Thursday, October 8, 2015

In Enemy Hands, by David Weber

This week I'm reviewing another of the Honor Harrington series, in this instance the seventh book in the series: In Enemy Hands. As I have stated in previous reviews it has gotten to the point it's very difficult for me to talk about these books without spoilers. That being said, I will try to avoid them as much as possible, but there are definitely going to be some spoilers. Please be advised. Anyway, after her adventures in the Silesian Confederacy Honor is being returned to front-line duty in the growing Haven-Manticore war. However, instead of returning to Grayson service, Honor has been promoted to Commodore in the Royal Manticore Navy and is being given overall command of a squadron of cruisers which will form part of Alexander Hamish's Eighth Fleet. Not one to spend time idle, Honor volunteers her squadron as a convoy escort while the main fleet's still forming as a means to get them in top shape. Unfortunately a Havenite ambush results in Honor, as well as numerous other crew members, becoming prisoners of war, a huge propaganda coup for the People's Republic of Haven.

The biggest problem I had with this book was an issue which I sort of mentioned in the previous one, which was the realization of how much exposition goes on in these books. I'll admit that I didn't really notice it until Sursum Ursa pointed it out in her video, but Weber really crams the exposition in there. And this book is kind of the worst offender by far in my opinion. A good half of the book occurs mostly in a very exposition-dump style where a lot of information and important events are thrown at us. Very often in a character's internal thoughts rather than in dialog. And to an extent, you have to do that because there's information the reader needs to know. But at the same time it's frustrating because I know that Weber can write better than that. I've read numerous books and stories of his and he can write in the active voice. And there are a lot of things that should happen in the active voice instead of being exposited. For example, the decision by Nimitz, Samantha, and a number of other treecats to colonize another planet. (Short version, about a dozen treecats have decided to pack up and move to Grayson.) There is of course surprise on the part of Honor and her family, some outrage by the Sphinxian Forest Rangers, and a suspicion that the treecats are far more intelligent than they let on to humans. It's all very interesting and could make a decent story in its own right, but this all gets exposited to us in a flashback. I don't know if Weber wanted to avoid derailing the plot even further by going into a sub-plot, but it could have been handled better.

Probably the worst example of something that we desperately needed to have shown to us instead of being told to us was the fall of Trevor's Star. To summarize for those unfamiliar, Trevor's Star is an outlying star system that's part of the Manticore Wormhole Junction, which allows effectively instantaneous travel between the two star systems, a process that otherwise could take weeks. This star system had previously been in the hands of the People's Republic of Haven and posed a serious threat to Manticore because a large fleet could be launched from Trevor's Star directly into Manticore's home system as part of an invasion. On the other hand, if Manticore controls Trevor's Star then it gives them a forward base into Havenite territory which allows ships and supplies to be sent much more quickly from Manticore to the front. Obviously there are advantages to both sides holding the star system and quite a lot of effort has been spent in trying to take control of the system. In fact, in the previous novel, Honor Among Enemies, Admiral White Haven spends most of his time trying to decisively win at Trevor's Star and secure it for the Manticore Alliance. At the start of this next novel, however, Trevor's Star is in the hands of the Alliance. We're briefly told that Haven lost control of the system between books and Haven's now trying to stop the overall advance of the Alliance before they push further into Haven territory.

If there was something that should have been shown in a book, it should have been the Battle of Trevor's Star. The emphasis of this star system had been underlined numerous times in previous novels. Hell, the importance of Manticore controlling Basilisk, another wormhole junction, was part of the first book of this series! Haven was trying to gain control of Basilisk so they'd have a second jumping-off point for an invasion of Manticore! Trevor's Star was this big, huge, important thing and it all happens offscreen. And yes, it'd probably result in longer books, but at least everything wouldn't be happening in exposition dumps.

I did have one other small problem where Honor and Earl White Haven have a moment of "connection", like they realize their souls are reflections of each other. It just rubbed me the wrong way, and it may be because I'm a crotchety old man who isn't a huge fan of romance stories. Or even the romance aspects of stories. I got in this for awesome space action. But that's just me, and compared to the reams of exposition it's fairly minor by comparison.

Honestly, my biggest problem is the reams of exposition. And don't get me wrong, I'm the sort of person who goes and reads encyclopedia entries for the sheer fun of it so I don't mind a good bit of exposition here or there. The problem is that so much of the book happened in exposition format that I couldn't get involved in the story. It was like a bunch of things happened, but I didn't get to see these things happen, which would have made a more interesting reading experience. If the later books are also exposition heavy I'll admit that I'll be a little disappointed. But, I'm kind of at a point where I'm so far into the series that I'm invested and I don't want to give up now because I'm interested in the characters. And space battles. SPACE!

If you're this far in the series I'll admit that this book will probably be rough, but I'm hoping the next one will make the journey worthwhile.

- Kalpar

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