Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ashes of Victory, by David Weber

This week I'm continuing with the Honor Harrington series with what's the ninth book, Ashes of Victory. The biggest thing I've noticed with this series is I'm only continuing to read it because I like the characters and I want to see what happens to them as time goes on. I hate to say it, but I've noticed the writing has gotten weaker over time and while I'm still enjoying the series and getting to see Honor and the cast of eight million other characters do lots of cool stuff, I can see where there are some problems coming up. The biggest is the issue of show don't tell, which has been happening a lot as the series progresses. And like Sursum Ursa said, there's a lot of exposition being thrown around as well. Well, and Honor's taking a back seat when she's...you know...the main character. On the one hand it kind of makes sense because she's a full admiral and a duchess now and intimately involved in the political operations of not only Manticore but Grayson as well, but on the other I kind of miss seeing her out in the field, leading ships into battle.

Usual disclaimer, I'll be talking with spoilers after this point in the review. Well, okay, I kind of spoiled earlier but there's no helping this. Honestly if you're not this far into the series you're probably not going to be impressed with this book because it's...okay. Like, I liked it but it's mostly because I liked the characters more than anything else. Also I'm starting to ramble. Anyway, spoilers, beware, so on and so forth.

So I'll briefly cover what happens to Honor over the course of the book. After successfully managing the largest prison break in history, evacuating some half a million people from the prison camps on Hades, Honor has returned to wild acclaim by the members of the Alliance. Because she lost her cybernetic implants, Honor is going to be spending considerable time recuperating and gets sent back to Manticore to teach tactics at the military academy at Saganami Island. She's also given a new duchy since her cousin was granted the previous Earldom of Harrington, and gets some people to work on sign language for treecats which allow them to communicate with humans, something previously not possible. So it's a pretty full docket and Honor's very much on the sidelines for most of the book.

So if Honor's on the bench, where is the rest of the action happening? Well quite frankly all over the place. You've got the Alliance military, in all its disparate locations, who finally have enough of the new weapons to make a decisive change in the war and are getting ready for the next big push. There are plots going on within Grayson which becomes a major issue later in the book. And there are plots galore going on back in Haven as distrust between Pierre and Secretary of War McQueen continues to grow. It's very complex to say the least so it kind of feels like a bridge between what was happening earlier and what Weber has planned afterwards. But that remains to be seen on my end.

As I said, my biggest problem is Weber tends to tell us things rather than show them. The very best example I have in this book is the battle between McQueen and Pierre that finally breaks out in the capital of Haven and leaves Oscar Saint-Just as the man in charge of the People's Republic of Haven. Now, this is a huge event. Pierre's been in this series, at least being mentioned, since book one. We've been watching McQueen manage the Navy and get them back on the offensive, along with her own plans knowing that Pierre and Saint-Just are planning to betray her when they no longer need her. McQueen isn't really as prepared as she'd like to be, but she knows she doesn't have the luxury of waiting anymore.

I mean, this is huge! McQueen launches her coup, there's fighting in the streets, Pierre gets killed by a band of marines, and Saint-Just only manages to escape with his life. McQueen locks down in the Octagon, the military nerve center of the PRH, and takes numerous hostages to prevent Saint-Just from storming the place. Unfortunately, she hadn't counted on him planting a nuke in the basement and actually using it to resolve the situation. This is a huge change in the political scene for the universe.

...but we find out about it after the fact. Like...this is what's so insanely frustrating. We get to see McQueen give the launch order and then later we're told what happened. Pierre and McQueen both die offscreen and it feels very glossed-over. This book would have been so much more interesting if Weber had taken the time to actually write out the events of the coup, at least some of them, than telling us what happened. And there are plenty of other examples, not just in this book but in other books as well. The taking of Trevor's Star which happened between books was another good example which confused me then. Like, I get that there's a lot going on and Weber's created an insanely detailed universe, but I feel like it's starting to get to be too much and we're just getting lists of things that are happening rather than actual events.

There's also a lot of people standing or sitting around talking about things. I noticed it less because I was reading the book rather than listening to it, but that was a huge complaint I had about the Dune series which made me stop listening to it entirely. So I guess it's a good thing that I'm reading these books rather than listening to them. Because it's just a lot of people sitting around and talking about things happening. I think this is a problem of space opera specifically, but somehow I still love the genre in spite of that problem.

Overall the book's okay. I think I enjoyed it because I've come to expect a ton of long debates about politics or economics and less space battle action. And there is a lot less space battle action in this book than in most of the other ones. It's definitely one of the less strong of the books and I think newcomers to the series aren't going to start here, but if you're interested in the series and you've made it this far, well you're probably willing to go a little further.

- Kalpar

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