A Warning to my dear and gentle readers: Once again I am returning to the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. As I mentioned in my last review Field of Dishonor, this series has started to get complicated to the point it becomes very difficult to avoid spoilers entirely. I shall do my best to avoid them as much as possible, however read ahead at your own risk.
Much to no one's surprise, I am sure, I have returned to a definite favorite of mine, the space opera series of Honor Harrington, with the fifth installment Flag in Exile. (Hard to believe, I'm already five books in. It's a little bit crazy) Anyway, when we last left our protagonist, Honor had been put on half-pay and beached by the Royal Manticore Navy in response to all the political hub-bub caused by her duel with Lord Pavel Young. Honor retires to oversee her estate on Grayson, but the war between Manticore and Haven is beginning to reach a deadlock and the Navy can't keep Honor beached forever. In the meantime, though, Protector Benjamin IX of Grayson offers Honor a commission as an admiral in Grayson's own Navy due to their lack of experienced officers. But how Honor will respond to her first opportunity at flag rank remains to be seen.
In addition to Honor getting bumped up to flag rank there's an ongoing plot about the internal struggles that are still rocking Grayson in response to Protector Benjamin's reforms, as well as the appointment of Honor Harrington to the office of steadholder, the first female to hold such a post. I rather liked this plot because it showed how Grayson is developing and how there are still problems to be overcome on that planet. It makes Grayson appear more complex than simply a one-dimensional Planet of Hats, which you often see in space operas, and shows that Honor's actions in The Honor of the Queen haven't solved everything for forever either. Although it's certainly frustrating to see a bunch of religious fanatics trying to prevent reform and change, (something that's frustrating to me even in real life), it certainly makes for a far more believable planet with varied political and religious opinions.
I will say the cover of the book kind of gave one of the most epic parts of the book away. Instead of some of the more generic covers with Honor and Nimitz we've seen in the past, we now know that Honor's totally going to get into an epic sword fight at some point during the book. Building up to that point was pretty awesome but the fight was surprisingly short compared to how it takes precedence on the cover. But then again, what do I know about cover art? However, there are still some pretty epic and awesome things in this book, even if it makes Honor look freaking invincible compared to all the stuff she's gone through. But I'm sort of okay with that. This is an unapologetic space opera, and that's exactly what I signed on for.
Of course, in addition to all the stuff happening dirt-side that Honor has to deal with, that pesky war between Manticore and Haven has to come back into the plot again. Of course as the saying goes, if Honor cannot come to the war, then the war must come to Honor. Weber kind of spends some time trying to misdirect us about what exactly the People's Republic of Haven is up to with Operations Stalking Horse and Dagger, but I didn't buy it. It was sort of like, "Come on, Dave. You made Honor an admiral in this book for a reason. Just let the Haven fleet show up in Yeltsin already so she can fight them." So although it may take Honor by surprise, I was more, "Finally, let's get this space battle on already." That is sort of a weakness I'll admit, between the cover and the most elementary understanding of how these books work there isn't terribly much of a surprise for the reader. But do you want awesome space battles and sweet sword duels or not? Because I totally do.
As I said, I think the real strength of this installment is showing how Grayson has developed as a planet and making it more three dimensional overall. I will say that compared to the previous novel, Honor kind of takes a back seat, especially since she's still sort of shut down emotionally from all the trauma, which is understandable for anyone in her position. I do hope that Honor can develop more as a character and most likely the Royal Manticore Navy will call her back to duty in the next book.