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War of Honor by David Weber

Cover by David Mattingly

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

What if they gave a peace and nobody came?

That's the problem facing the newly-reconstituted Republic of Haven (no more of that People's Republic of Haven crap -- they've realized that all it got them was a massive underclass of perpetual welfare dependents, which they ended up supporting by robbing their neighbors, which just made them a lot of ugly enemies). At the close of Ashes of Victory, they proclaimed a cease-fire in the war with the Star Kingdom of Manticore, which was still reeling from the effects of an assassination attempt that partially succeeded, killing Prime Minister Cromarty and many key members of his government, even if Honor Harrington narrowly saved Queen Elizabeth III and Grayson's Protector Benjamin.

But a cease-fire is not true peace, merely a momentary cessitation of active hostilities. And although both parties claim to want to achieve a lasting peace, neither really wants to let go of their attachment to the war they've been fighting for so many years and accept a peace that is less than complete victory. Thus both sides are all too willing to manipulate things to make it appear that the other star nation is sabotaging the negotiations by insisting on unreasonable demands, in order to keep dragging out the negotiations without alienating their own constituencies.

Meanwhile, the new coallition government of Prime Minister High Ridge and his pack of overbred aristocratic weenies seem determined to destroy the very alliance that the Star Kingdom has carefully built in its war against the Peeps. Their arrogant and high-handed policies progressively alienate every friendly star nation, even the deeply grateful Graysons, whose fat has been pulled out of the fire by Manticore several times now.

They even have the nerve to make attacks on the very woman who made this peace possible. Honor has been sent to Saganami Island to do a tour of duty as an instructor at the Academy there, and has been made the target of continual petty harassment. First they try to use regulations to keep her from taking her armsmen, who are required by Grayson law to accompany her at all times. Then they begin a whisper campaign against her which quickly turns ugly.

Ever since In Enemy Hands Honor has been struggling with the attraction she feels to Hamish Alexander, Lord White Haven -- and the fact that is mutual, something revealed to her via her empathic link to her treecat Nimitz. When she first discovered it, she thought to break herself of it by taking a mission that would carry her far from the object of her forbidden love. However, it also took her right into the hands of a particularly sadistic Peep security officer. Of course Honor escaped and brought home with her an enormous number of Peep prisoners, but that forbidden attraction remained stubbornly in place.

And now that both she and Lord White Haven are dirtside together, and their professional duties require them to work together closely, it has grown in spite of both their efforts to deny it to themselves as much as anyone else. Both of them were trying to be professional about it, but it doesn't necessarily take the empathy of a treecat to recognize the various cues of body language that show when two people are attracted to one another. Cues that are all too easily picked up by those who would like nothing better than to bring her down -- and who then try to spin their close professional partnership into something unseemly and portray it as a betrayal of Lady White Haven, whose struggles with catastrophic injury and resultant disability have made her a hero to the common folk.

And then Nimitz's treecat mate, Samantha, adopts Lord White Haven as her human. Samantha's bond to Nimitz had pulled her through when her original human was slain, and they had gone on to raise a happy brood of treekittens. But nobody had really expected her to re-bond to another human partner -- and certainly not someone as socially and politically problematical for Honor as Hamish Alexander.

But the necessity of relating socially results in a surprise invitation from Lady White Haven herself, who reveals that she is offended that she should be used as she has by the scandal-mongers, portrayed as a woman wronged when she knows how hard the two of them have struggled to keep from wronging her in any way. But just because she's an intelligent, rational -- perhaps even hyper-rational -- woman who knows there's nothing shameful between her husband and Honor, that doesn't mean she's going to be able to convince the popular press or public opinion to lay off them. So Honor decides it's time to accept a posting that will take her away from the man she is entangled with, at least until things die down and everybody can sort out the situation.

And it doesn't take long for a suitable assignment to present itself. Things are going down the toilet in the Silesian Confederation, where corrupt governors, pirates and genetic slavers have free reign. The Andermanni Empire, fed up with continual incursions on their frontiers by these unsavory elements, are moving in to clean things up. In doing so, they are coming against Manticorian forces who regard the area as their own star nation's natural balliwick, a situation that's only exacerbated by High Ridge's overweeningly high-handed policy in the region. The growing tensions are made worse by slavers who are using false Andermanni recognition codes to gain Andermanni cover when challenged by Manticorian patrols -- so of course people are going to believe that the Andermannis are in cahoots with these people..

So off Honor goes, not realizing that her own government is setting her up to fail. Or perhaps not willing to let herself realize it, since she has to be aware that the scandal launched against her was the result of maneuvering at exceedingly high levels.

This is the longest Honor Harrington book to date, with an enormously complex multi-threaded plot. This is by and large a result of Honor's growing power and rank in both her native and adopted societies, which will necessarily make her far more of a player in political intrigue, rather than a simple commanding officer as she was in On Basilisk Station, the original Honor Harrington novel. In addition, Weber is drawing upon an ever-growing wealth of other material about the world, developed by the various anthologies (I particularly enjoyed how he has incorporated the theme of the war on genetic slavery as developed by Eric Flint in the novella "From the Highlands" in Changer of Worlds).

Unfortunately, it also requires more concentration to keep track of all the players and the various plotlines as they develop. And this is not helped by the sense at times that the author is losing control of all those threads and they are unraveling in his hands. David Weber is Baen's lead author, and the Honor Harringon series is its biggest moneymaker -- which made me wonder as I read this novel whether Weber is becoming too big to be edited, or whether Baen is worried about messing with success and isn't editing him as extensively as his work really needs -- and deserves. It would be a shame to see this fascinating and complex universe to end up bogging down under its own complexity.

In addition, the first printing of this novel included a CD-ROM containing the entire Honor Harrington series in electronic format, as well as e-versions of a number of other books by David Weber and several other Baen authors. Banking on the idea that low-cost or even free e-books can actually drive sales of paper versions of their novels, Baen Books has generously permitted the copying and sharing of the CD-ROM, so long as no copies are sold. However, if your copy does not include the CD-ROM, or if you've had to settle for the paperback, don't despair. Just hie yourself over to The Fifth Imperium to get yourself a copy of the disc image that you can burn to CD for yourself. When the site's owner asked Jim Baen for permission to post the disc image, Jim humorously announced that he would "request and require" that the file be kept up until the the heat death of the universe (people familiar with naval terminology will recognize the traditional phrasing of formal orders to a commanding officer).

Review posted March 30, 2010.

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