And David Weber‘s Honor Harrington universe marches on with Echoes of Honor, like an army of undead, unstoppable and thirsting for brains. This time, we get to follow several distinct story segments as Honor and her team struggle to take over Hades and ultimately escape. The action this time around is almost unrelenting, and probably more importantly, relevant to the current story and future engagements.
Weber has a thing for political intrigue, and of course it’s no stranger here. Haven’s Admiral Esther McQueen is finally sticking it to Manticore and simultaneously juggling her new role as an official member of The Committee of Public Safety. It’s her strategies and tactics which ultimately confound Manticore’s military, and make her just indispensable enough to be dangerous to the Committee itself. To start the propaganda war with a bang, the new head of Public Information releases a video of Honor being hanged.
This, to me, is the weakest point of the novel, though it comes at the very beginning. Anyone who knew our Honor, would have balked at the reluctant and fearful wretch Haven magicked up; they should have expected the cold defiance she’d likely display at the results of a mock trial, just as she did in her duals. Sadly, everyone in both Manticore and Grayson accept the execution without question, and thus begins Honor’s two year escape plan while Haven launches a four-pronged attack at Manticore’s outer systems and the holding that started it all: Basilisk Station.
And though the copious battles that follow are as one-sided as expected due to Haven’s surprise offensive, the unexpected aid of the new long-range missiles; the missile-pod carriers; and the LAC-carriers that tote around massively improved Shrike-class attack craft, reverse the fortune of at least two of those engagements. There’s hundreds of pages describing this attack in various aspects, from setup to execution, and the end result is spectacular: stuff gets blowed up real good.
For all that, all we really know about Grayson is that they, unlike Manticore, dove right in to manufacturing the new prototype designs Honor helped draft in In Enemy Hands. There’s also the sticky situation of Honor’s “death” causing problems with the inheritance of her titles, and the involvement of her parents in that particular solution is as amusing as it is creative. Her work as a geneticist also unveils just why the Graysons survived on such an inhospitable planet, and just why the male/female birth ratio is so unbalanced. This last has been an unanswered question for at least six novels, so it’s great that Weber has finally gotten around to answering it.
Manticore seems only able to revel in its ability to allow its nobility to usurp common sense, and let its adherence to existing methodology threaten to derail research into their new prototype weapons. We see another aspect of Manticore here that has already appeared occasionally, and it’s an unfortunate extension of their society. In this novel, we learn that our favorite star kingdom is a year behind Grayson in building the new classes of LAC and missile carriers. We continue to watch as political ties and family connections lead to promotions of complete imbeciles who would rather die in a blaze of vainglory, than escape an unwinnable situation. We watch impotently as one idiotic decision after another puts them at a continuing disadvantage in the war.
And none of this even approaches the effort Honor puts into securing the escape from Haven of not just her crew, but nearly half a million refugees stranded there over the course of last few decades of Haven’s offensives. It’s a very near thing, and the suspense in these areas was just as enticing as the space battles and political machinations. It’s probably one of the strongest novels in the series thus far, because it sits at the crux of what is almost a perfect storm of opportunity as the focus of the war shifts. This is a very long read, and very little is wasted in irrelevant details; everything drives the plot forward, and there’s a lot of plot to drive.
That this is technically merely an interim novel while we wait for Honor to enter the fray again, makes its strengths even more unexpected and refreshing. This could have been “Honor escapes valiantly from Hades, and blows stuff up as she goes!” What we got instead were several different layers of simultaneous and decisive events critical to drive the universe forward, not just Honor’s character. It’s easy to see why Weber’s creation has so many fans even at such a ponderous length.