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In Enemy Hands by David Weber

Cover art by David Mattingly

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

This novel takes up directly after Honor Among Enemies. The hot war between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People's Republic of Haven continues, and Honor Harrington is returning to her adopted homeworld of Grayson to see to her Steading there. With her come a clan of treecats who have decided that it is essential to plant a colony of their kind on another world, lest some misfortune fall their native world of Sphinx. Although the humans are ambivalent about the idea of treecats living on a world full of toxic heavy metals, where survival means living in carefully sealed environments and always being careful, the treecats are able to convince Honor to her satisfaction that they know what they're doing and can follow procedures properly. Because as Steadholder she is effectively in complete charge of Steadholding Harrington, her word is sufficient to permit the migrations.

But things go suddenly and expectedly awry when her empathic link with her longterm-companion treecat Nimitz betrays an emotion she must never recognize or return. In one brief unguarded instant, one of her superior officers sees her not just as a fellow professional officer, but as a woman, and a desirable one. Normally a private thought would be no problem, so long as it was never translated into word or deed. But the presence of an empath, who unwittingly creates a feedback link, betrays it and feeds the flame that must not burn. Especially since the fellow officer in question has endured a personal tragedy which makes him particularly vulnerable -- his wife was left crippled in a devastating aircar accident, and can probably expect to live a full lifespan thanks to sophisticated life-support techniques, leaving him in sexual limbo.

Determined not to compound the secret lapse of a superior for whom she feels only the utmost respect with even inadvertant improprieties of her own, Honor Harrington immediately accepts an assignment that will take her to another system. She thinks she is making things better for everyone, but instead she only makes matters worse. Unknown to her, the Peeps have finally found an admiral who can win battles for them.

Honor Harrington takes her force straight into an ambush that overwhelms her relatively small force. She is a conscientious officer as well as a brave one, able to see that there is no reasonable hope of victory, or even escape. In order to avoid pointless casualties she surrenders to the Peeps. But their promise of good treatment prove worthless, as the forces of State Security elbow the Navy personnel aside. Suddenly Honor Harrington is on a one-way trip to the most notorious prison planet in the galaxy, and to an appointment with the gallows.

This is one of the most poignant of the Honor Harrington novels, because it deals directly and squarely with the issues of what it means to offer equal opportunity for everyone in a gendered society. On one hand, every person should have an equal right to the full realization of one's natural talents abilities without regard to what genitals are in one's pants. On the other hand, the reproductive urge is one of the most powerful drives, dealing as it does with the survival of the species, just as hunger deals with the survival of the individual. And in humans, the attraction between woman and man involves an emotional entanglement which can interfere with the ability of those two people to work smoothly within a larger group.

The issue of the emotional entanglements between women and men is so important that some critics have considered Weber's vision of a world in which sexism is as extinct as racism to be as much a fantasy as the faster-than-light travel upon which the space opera aspects of the series depend. Perhaps this novel is his efforts to acknowledge that yes, there will always be sexual issues so long as we remain a gendered species, even if we do finally get rid of our ideas of separate spheres and of assigning each individual's role in life on the basis of gender.

Review posted March 19, 2009

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