Today's book review is Torch of Freedom by David Weber and Eric Flint.
This is part of the ongoing Honorverse series. You do NOT want to try to start with this book. The episode in this book is more complete than the last couple have been.
I was having a conversation at a con recently with someone who knows Weber and that person said that Weber's family life has severely disrupted his writing career. It really shows in this book; large parts of it really feel like it was a first draft cranked out on deadline. There are many long passages which (despite being nominally presented as dialog) are exposition, not just of what's going on (which is complicated enough), but of what one particular set of players (with imperfect information) thinks is going on. There are many, many references to events and characters in other books which aren't actually explained. Some of them I can remember, but some I can't. We do learn a little more about what's going on with the big bad guys in the Honorverse series. We do meet some new characters for this book which are interesting. There is some good adventure; the excitement that made the Honor Harrington series is still there in places. But there are large parts of the text that feel rough and contrived, and when we get to the end, we realize that, while we have advanced the series a little bit, Manticore is still in the middle of a whole lot of crises and we've only partially established one part of solving one of them.
5 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
Herlander Simoes is a brilliant hyper physicist working for the Mesan Alignment, the shadowy bad guys who really run Mesa and Manpower. The Long Range Planning Board, who are in charge of the genetic engineering program that's the heart of the Mesan agenda, approach Herlander and his wife about adopting and raising a baby daughter who has genetics to be a brilliant mathematician. Children of this line have had a tendency to suddenly develop symptoms of extreme autism. The LRPB hopes that by having the child raised in a family setting by other mathematicians, they can avoid this. It doesn't work; the kid develops the symptoms, very suddenly, on her seventh birthday. The LRPB euthanizes her, which causes Herlander to become mentally unbalanced. They need him, so the security chief, Jack McBryde, is personally recruited by Bardasano the fixer to mentor him. Unfortunately for Mesa, instead of being able to fix Herlander, this experience makes McBryde realize that he's working for the bad guys. McBryde decides to defect, and connects with Anton Zilwicki and Victor Cachat, who have come to Mesa to try to find proof of their suspicions that Mesa is planning an attack on Torch. They've found the evidence, and decide to take McBryde and Herlander with them. Unfortunately, the wheels come off on the day of the escape. Bardasano gets tipped off that something is odd about McBryde and she's coming to check him out just as he's in his office for the last time to release a cyber attack. Realizing that he can't escape, McBryde sets off the self-destruct nuke in the basement of the center. Zilwicki and Cachat escape with Herlander. They drag along the owner of the restaurant where they were based as spies and her daughter (who'd be killed if they stayed), but to make room for them on the shuttle, they dump the critical replacement parts for the hyperdrive on the ship they're escaping on... which of course breaks in mid flight. The super talented mechanic they have in the crew can fix it, but it will take months. So they miss the Battle of Torch, where the State Security refugees that the Mesan Alignment had hired as mercenaries were supposed to toast the planet (breaking the Eridani Edict, the one interstellar treaty that is really respected). Fortunately, the Sollies at Maya, who have been quietly putting together materiel and logistics to break away from the Solarian empire, get wind of the plot and decide they have to stop it. A big space battle ensues, with the two fleets almost wiping each other out, but the good guys do win.
By the end of the novel, we never actually have learned what Herlander was working on; we just know that it's a key part of the major Mesan war plan which is just launching. The re-ignited war between Manticore and Haven is all off screen, and although some of the good guys now have the actual proof that it was a setup, we haven't seen any sign of how Manticore and Haven are going to reconcile.