Today's book review is Storm from the Shadows by David Weber.
This is the latest in the Honor Harrington universe, a fairly direct sequel to The Shadow of Saganami, but it would probably be fairly understandable to anyone generally familiar with the universe. It ends in a sadistic multiple cliffhanger (that is, rather than bringing the multiple plot lines together for a conclusion, Weber winds each one up to a dramatically tense moment, and we hit the last page).
This book should serve as a real test of whether you're an addict or not. The overall story arc has clearly jumped the shark. The scope of the main villain's plot is mostly revealed, and it strains credibility badly. Further, the effectiveness of the villain's Machiavellian maneuvering completely shatters believability. Many, many people who have risen to positions of real authority end up doing just what the villain's script says, in a way that makes it clear that it's only happening because it's what the author's script said. The good guys, who are supposed to be smart, start putting the pieces together more because the story says it's time than because it's clear that they should understand now. There are far too many new technological twists for such a well established universe, they seem too pat, and we the readers are just led around by the nose as the author tells us just how the different bits of tech will interact in battles, and the actual details feel like they're being massaged to fit where the story is supposed to go, instead of driving the story there. And then there's the point where the book stops, which as I mentioned in my opening paragraph is about as completely the polar opposite of an ending as anyone could ever manage to write.
However, the metaphysical literary opiates that infuse the series are still present; despite all the above complaints (and the fact that I was warned about the ending before I picked it up), I couldn't keep myself from starting it, I couldn't keep myself from reading it, and only my crummy memory and inability to stay focused on anything will keep me from exploding from frustration as I wait to see how the mess shakes out.
6 out of 10. If you're not already addicted, it's almost certainly too weak to hook you. But if you are already addicted, you know you have to read it anyway. And the next couple, too.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
This book is even more complicated, with more different viewpoint characters, than usual for the series. I'm not going to try to follow all the threads, to say nothing of the order the bits are presented. Much of the book is following the true villains, the shadowy Mesan Alignment, and their puppet politicians in the Solarian League and the Talbott Quadrant, and I don't like or care to follow any of them.
The constitution developed in the previous volume is approved by the Talbott Cluster's constitutional convention and by Manticore's parliament, and the newly designated Talbott Quadrant starts its assimilation into the Star Empire of Manticore. The system of New Tuscany, whose oligarchs are even more villainous than the rest of Talbott's, opted out however, once they failed to prevent the constitution from actually granting meaningful rights to the citizens. They expect that they'll be able to benefit economically from the prosperity of their neighbors. Guided by their Mesan puppet masters, they contrive a series of incidents of harassment at Pequod, ultimately blowing up one of their own ships, as a pretext to bring in a Solly fleet commanded by Admiral Byng, a complete buffoon with extreme anti-Manticoran prejudices. A detachment of Manty destroyers calls at New Tuscany, and the Mesan saboteurs trigger a nuke on the main space station, killing 40,000 civilians. Byng responds by immediately firing on the Manties from his ships that were in parking orbit next to theirs, killing all of them. However, Manticoran Admiral Chatterjee had been wily enough to have hidden one of his ships far out system to catch the whole thing in detail from stealthed Ghost Rider recon platforms and return to tell the tale. Admiral Henke assembles most of the Manticoran forces in the cluster and returns in force to demand that Byng surrender his ships. Byng, of course, doesn't, and Henke, in a very measured response, obliterates his flagship and accepts the surrender of the new commander. This, however, is enough of a provocation to get the really big Solly force, 70 superdreadnoughts and a few screening elements who are next door on maneuvers (due to more careful Mesan puppeteering) to commit. Just how this shoe will drop, however, will have to wait. Back home in Manticore, Honor Harrington spells out the Manticoran strategy in the war they now find themselves in against the Solarian League: once they've become enemies, they'll never be able to trust the corrupt Sollies, so they have to defeat them outright. This seemingly impossible task will be accomplished because the Sollies are so technically backward that Manticore will be able to smack them hard enough to make their whole corrupt government fall apart, and once they break up into a collection of pieces, they'll make friends of enough of the pieces to end up the winners.
On the other front, at the beginning of the book the honorable Pritchart government actually wanted to negotiate. (Somehow nobody on either side is able to recognize that the last flare up was caused by outside sabotage of diplomatic communications, though we the readers have learned that Mesa did that too.) Mike Henke started out as a POW, and was paroled as a personal envoy to deliver the offer to talk directly to Queen Elizabeth. However, before the conference could actually happen, the Mesans use their secret mind control weapon to make a Havenite ambassador's driver on Earth assassinate the beloved Manticoran ambassador and nearly simultaneously set off "Operation Rat Poison", a nerve gas assassination attempt on Queen Berry of Torch. Berry lives but hundreds die in the attack. Honor Harrington suspects that Haven didn't really do it, but Elizabeth is too pissed off to worry about why Haven would do something so against their interests; the superficial evidence is that they did it, so the peace conference is off. Haven responds by attacking Manticore system with most of its ships. They would have achieved total victory but for Honor Harrington and her new fleet coming up behind them. Haven's navy is all but eliminated, but Manticore's losses are almost as complete. However, Manticore was already in the middle of a massive expansion of their navy, deploying new weapons including FTL missile guidance systems which make their missiles much more accurate, plus major increases in missile range and power.
And finally, the Mesans themselves (who never had a navy before) have new tech -- starships that don't use impellers to move around. They use a new strategy to hyper in very quietly a light month away from Manticore. Manticore sends someone out to chase the ghost, but accelerating away without impellers and with very good stealth, the Mesans appear to have escaped and are on course to deliver a nasty surprise (which isn't spelled out) to Manticore system.
And there the book ends, as the Star Empire of Manticore teeters on the edge of destruction in three different wars.