Review: Flag in Exile

At this rate, I may actually finish the Honor Harrington series before the heat death of the universe. Having just finished Flag in Exile by David Weber only fifteen years late, I think I’m getting the hang of this series.

Though a friend at work recommended the series, and due to the length, I was suspicious it would be throw-away pulp; I’m willing to admit now that that my fears were mostly unwarranted. Weber clearly enjoys the universe he constructed, and has spent significant time developing it. In Flag in Exile, Honor retires to Grayson as steadholder after losing her commission thanks in no small part to Pavel Young. This allows Weber to expound on the changes Harrington has influenced in their society as they struggle to accept her. As expected, this is much easier said than done.

This is thanks to a number of developments that complicate the plot, again, into a snarl of politics with the added zing of religious zealotry. Poor Honor. Her new venture in Sky Domes promises to make her even more wealthy, she’s been requested to act as Admiral to a squadron consisting of half a dozen super dreadnaughts and other lighter attack craft, and considering her pseudo-exile, things are progressing swimmingly. Until accounting for the concerted effort to undermine Sky Domes, assassinate her credibility through righteous manipulation of the population, outright murder to further these aims, and an oncoming attack from Haven that doesn’t even allow her an hour of sleep in the interim. The final half of the book is unrelenting. Even knowing Honor would win in the end never stopped me from cringing as circumstances stacked against her.

The thing that really affected my sensibilities however, was that Benjamin Mayhew’s iron reign on the other steadholders is essentially the only thing standing between Honor and the indignant conspirators. If an accident of birth had created Mayhew more in the image of the zealots seeking to destroy her, things would have taken a disastrous turn. Weber even included an afterward describing his own concern over the blindness that sometimes overtakes men and women, so utterly convinced of their own virtues that the ends justify any means, no matter the human fallout. These crusades appear constantly in our own history, and sickeningly, Honor’s struggles are hardly an exaggeration; if anything, they’re nothing compared to the atrocities committed in the name of holiness.

I wouldn’t say Weber is a master of this kind of subject matter, but he definitely understands the underlying complexities inherent in a government that seeks to subjugate such intolerance. The machinations are believable and compelling despite the mundane nature plotting and scheming might otherwise suggest. And once again, the naval battle almost necessary in any Harrington novel, only really plays a bit part toward the end of the book. Much like Field of Dishonor, this novel provides vital background and motivation that will flesh-out the rest of the series.

I like where this is going!