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I found all the books in the "Nimue Alban" series impossible to put down, and am sufficiently hooked that I had to pre-order this one to read as soon as it came out. When I had read it over every spare moment in the next two days, my next reaction was - 'Aargh - now I have to wait a year for the fourth installment ...'

The five books in the series to date are:

1) Off Armageddon Reef
2) By Schism Rent Asunder
3) By Heresies distressed
4) A Mighty Fortress
5) How Firm a Foundation (Safehold).

As seems to be the case with everything David Weber writes, some people will love this series while others hate it.

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 "(Mutineers' Moon (Dahak Series)," "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 much 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 three 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 even better done.

None of the statements in this review are spoilers for "By Heresies Distressed" but my description of this third book may infer more than you want to know about the outcomes of the first two 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 "By Schism Rent Asunder" 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 leaderships of the new colony, Safehold win, and construct 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, and that the real reason for the ban on technology was to avoid attracting the attention of that enemy.

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

At the start of this third book, the war between the church and the nation of Charis has become a global conflict as nation after nation is forced to take sides. Through brilliant diplomacy the young King of Charis, Cayleb has created an empire, marrying the Queen of one neighbouring state which is a traditional ally of Charis. Cayleb has even persuaded another neighbouring state which was formerly a bitter enemy to voluntarily join the new Empire of Charis and made its' former ruler, who tried to have Cayleb assassinated at the start of "Off Armageddon Reef" (and would have succeeded but for Nimue's intervention) into a loyal ally.

In a less well-written series this about face would seem quite implausible, but Weber handles it so beautifully that most readers may not even stop to think how difficult such a diplomatic triumph would be to bring off.

In the Temple, the corrupt leaders of the Church are licking their wounds while they build up their military forces and prepare to declare Holy War. But they don't intend to let Charis consolidate it's position without interference: a fifth column of spies and traitors, some very close to the rulers of Charis and Chisholm, are preparing a devastating plot against the rebel nations ...
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on 25 June 2017
Great fun to read
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on 7 October 2009
Whether you are an existing David Weber fan or not this is an excellent read and hopefully this series will continue and evolve.

This book has all the hallmarks of a Weber classic, convincing characters, a variety of plot lines and a mix of technologies. Like the previous two in the series so far once you pick it up it is difficult to put down. The background plot has an element of grand space opera but not on the scale of the Harrington series. However the planetary scale of conflict over the role of church and state has echoes of the Papacy and the Thirty Years War but with the addition of a forced pace of technological change.

Basically this is another excellent yarn from the Weber stable, go get it and enjoy!
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on 15 March 2010
The premise of this seies is intriguing, and raises, as it is no doubt intended to, many questions regarding the influence of religion on secular affairs. It is wrapped up in a gripping story, which avoids any sermonising. A mixture of medieval life as it should have been (with hygiene), and advanced 'heretical' technology. There is great scope for development in the rest of the series, and enough uncertainty to keep the reader guessing.
The impact of sudden advances in technology are well described, although referencing the role of Danish gun-galleys versus the English man of war at the battle of Copenhagen might have been helpful to the author. This is a quibble, though, as the story is well-written, and carries the reader along from religion to diplomacy to war seamlessly. The main characters are fallible enough to draw us into either loving or hating them. This is the first book by this author that I have read, and I am looking forward to the next instalment impatiently.
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on 3 March 2013
The author obviously loves sailing and the world of galleons and there's a lot of affection in the writing - and, I suspect, a great deal of accuracy. He also communicates a clear Christian commitment - which makes it all the more strange that he has chosen as his combatants the leaders of a corrupt "church". (I guess he would argue that one theme of the books is the difference between faith and religion.)

The series is somewhat protracted and could have done with some heavy editing (hence the loss of stars). There were also one or two places where I found it difficult to accept the basic premises behind the books. Some of the dialogue was also a bit twee and I found myself wincing at attempts to express affection or humour.

Nevertheless, if you want a good swash-buckling read without too much effort, then these fit the bill.
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on 8 October 2009
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on 5 June 2010
A good yarn. Weber manages to create well rounded characters, proppeled by believable motives. Inevitably in such a grand tale, there are many characters. It could be argued too many. A general weakness is that many of the characters lack truly distinctive voices and combined with their annoyingly spelt names it's difficult to keep track of who's doing what to whom. If only everyone in the real world were so reasonable and logical even the bad guys.
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on 7 January 2013
I am a fan of David Weber, I like his style of writing and have enjoyed the majority of his books. He's a story teller and this is a good story, well told. If you have enjoyed the first two in the series then the third will not disappoint as it follows in the same vein as its two predecessors.
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on 21 November 2010
I have enjoyed this series and this book. It's not for the blood and guts reader but for those of a more political nature. That is not to say the battles are not great they are! Anyway I enjoyed the manoeuvres and machinations of the story line.
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on 31 January 2013
a fantastic series, well written with excellent characters both hero and villain. You just can't put these down and resist escaping to David weber's world
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