Thursday, November 20, 2014

Field of Dishonor, by David Weber

Kalpar's Warning: Attention dear and gentle readers, as I have progressed with the Honor Harrington series I have worked very hard in my reviews to keep them largely spoiler-free so that the books may remain enjoyable for you. However, as the plot has continued to build I am finding it more and more difficult to properly talk about the book without having to go into some spoiler territory. I will try to keep it to a minimum but please keep that in mind before reading this review. 

Having become a very strong fan of David Weber's Honor Harrington series, I finally got around to reading the fourth book, Field of Dishonor and was rather satisfied with it, although I'm a little concerned about Honor's development as a character As this is the only book in the series that doesn't feature space combat, its focus is definitely more on Honor as a person and her own development, rather than the larger political and military struggles that are going on between Manticore and Haven. Although some people might be upset by the lack of space battles, I actually welcome it as a change of pace in the series.

The book is very strongly dominated by Pavel Young's vendetta against Honor Harrington and his quest for revenge. After his disgraceful behavior at the Battle of Hancock, Young is finally cashiered from the naval service in disgrace and to top it off his father, tenth Earl of North Hollow, dies in shock. With his newfound power as the eleventh Earl of North Hollow, Pavel Young seeks to get revenge against not just Honor but eventually the entire naval establishment. I will say that the first fourth or so of the book is dominated by a lot of conversations between characters over essentially the same thing: Young's upcoming court martial and the political fallout from any decision made by the navy. The parliamentary government of Manticore needs a majority to officially declare war against Haven and continue offensive operations, but spiteful factions of the House of Lords threaten to break with the majority government and block legislation dependent on the outcome of Young's trial. It creates a lot of build-up before the trial and when the political fallout fails to appear (at least for that reason) it's sort of like everyone worried for nothing.

The other thing that kind of bothered me was certain really important things happened "off-camera" which I feel really should have been on-screen. Paul's duel with Denver Summervale, for example, as well as some of the political shenanigans that went on in the House of Lords. These events feel really important to the story and influence its development, but we're only told about them second-hand from characters rather than experiencing them ourselves. I'm wondering if Weber was trying to condense the amount of stuff going on in this particular novel by leaving this stuff out, but it feels like a case where you want to shout, "Show! Don't tell!"

As I said, I'm a little worried about Honor's development as a character in this particular novel. Of course, Honor does go through a lot of emotional turmoil in this book, but at the end of the book there's a lovely little speech about how everything Honor did was totally justified and while people may judge her now for her behavior, in the end she'll be proven right. It smacks a little of her being "special" and therefore right because of her specialness. (Which is something that irritated the hell out of me in the Harry Potter books.) I will say that Honor at least accepts the consequences of her actions and I think we all know she's going to be back in command of a starship soon enough. I think the most important development for Honor in this book was the realization that there were people who care about her and want the very best for her. Honor has been a very solitary sort of person in previous books. Yes, she has friends, but she basically relies on her bond with Nimitz to fulfill her emotional needs and sees herself as essentially alone. When Honor sees her friends going to great lengths to help her during her personal crisis and worrying about what will happen to her, she realizes there are plenty of people who care about her and who she can rely upon in trouble. Which I think is really important and will go a long way towards developing Honor beyond the stoic, lonely space captain she's been.

Really, with all that character development for Honor I'm really glad Weber's managed to make Honor interesting again as a character. As I said in my review of The Short Victorious War Honor and her career doesn't seem terribly interesting compared to the larger political and military events which Honor is only a very small part of. By focusing on Honor and letting the large plot take a rest, we get to know Honor a lot better and I think it definitely helped to make her more interesting. I'm certainly interested to see how she develops in her role as Steadholder in Grayson, which promises to be the focus of the next novel.

- Kalpar

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