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Treecat Wars (Star Kingdom (Quality)) Paperback – 14 Aug 2014
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About the Author
With over seven million copies of his books in print and seventeen titles on the New York Times bestseller list, David Weber is the science fiction publishing phenomenon of the new millennium. In the hugely popular Honor Harrington series, the spirit of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander lives on--into the galactic future. Books in the Honor Harrington and Honoverse series have appeared on fourteen best seller lists, including those of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today. While Weber is best known for his spirited, modern-minded space operas, he is also the creator of the Oath of Swords fantasy series and the Dahak saga. Weber has also written highly popular collaborations, including his Starfire Series with Steve White, which produced the New York Times bestseller The Shiva Option among others. Weber's collaboration with alternate history master Eric Flint led to the bestselling 1634: The Baltic War, and his planetary adventure novels with military science fiction ace and multiple national best-seller John Ringo includes the blockbusters March to the Stars and We Few. Finally, Weber's teaming with Linda Evans produced the bestselling Multiverse series. David Weber makes his home in South Carolina with his wife and children. Jane Lindskold is the award-winning, bestselling author of over twenty novels, including the incredibly popular Firekeeper series (Through Wolf's Eyes though Wolf's Blood), as well as over sixty shorter works of science fiction and fantasy. Several of her novels have been chosen by VOYA for their Best SF, Fantasy and Horror list. Lindskold's work has been repeatedly praised for its sensitive depiction of worlds and cultures different from our own -- especially those that aren't in the least human. Her works have been praised as "intricate, beautifully written" (Voya), "attention-grabber" (School Library Journal), "engrossing" (Miami Herald), "Thrilling" (Publisher's Weekly), "ripping good fantasy" (Kliatt). Reviewer Charles deLint called Lindskold "one of those hidden treasures of Amerian letters." She has been a frequent contributor to the Honorverse, where her tales of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Michael have a loyal and enthusiastic following.
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One of the biggest problems I had with Fire Season was that it just wasn't sure what it wanted to be. Was it aimed at the older YA crowd, as the more adult themes and discussions suggested? Or was it aimed at a younger audience, with details of relationships and unsure pacing on the treecat front present? Fortunately Weber and Lindskold seem to have combined their writing much better this time, with Treecat Wars having a much more stable and even narrative. Yes, the anthropologists are still around, and discussion about sentience and treecat behaviour is still present, but it's easier to read, not as full on. The same goes for the relationships between our characters - it's not as young as it was previously. Don't get me wrong, both aspects are far from perfect, but they are at least consistent this time around. And let me tell you, that makes the world of difference.
Treecat Wars picks up in the aftermath of Fire Season, and while the human population of Sphinx is carrying on as normal, it's not the same for the treecats. This is perhaps the biggest focus of the novel, looking at a couple of treecat clans and examining the effect the fires had on them. It's done very well, with Weber and Lindskold expanding the treecats further, allowing us to see them as a society and their interactions with each other. Yes, this has been done in the earlier novels, but the events of Treecat Wars adds a depth that wasn't present before.
The relationships are also a large part of the story. With Stephanie and Karl off-planet, Stephanie's relationship with Anders is put to the test. Although he's only a planet away, it's clear that they both find it hard with only video messages to keep in touch. And Anders also has a friend in Jessica, and her treecat Valiant, that is around more often for the xenoanthopologists to talk to and see the human/treecat bond. While at times it comes across as simple teenager problems, at others there is a much better portrayal given which allows more empathy with the characters.
One of the more surprising things I found with Treecat Wars is the relative lack of focus on Stephanie and Lionheart. Instead, Weber and Lindskold have chosen to follow other characters, which is a departure from the previous novels. One of the big appeals of this series is the fact that we're following a Harrington, and especially the first to meet and bond with a treecat. Removing that from much of the story doesn't do itself many favours, though it does give the benefit of multiple viewpoints and opens up different avenues to explore.
For all its improvements over Fire Season, Treecat Wars is still a simple novel. The issues faced within by the characters are not overly challenging, and certainly not as action-orientated and exciting as I would have expected with such a rich and diverse environment to play with. It's a shame, because this series is starting to come together with a narrative that flows rather than stumbles. Now, if the issues and challenges faced by our characters could be have some more depth, and - let's be honest - more appeal and interest, things could get very interesting. All I hope is that the next entry doesn't simply meander along, but instead provides a meatier storyline.
This book is set shortly after "Fire Season (Star Kingdom)" in which Stephanie Harrington, who is a direct ancestor of Honor Harrington and had been the first human to be adopted by a Sphinx treecat, had to deal with teenage rivalries, forest fires, and a bunch of xenobiologists.
Stephanie was originally introduced in "A Beautiful Friendship (Star Kingdom (Quality))" which describes how Stephanie Harrington, a twelve-year-old girl from the first generation of Honor Harrington's family to move to the Manticore system, was adopted by the treecat who she named "Lionheart." This was originally written as a short story which was first published in the collection "More Than Honor," can also be found in the more recent anthology "Worlds Of Weber" and was then extended to a novel.
For anyone who has never read any of the Honor Harrington books, "Treecats" are a small arborial sentient species native to the planet Sphinx who look a bit like six-legged cats with long tails. Among themselves they are fully telepathic: they can read the "Mind-glows" of humans well enough to be empathic, e.g. they can read emotions but not thoughts. Treecats find the mind-glows of many humans attractive and in some circumstances a human and a treecat can form a lifelong bond similar to those between the human and dragon characters of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight series. This relationship is referred to in Weber's novels as "adoption."
"A Beautiful Friendship" told the story of the first such bonding, of how Stephanie came to be known as "Death Fang's Bane" among the treecats, and began a theme which continues throughout the series about the struggle to have treecats recognised as an intelligent species with legal rights corresponding to human rights. No human alive in Honor's time has personal memories of Stephanie because Weber tells us in "Mission of Honor: Honor Harrington, Book 12," a book in the Honorverse main series, that the first generation of the "Prolong" technology which allows Honor and many characters of her generation to expect a vastly extended lifespan did not become available until about a hundred years before that book. E.g. some three hundred years after the birth of Stephanie Harrington.
However, treecats can and do share memories, and one of the most important groups in their society are "Memory Singers" who act as a living library of important memories, some of which can be very old. Nimitz's wife Samantha, who has adopted Honor Harrington's husband Hamish Alexander, is a memory singer. And in A Rising Thunder (Honor Harrington) Samantha introduces Honor to "Sorrow Singer," a treecat memory singer who does indeed hold such a memory of Stephanie Harrington and can tell Honor, "You would have liked her. She was much like you in many ways."
A running joke in this book is to emphasise the similarity between Honor and her ancestor by having more than one of Stephanie's friends think that if she hadn't been determined to make a career as a Sphinx ranger Stephanie would have made an excellent battle fleet commander. Since many of those who read the "Star Kingdom" series will probably have first encountered this Universe through books about Stephanie's upmpteen-greats-granddaughter, who will indeed be a great fleet commander, the significance will not be lost on them, though the joke is perhaps funnier the first time than when repeated. There is one main difference between the two heroines: Honor is taller than most men while Stephanie is petite.
Like the first two books in the prequel series, a major focus of this book is on how an intelligent but non-technological species like the treecats might react to the arrival of human colonists on their world, and on the good and evil ways that a society of human colonists might react to the discovery that the planet where they have been building a home for several generations is home to a native intelligent species.
Sphinx's forest ecology is dependent on occasional natural forest fires, although these can threaten treecat clans and human homes alike. Because careless human activity can make this risk worse, the ranger service in which Stephanie is an apprentice is very concerned to control forest fires during the planet's "fire season." The previous eponymous book featured a particularly bad fire season. In this book we are introduced to two new treecat clans, both of which had been affected by those fires: one which had been seriously harmed by those fires, and one which had been hit even worse and pushed to the brink of extinction.
Despite the title there are no space battles in "Treecat wars" any more than there were in "A Beautiful Friendship" or "Fire Season." Like Honor's own parents and most of their family, Stephanie's parents are medical professionals. The original Republic of Haven, if it exists at all yet, has not decayed to become the corrupt and totalitarian "People's Republic of Haven" and so the military threat posed by the "Peeps" lies many years in the future.
However, the vast and ruthless conspiracy which will eventually become known as the Mesan Alignment did already exist in Stephanie's time, and we know that that at some stage prior to Honor's time the Mesans had taken an interest in treecats, which may affect Stephanie and Lionheart - or may even already have done so.
However, the greedy and corrupt wing of the Manticoran aristocracy - forerunners of the kind of people who formed the "High Ridge" government if you have read the Honorverse books - are capable of causing a lot of trouble all on their own. People who do not all wish the treecats well have plans for Stephanie and Lionheart. However, just as in later centuries not all the powerful people in Manticoran society are evil. The challenge will be to sort the good from the evil and the merely misguided ...
If you like the treecats in David Weber's other books you should read this. It's enjoyable and interesting as long as you are not among that part of Weber's fanbase who read him solely for the space battles.
If the event, however unlikely, that anyone reading this is a big fan of military or naval science fiction who has somehow managed to avoid reading any of the Honor Harrington books, click on the following link to the first book in Honor's story, "On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington)," and you are unlikely to be disappointed.
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