Field of Dishonor by David Weber
Cover art by David Mattingly
Published by Baen Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Honor Harrington knows how to fight. She's proved that repeatedly in ship-to-ship battles in which she was badly outnumbered. More than once she's salvaged situations in which the destruction of her force seemed the only possible outcome, and made them into triumphs. But now she is about to face a new form of fight, in which all the rules she knows will do her no good.
In the climactic battle of The Short, Victorious War her old enemy, Lord Pavel Young, has finally disgraced himself and ruined his Navy career for good. But his father, the Earl of North Hollow, pulls every political trick in his power to save his worthless heir. Although even that old manipulator's machinations cannot save Young's career, he does rescue his whelp from the firing squad, the fate of the proven deserter. But the strain costs the old man his life, and in a matter of minutes Lord Pavel goes from being cashiered from the Navy to inheriting an earldom.
With a different brand of power in his hands, the new Earl North Hollow burns with a desire for revenge upon the woman he blames for his ruin. He will stop at nothing to destroy Honor Harrington, but first he wishes to ruin everything she loves, to make her despair.
And Honor has found true love at last, after two horrible encounters during her academy years left her emotionally scarred so badly that she thought she'd never be interested in intimacy. Captain Paul Tankersley is an engineer, responsible for the construction and refitting of spaceships, which means that he will not be in her chain of command. He takes a personal interest in Honor, to the point of having a special spacesuit constructed for Honor's treecat Nimitz. Now Nimitz will no longer have to be confined to a tiny life support module in Honor's quarters during space battles, but can accompany her right onto the bridge. Not to mention that he'll be able to go on spacewalks with her instead of having to stay inside.
But to Pavel Young, Lord North Hollow, a love interest is a weakness to target and exploit. So he hires one of the most notorious duelists of the Star Kingdom and gives him orders to very deliberately create an incident. The sort of incident which Captain Tankersley cannot ignore or laugh off without losing face among his fellow officers. Never mind that he doesn't really stand a chance on the dueling ground against a man specially trained to be a crack shot, not to mention a fast draw.
However, Honor is no longer the hesitant midshipwoman who covered up an attempted sexual assault in the showers by letting her assailant claim he'd gotten the bruises in a bad fall. This time there will be vengeance, and it remains only to find a suitable moment to corner him and maneuver him into a position in which he cannot refuse to face her on the dueling ground without permanently losing any shred of reputation he may have left.
This novel is unusual in the Honor Harrington series in that it does not have any big space battles. Instead, the battles are all on a personal level, whether in the political arena or on the dueling grounds. However, that shouldn't be taken to mean that it's a novel without action. The scenes of the duels are just as fraught as any space battle, perhaps because they're intensely personal, and because Lord North Hollow is trying to rig them to his own favor.
The first time I read this novel, I was surprised to see Lord North Hollow killed off so quickly. At the time, I had expected him to be a long-running villain, a permanent fixture like Professor Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes. As I result, I was somewhat concerned that his precipitous removal might actually do damage to the long-term viability of the series.
However, now that I look back at it from the perspective of twelve main-line novels and four side-stream novels, as well as four anthologies, I can see the logic of killing him off at this point. His early misdeeds against Honor were so severe, so damaging to her psyche, that the longer he survived, the worse the damage would fester. The boil had to be lanced with a short, sharp act of vengeance so that Honor could go forth with self-confidence as a successful commanding officer. In addition, his removal opened the field for enemies of a grander sort, with greater complexity of character.
Review posted September 2, 2010.
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