Flag in Exile it's getting kind of hard to avoid spoilers at this point. I'll try to do the best I can to avoid them but I'm afraid they're just going to have to slip through at this point.
WARNING TO ALL MY READERS: SPOILERS MAY BE CONTAINED WITHIN THIS REVIEW. READER DISCRETION ADVISED.
Before I get into the plot portions of this review I do want to make a mention to something that has tragically changed how I perceive Honor Harrington books. Well, maybe not tragically. It's definitely brought something to my attention at least. You see a while back I was stumbling across the internet, as I do, and I came across the videos of a lady who goes by the handle Sursum Ursa. I watched a few and I thought, "I rather like the cut of this lady's gib. I should watch more of her stuff." Anyway, it turns out that Ursa is also a fan of the Honor Harrington books and made a video talking about them. However, she also pointed out something that I had only kind of noticed recently: Weber really loves shoving in his exposition. To the point that Ursa parodied it with an "Ode to Exposition" in her review. And I laughed a little and said to myself, "Yeah, that sounds about right." And then I started reading this book and I realized, oh man. It's true. I hadn't realized it before, but it's true! And now I can't stop seeing all the times Weber clumsily shoves in technical details! Aaaaaaaaaahhh!
All joking aside, for the most part I don't really mind exposition. I find it's necessary to the plot, especially when you're establishing something like a science-fiction universe as complex as Weber's working on in this series. You might have to shove it in sort of clumsily, but it's better to have it then have readers going, "Wait, hold on. That doesn't make sense." The problem I'm noticing in these books, though, is that characters will think over expository material in their heads in the middle of a conversation. You might read it and think that five minutes have passed while the characters have had long reminisces about technological, military, economic, or political history, but they're still in the middle of a conversation. It's probably the weakest part of Weber's writing, but as I said, it's better to have exposition rather than leave stuff unexplained. Well, for the most part anyway.
Plot wise this book goes a little further into the economic and political details of the setting, which I think is really cool because it adds depth to the series and makes this feel far more realistic. Well, as realistic as space operas get anyway. (Although I did find the willingness of the large business owners to shoulder a greater tax burden a little unrealistic. Zing!) Basically much of the Star Kingdom of Manticore's income is a by-product of the interstellar trade which utilizes the Manticore wormhole, as well as the technological products which Manticore produces. The Silesian Confederacy is an important market for Manticore but due to a weak central government piracy has always been a problem in that region, but the Royal Manticore Navy is no longer able to spare as many ships for anti-piracy patrols and convoy escorts as they'd like and as a result piracy and commerce raiding is back on the rise. Utilizing what resources they have left, the RMN decides to send a handful of Q-ships, armed ships disguised as helpless merchantmen, under the command of Honor Harrington into the sector. This is important for Honor specifically because while it's not a plumb assignment, it gets her back into Manticore uniform and opens opportunities for her to get back into the war effort of her home country.
Overall it's a really good plot and I liked seeing Honor and her Q-ships take the fight to the pirates, and as always there's a lot going on in this book. Especially with the loads and loads of characters. Personally I was happiest with the arrival of the Anderman Empire, or as I'm personally calling them (and I think other people will too) the Space Prussians. Like, to the point the founder of the Anderman Empire was convinced he was the reincarnation of Frederick the Great and walked around in eighteenth century clothing. (And was shockingly competent as an emperor as well.) I'm sure we'll see more of the Space Prussians as the series progresses, which makes me more than a little happy.
I will say I thought Dave was getting a little too cute again with his readers by having Honor read one of the Horatio Hornblower books in her cabin and having her identify with the main character. Especially seeing as Honor Harrington is unabashedly Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE!!! Yes, Dave, we get it, you're very clever.
I did have one other issue, and considering this book was written nearly twenty years ago in the nineties, I'm actually not surprised to see that it has this problem once again. As I've mentioned before I kind of take issue with rape being used just to up the drama or make someone more vile in a setting. Like Honor's issues with Pavel Young, it could have easily been limited to just class differences and the fact he's a spoiled dandy rather than adding on an attempted sexual assault as well. In this case, some of the pirates are also rapists and it really doesn't add anything but an attempt to make them more evil as a threat. They're not even characters, they're a threat that Honor and the other characters have to eliminate in the book. Going into detail about how they rape female crewmembers of merchant ships they capture is just off-putting and seems like an unnecessary attempt to increase how despicable they are. Honestly, Weber could have left them just as pirates who capture ships, kill the crew, and are just general nasty people. I don't think anyone was on the pirates' side reading the book so it just felt like an unnecessary attempt at vilifying them further. Fortunately that wasn't a terribly large part of the book and we were able to move on to other things.
I guess really my only big issues with this book were the rape thing, as I discussed, and my realizing how clumsy the exposition can get, but I'm sure that's true of Weber's other books as well. We are sort of taking a break from the main war because we're off with Honor fighting pirates, but that doesn't make it any less interesting. And we get to see Honor kick some serious ass as the extremely competent starship captain we all know her to be. I guess I have no choice but to see this series through to the ultimate end now.