In the wake of events described in Honor Harrington: A Mission of Honor and Wages of Sin: Torch of Freedom, the Star Empire of Manticore closes its borders to, and nullifies its commerce agreements with, the Solarian League. The bureaucrats running the League take umbrage by the Star Empire’s actions and decide that enough is enough and push for a military solution to the crisis. Said solution involves the assemblage of more than 400 superdreadnaughts (and their screening vessels) under the command of a fleet admiral who is actually tactically intelligent, as well as in the pocket of the real masters behind the upcoming engagement.
Meanwhile, the Star Empire enters into peace talks with the Republic of Haven, their long-term advisories, based on the information brought to light by two galactic super spies with well-deserved reputations—one in the employ of the Star Empire, and one in the employ of the Republic. Despite the seeming absurdity of the claims these gentlemen make, the two enemies agree to a quick peace settlement in order to form a military alliance against the real masters and manipulators of most of the last major galactic events—including the resumption of hostilities between Manticore and Haven. Along with these two previous enemies, the Grasyon Protectorate and Beowulf decide to help out with the “Grand Alliance” against the now-known Mesan Alignment.
In an effort to get the League fleet to surrender instead of engaging in a seemingly unwinnable battle, the Grand Alliance suckers the League ships into an ambush, but doesn’t push the button; instead, Honor Harrington—as the senior flag officer, as well as the novel’s primary protagonist—offers the League a chance to stand down. When the fleet admiral decides to take Harrington up on her offer, a sleeper agent of the Mesan Alignment fires a scramble-all of the fleet’s missiles and then blows up the flagship’s flag bridge, making it impossible to reverse the action. The result is a disastrous battle with the majority of the League ships being destroyed, along with their crews, and very light casualties for the Alliance; however, the political fallout within the League takes on a very different form.
Beowulf, an actual member of the League (though with a long-standing history of trade with Manticore, and the world that spawned the settlers of Mesa) finds itself in a very precarious position with helping Manticore out. A relief force of 100 superdreadnaughts wishes to pass through the system to help out with the fleet attacking Manticore (unaware of the battle’s outcome); however, the system’s government brings to light the fact that without a formal declaration of war against Manticore, the federal government of the League—and its military forces—have no legal right to compel Beowulf to do anything against its own wishes. When the admiral in charge decides to push the issue, a force of Manticoran superdreadnaughts become active and make their intentions to back the Beowulfan defense forces known. Aware that they no longer have the advantage, the League relief force turns around and heads back to their rally point.
Back on Old Terra, the center of the League’s government, the bureaucrats in charge push to have Beowulf investigated for suspected treason against the League. While the motion for such an investigation passes in the League’s puppet Assembly, the Beowulfan citizenry and government make the decision to vote on the possibility of secession from the League. When such a decision is made, the bureaucrats make another decision to pressure Beowulf to stay under the guise of security, so that their system isn’t used as a possible route for “offensive actions” by the Star Empire of Manticore.
Personal Observations & Reactions
Given the fact that the original size of the book was to be considerably longer, I’m not entirely upset, but I’m still not happy that the introduction of the main protagonist isn’t until nearly a third of the way through. There is an excessive, almost overwhelming amount of information given at the beginning of the novel, and while it is relevant to the progression and backstory of the events in the shared universe, the fact that Honor isn’t shown until much later is rather startling. There were plenty of other characters who are protagonists shown, and their roles were quite vital to the storyline of the book, but for a novel that is named specifically for a character, I would expect to see her much sooner than what I did.
Add to that the fact that I’m not especially happy with how quickly the Republic of Haven and the Star Empire of Manticore seemed to mend their ways, and I see all sorts of problems with the novel. Here we have two star nations that have been at war with one another for around 20 years, and with military buildups that lasted longer before that, and they’re just supposed to put aside all of the death and pain that they’ve suffered for the purpose of working together? Things like that don’t easily work out in reality, and even though this is fiction, it still should be a bit more believable. Surely there’s no way that two such hostile star nations can go from being bitter enemies to working together in a rather intimate fashion—to the point of even sharing technology and military assets; people just don’t really work that way, regardless of what is a perceived threat or not.
I’m also very disappointed in the way the League has turned out. Sure, they’re a bunch of elected puppets who “run” a regime that is actually being led by bureaucrats who are lining their own pockets while they conduct “business as usual,” but I am just so surprised by how stupid they seem to be, not to mention arrogant. They don’t want to hear how things are really going out on the frontier, regardless of the evidence that seems to have been presented to them, and thus send out more than their fair share of military forces to “dissuade” Manticoran “aggression.” How exactly do they think two forces that have been fighting one another for 20 years survived, especially given how small Manticore was at the time when compared to Haven? It wasn’t because they were throwing useless, nonworking hardware into play, that’s for sure.
As is standard with the “Honorverse” books, there is a long history of science and technology explained within the book, so much that I find it unnecessarily excessive. It’s nice to know how things work, and what relevance they have to what is going on in the book, but it’s not necessary to give minute details even if you’re establishing a new world. For the first handful of books, the explanation for establishing said new world is required, so the reader understands just how much of a part they play, but to continue to do it to such great lengths begins to make the story drone on and is actually rather boring after a while; it takes away from the flow of the novel and the desire to identify with the characters and the world around them.
Yes, I’ve been a reader of the series for at least the last six years, and I’ve had the opportunity to read all of the books in the main series as well as the spinoffs, but it’s reached a point where the storytelling is rather predictable despite some of the more outlandish plot twists. I will continue to read the new books as they come out, and for the most part I do enjoy the series, but I do wish that there could be some more . . . uniqueness to the writing. This book is certainly directly connected to all of the ones that came before it, and thus it’s not something for a new reader to the series to start out with, but even if one isn’t that familiar with everything that previously occurred, there are enough recaps of information within the story that make it possible to fake an understanding.