- Treecat Trilogy
- Young Honor and Elizabeth
- Prince Michael rescues and Honor dances
- On Basilisk Station
- The Honor of the Queen
Continuing my review of Honor Harrington stories and novels in chronological order:
- The Short Victorious War by David Weber
Just prior to writing this, I finally finished my whirlwind re-readthrough of the entire series, including the 3 novels I had not yet gotten around to. I noticed an interesting thing along the way—I was honestly enjoying it, even the books I dreaded rereading again, a lot more than I expected I would. And I suspect I’ve found a clue as to why so many people seem to think it “jumps the shark” soon after this book I’m reviewing tonight.
The Honor Harrington series starts out as, essentially, “Horatio Hornblower in space,” right down to the initials of the protagonist and a system of starship propulsion that smacks of “how can I shoehorn broadside-style naval combat into a science fiction book without it looking like Captain Harlock or Space Battleship Yamato?” The SF is too hard for true “space opera”, but nonetheless it has that same simple, adventurous feel to it. (It’s worth noting that the original Star Trek was also influenced very heavily by the Horatio Hornblower novels, something that was largely lost in the franchise’s subsequent revivifications.)
But starting with this book, the series begins to shed those roots. To lapse into TVTrope Speak, it either “grows the beard” or succumbs to “Cerebus syndrome”, depending on the reader’s point of view, gradually morphing into a galaxy-spanning political epic with less military involvement and more political involvement by the titular character. In fact, the level of political involvement in the books in some ways mirrors the political growth of Honor Harrington herself.
In these early books, Honor is still a political neophyte who dislikes politics immensely—somewhat ironically so, given that she is now one of the less-than-one-hundred most powerful people on the planet Grayson. In The Short Victorious War, after convalescing from the wounds she took in The Honor of the Queen, Honor has fled politics back into the arms of the military, taking command of the battlecruiser Nike—the biggest, baddest ship she has yet commanded. With her friend and academy roommate Michelle “Mike” Henke, cousin to the Queen, as her second-in-command, she is assigned duty as the flag officer for Admiral Mark Sarnow at Hancock Station, an important space station located between Manticore and its cold-war enemy Haven.
Honor is sailing into a tricky political situation, as Sarnow was responsible for talking a nearby star system into signing onto an alliance with Manticore, but he is too junior of an admiral to hold the command of the station on a permanent basis so has been superceded by Admiral Yancey Parks, but is staying on as a subordinate.
Parks is uncomfortable with taking over for a commanding officer who is staying around, as he feels he might be suffering in the inevitable comparisons the rest of his (formerly Sarnow’s) staff make—including Sarnow himself., He is even more annoyed when he learns about Harrington’s assignment—he has been influenced by some of the tales going around painting Harrington as a loose cannon, and not the sort of person he wants to have anything to do with.
And as if Honor hadn’t had enough on her plate already, one of the ships sent along to Hancock Station is the Warlock, captained by Pavel Young—the noble who attempted to rape Honor at the Academy, and was last seen setting her up for failure at Basilisk Station only to end up hoist on his own petard when she ended up a hero. Neither of them is exactly thrilled to see each other again.
But if Honor has more than her fair share of stress to deal with, she also has some more pleasant experiences. Paul Tankersley, last seen as Young’s reluctant executive officer in On Basilisk Station, is now in charge of maintenance at Hancock, and he and Honor have the chance to get to know each other better—indeed, better than either had ever thought possible.
But this comes against a backdrop of coming war. After failures at Basilisk and Yeltsin in the previous books, Hereditary President Sidney Harris and the rest of the People’s Republic of Haven ruling cabinet have concluded that they need to start another war to distract the unruly mob of Dolists, some of whom have been committing assassinations on the cabinet.
Harris and company determine that what they need is a good, quick war to polarize public opinion (and decrease popular support for the assassination campaign). And what do you know, it just so happens that the Star Kingdom of Manticore happens to be the nearest likely prospect.
Little do they know that the war they’re about to kick off is going to be anything but “short”—except for them. Rob S. Pierre and Oscar St. Just—whose names will probably make any pun-sensitive French history student cringe—are about to engineer a major change of management.
As the war progresses, people on both sides are swept up in it. One particularly poignant case involves the story of Captain Helen Zilwicki, who sacrifices herself and her ship to save the freighter carrying her husband Anton and her 4-year-old daughter (also named Helen). And another character who will also become important later—a certain Havenite marine named Kevin Usher—also makes his first brief appearance.
This is the book that lays the ultimate foundation for a lot of things that are to come. In particular, the events chronicled herein have implications that will resonate through the next few novels in both the political arena and, especially (and tragically), Honor’s personal life. This book shows that Weber really isn’t afraid to shake things up, as he changes one side’s entire system of government. But despite the best intentions of the revolutionaries, is it really a change for the better?
This is a great book, but rereading it is also sad in a way—partly for knowing what’s going to happen next, and partly for knowing how the timbre of the series is going to change in the books to come. The naval battles are going to begin to take a back seat (at least for the protagonist), which will turn off those who came to the books for the space-navy action. And Honor’s personal life will see both romance and tragedy, which will turn off those who dislike “mushy stuff.”
But change is what life is about. Everything’s changing; the only things that don’t change are dead. The Honorverse feels like a living, thriving place. Even when people we like die, the universe itself lives, and it’s big enough to contain something for just about everybody. And there are still plenty of exciting events left to come.
The next Honor Harrington review will cover a pair of quite interesting (and often amusing) filler novels.