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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 September 2011
This is the fifth installment in the "Safehold" series in which the major character is Nimue Alban. Not all of the author's fanbase will like it - there is very little here for the people who like high-tech space battles for instance - but I thought it was a big improvement on volume four and as with the previous books in the series I could hardly put it down.

Again, like most of the previous novels in this series it's another massive doorstop of a book, with five pages of maps and 550 pages of story followed by another 50 pages or so of appendices (character index, glossary etc.) But I found the editing quite a bit tighter than the last installment, and you have more of a sense that the author knows where he is going with the story, despite the fact that the war between the good guys and the evil "Temple" seemed to be facing a complete stalemate at the end of book four.

If you're going to read this series, don't begin with this book: start at the beginning and work through in order. The five "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) This book, How Firm a Foundation, and
6) "Midst Toil and Tribulation (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 (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 "How firm a foundation" but the following comments about the setting of this fifth book may infer more than you want to know about the outcomes of the first four 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 fifth book, through a mixture of war and brilliant diplomacy Cayleb, the young King of Charis, has 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 appear 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 this book describes how that stalemate began to break ...

It starts with the central character setting up a fake steam railway network on an uninhabited island. Nimue wants to find out whether the creators of the anti-technological church which dominates the planet Safehold left any orbital sensors or weapons platforms designed to destroy such a manifestation of forbidden technology.

From this we are taken to "Onedin Line" territory as some of Weber's supporting characters are trying to keep a galleon afloat and unwrecked during a terrible storm at sea.

And then we are back to political manouvering, espionage, and church-sponsored terrorism as Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn continues his effort to crush the good guys and anyone else who opposes him.

If you have become very attached to and interested in the characters built up over the previous 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 space battles, this, like the last one, is a book to miss.

There is only one major naval battle described in detail in this book, and DW doesn't pretend that the outcome is in any doubt - but that doesn't mean there is no tension in the book. Dave Weber's style puts you looking over the shoulder of good guys and bad guys alike as the latter are planning various horrible arocities and Weber leaves you in considerable doubt which of them will be succesfully carried out, and whether the good guys will be able to rescue any of the innocents who the Inquisition is planning to murder.

At this point in the series, the technology with which the good guys have equipped their navy appears roughly comparable to the early nineteenth century, while the bad guys have broughts themselves up to about the mid-seventeenth century. The technology of naval combat at these times is well described and I found it interesting.

Weber appears to have listened to complaints about some of his recent books, and far less of the book is taken up with detailed descripions of interminable conference calls between the major characters. (I spend enough time on conference calls at work, I don't want masses more of them when reading for pleasure!)

This book will still probably, like the previous one "A Mighty Fortress" or "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. But I think those who have enjoyed most of this series will like this book a lot.
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on 29 October 2011
In this book, Weber manages to move the various threads along rather more than in the previous volume.

The book is, however, still marred by excessive long-windedness, and by a light/teasing/sarcastic dialogue that is so often misplaced; I positively cringe at some of the dialogue, especially with Sharleyan. In fact I find myself skimming over whole pages of verbiage. Such a pity when the Safehold concept is so good, and when there are many really well-written and well-structured scenes (including fine set-piece battles). The problem is that one gets hooked by the early volumes, and now it's necessary to wade through an awful lot of pages of drivel. W. badly needs a good editor who can put a blue pencil through a lot of this, making for a much tighter work. In this way, the author could probably complete the project in 3-5 volumes.
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on 16 September 2011
In the latest installment of the Safehold series, the Empire of Charis has only narrowly defeated the Navy of God, but faces an escalation of methods in their struggle for survival. The Church is learning how to deal with the immense advantages of Charis' knowledge of their activities and the Inquisition has moved to the tactics of terror in their efforts to destroy the only realm on Safehold that does not answer to them. In the face of revelations regarding the legacies of the Archangels, the Charisians must take their war deep on the continent, where revolutions are brewing and a captive prince needs to be rescued.

As usual with this series, Weber weaves different threads into the tale: issues of faith in the light of Merlin's revelations; abuse of power by the Church and fear of the same by Charis; war on the high seas between the fleets of Charis and the Church; and swashbuckling action as the war takes to the streets and mountains of the mainland. To this is now added the fear induced by terroism and the ravages of civil war as a realm comes down firmly on the fence between Charis and the Church, and comes apart.

The book is a definite page turner and hard to put down, events unrolling slowly on the strategic scale but exploding into action on the immediate scale.
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on 17 September 2011
Having been rather scathing in my review of the previous book in this series (A Mighty Fortress (Safehold 4)) which suffers from serious pacing problems, I am pleased to report that Weber is on much better form this time, with none of the ponderousness, padding, and lack of plot progress of the last book. In fact the pace here is at least as fast as it has ever been in the whole series.

So if you've been worrying that the series would end up dragging to a halt, fear not; it looks like that fate has been averted for now at least.

Some readers might even prefer to skip book 4 entirely and pick up the series again here - it should be easy enough to pick up the important events of the previous book from context alone.

The only reason I'm not giving the book 5 stars is because the series as a whole still carries two great flaws; the $!%@!ng names, and the fact that the plot is still somewhat on the predictable side (which is probably unavoidable given the series concept and how it started off).

I do have some slight concerns about the fact that while a deadline has now been revealed, at the current rate of progress it will take something like sixteen more books to reach. I really hope that Weber is planning either a large time-skip or two, or to significantly pick up the rate of passage of in-universe time; while Weber is obviously no stranger to long-running series, I really doubt that this setting has enough scope to sustain that many books without once again getting bogged down. But that is not a concern that affects the enjoyment of this book at all.
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on 19 November 2011
I'm a big fan of David Weber and loved the early books of this series, but for me its now becoming a bit like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Huge books where nothing really happens except the faithful followers dish up some more money. The concept of the Safehold story is great, and the challenge of changing a society on its head is something that should happen of a number of years or generations. Instead the author has concentrated on a huge and bewildering array of characters and countries which you quickly start to flick past. Something needs to happen in this series or number 6 will be my last.
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on 3 May 2013
This book starts terribly. We are treated to sixty pages of incomprehensible gibberish in which sailors desperately thwart the top-gallants and abaft the mains'l while the sea larboards the weather side. Yes, we get the idea that they're in dire peril, but for God's sake GET ON WITH IT. At a 'mere' 800 pages for the whole book, far fewer than its bulky predecessor in the series A Mighty Fortress, which weighed in at over a thousand, this is approaching 10% of the book, and much of this nautical nonsense serves little purpose. Yes, what little of it is comprehensible to people without peglegs and clavicular psittaciformes is exciting, but it doesn't advance the story much, and certainly not by nearly 10%.

Thankfully, normal service is soon restored and as well as interludes of exciting local action as navies smash each other to bits, the global story is significantly advanced. One particular advance opens the way for what I'm sure will be very dramatic events in the next volume in the series.

Returning to my criticisms of the previous volume, the cover art is far less awful - it's still not great, but at least it's not offensively bad this time - and the internal monologues are kept under better control. They're still there, they're there in everything Weber writes these days, but at least they don't distract too much from events. The stupid names? Well, yeah, they're still there. It wouldn't really be possible to fix that now. But I still hate them.

If it wasn't for the meaningless interludes of ahoying of spinnakers and the stupid names I'd just about award this five out of five shiny gold stars. It's not a great book, but it is at least thoroughly enjoyable, which matters far more to me than all the literariness in the world. Of course, this deep into a series it will make little sense if you've not read all the previous volumes, but with those caveats I recommend it.
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on 8 January 2017
Okay. Book 5 of the Safehold series. If you don’t know what’s going on by now then either look away or hunt down Book 1 (Off Armageddon Reef) and start reading.

In a nutshell this is more of the same. Politics, religion, war. The jihad launched by the Church of God Awaiting against the Empire of Charis has gone badly for the Church. Charis has survived, and not only that is now taking the war to the Church.

As with other books in this series Weber relies heavily on sometimes over long scenes of infodumps. Then throw in another 5% of the book being taken up by the Charisian galleon HMS Destiny battling against a ferocious storm. It’s well written and tense and technically expert as we learn how sailing ships survive in hurricane force winds, but 5%? Really? And then there are the scenes where different characters hold long conversations that tell the reader what is going on for the story progression. And that’s the problem, we are told not shown.

But, having said all that, and knowing what Weber is going to give us, the tension ratchets up with assassinations and terrorism as the Church launches Operation Rakurai and Operation Sword of Schueler against the Charisian Empire. There is a line in the book where a representative of the Church says “Extremism in the pursuit of godliness can never be a sin” which tells you everything about the lengths the Church and the Inquisition will go to destroy Charis and anyone else, man, woman or child who stands in their way.

If you can take the length of the individual books, and the entire series as Weber is currently up to Book 9, then read on, just don’t start here – go back to Book 1 or you will be completely lost.
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on 26 September 2012
I sort of lost my way with this series because of the obese previous episode. I agree with many of the complaints that David's style of writing is too wordy - particularly when it comes to maritime matters (do I really need to know the difference between a Top Gallant mast and a Mizzenmast?) - and his contemporary grammer puts words in the mouths of some of the characters that just do not seem right. Sharleyan's behaviour and speech is particularly annoying and like others I tend to skip the little scenes that include her!

BUT...A Firm Foundation is far more on track with what is a very interesting premise, and the political intrigue and historical invention is hugely entertaining.

Still, as enjoyable these books are you always get the feeling that the story could have been told in a book half the size with little loss in storyline. But I did not scan read sections of this book as much as I did the last...

If all this sounds a bit negative it shouldn't put you off as the core of the story is fantastic and is a fascinating 'what if?' senario as hundreds of years of historical military innovation is compressed into just a few years and it has you constantly speculating on what invention you think should be introduced to give the good guys the advantage.

In the end I find it hard to put this book down - though do wonder just how many books there will need to be to finish the saga if it's taken 5 already just to get this far! :)

Great if you have patience!
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on 26 December 2013
I agree with most of the reviews here, Weber writes some good stuff set in interesting scenarios, but why, oh why cannot some editor cut out some at least of the completely unnecessary padding that Weber constantly fills his books with?
This book is 768 pages long (ignoring all the appendices - the list of characters alone is 35 pages long!!) At the beginning of the book is a section 35 pages long describing a sailing ship running before a storm, this contributes absolutely nothing to the plot but allows Weber to name every single piece of equipment on a sailing ship. Similarly, without spoilers, there is a section where one of the bad guys needs to get access to a pass into the royal presence, to do so he poses as a maintenance worker; a simple and commonly used plot device but in Weber's hands we get a 5 page description of how he mends a leaking cistern, and a description of the inner workings of said cistern.
Also, as there is no "what went before" section at the beginning, the events of previous books are endlessly rehashed.
The worst of it is that, given the above, I know that I will end up reading the next book!
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on 23 November 2013
This series started off really well with an excellent premise for a series of books. But the author seems to think we need to know the biography and intimate detail of every character we meet (and there are far, far too many of them anyway). The plot is excellent and the only reason I am continuing to plough through it, although I skip most pages looking for something worth reading. In fact I didn't read the previous book because I got fed up with the style of writing and when I started this one found I could work out what had happened in the that massive tome in about three pages of this one. I'm afraid this seems to symptomatic of quite a few authors of this genre these days. Robin Hobb is just as bad and as for the Wheel of Time books..... I call it lazy writing as its mainly just useless padding but of course also allows the author to produce a book for his agent/publisher with B*****er all plot for its size.
Come on start writing stories not rambling, over complicated, padded out mush.
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