when the Royal Navy of Nelson's time dominated the seas while Napoleon's Army dominated the land.
But then during the fifth book the villain of the series, Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn, attempted to overthrow the government of the Republic of Siddarmark on the main landmass. Beset by "Temple Loyalist" rebels and facing huge invading forces of the Temple's so-called "Army of God" the position of those loyal to the Republic of Siddarmark looks desperate. But if Charis can help them hold on, a foothold for the good guys in Siddarhark will provide them with an invasion route to the Temple itself.
The sixth and seventh book described the first couple of year's desperate campaigning in the massive land war which follows. But by the start of "Hell's Foundations Quiver" loyal Siddarmark forces and their allies from Charis have held off the "Army of God" and then very slowly and painfully pushed them back. Both sides have raced ahead in technological terms - an extreme irony on the Church side as Weber is not slow to point out, since their war aim was to prevent technological change. In six years the Empire of Charis has moved from galleys to steam ironclads and is working on a class equivalent to late pre-dreadnaught battleships and have armed forces roughly equivalent to those of the more advanced powers on earth at the time of the late 19th century, while the armies of the Church are not far behind close enough to make pushing them back dreadfully expensive.
There is also a fair amount of intrigue going on in this book, and Nimue discovers another group of people who have information left over from the founding of Safehold.
One of the things that David Weber is good at is describing events, both diplomatic confrontations and wars, from the perspective of various viewpoint characters on different sides. In this series there is a particular added element to this - the "Good Guys" don't just need to win the war, they also need to start people on the other side THINKING for themselves so that the people of Safehold may become ready to learn the truth about the massive lies they have been sold, the real history of the planet, and the true enemy of every human which is waiting out beyond the stars.
Previous stories have had sub-plots showing various people on the wrong side start to think for themselves - sometimes paying a very heavy price for it. Some of those characters had to change sides, some began to walk a tightrope between what they think is right and bringing the wrath of the Inquisition down on themselves and their families.
Let's just say that there are more similar plotlines of a similar kind in "Hell's foundations quiver."
In the last two books of the story arc, "Hell's foundations quiver" and "At the sign of Triumph" Weber explores what happens to strong totalitarian regimes as they finally start to come apart, and one or two scenes in these final two books in the initial story arc are begging to be turned into a "Hitler rant "Downfall" parody with Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn as Hitler in the bunker.
If you are only interested in getting back to the space battles, you will have little interest in the entire story arc which finally concludes in the ninth volume of the series. If however you have any interest in land and sea warfare between the 16th and 19th centuries, and what happened when different military technologies clashed, you may find it fascinating.
The author's depiction of how the pressure of war might spur two competing alliances to modernise their economies, war production, weaponry and tactics has been covered in enormous detail. Personally I found most of this detail interesting, but had to skim through a few passages where the detail didn't do anything for me or appear central to the plot. There will be more than a few readers who find that all this detail makes the story far too slow.
Nevertheless I think most of those who have enjoyed the previous books in this series will enjoy this one.
At 84 % read on my kindle the story just ends the remaining 16% is padded with a summary of characters etc. I find this sort of thing shameless as I've already read the book and therefore don't need to know who's who and whats what.
Secondly, and kind of related to the first point, the story just stops and this is getting to be a theme of David Webers writing as i've noticed the same in the Honor Harrington series. It leaves the story feeling, well, unfininished for want of a better word.
I suppose now the author will switch over to the Honor series and leave us waiting for a few years for the next installment or as with the honor series he'll do a load of safehold spinoffs with other authors.
Please Please Please just get on with concluding a series and stop screwing your readers over.