A Beautiful Friendship
Young Honor and Elizabeth
Prince Michael rescues and Honor dances
On Basilisk Station
The Honor of the Queen
The Short Victorious War
Irresponsible captain, itinerant noble
Field of Dishonor
Continuing my review of Honor Harrington stories and novels in chronological order:
Flag in Exile by David Weber
And here comes the second part of the one-two angst punch that can make it hard for some readers to get past the first few Honor Harrington books.
After having caused a political scandal at the end of Field of Dishonor with her Roaring Rampage of Revenge for the death of her lover Paul Tankersley, Honor retires to her steading on Grayson to lick her wounds—and at the same time, see what improvements she can make in the lives of the people who have been placed under her rule, and help whip Grayson’s fledgling space navy into shape.
Her stay does not begin auspiciously—some of the more conservative of Grayson’s religious community take umbrage at having a steadholder who is not only a woman, but also an unbeliever (and, thanks to her relationship with Paul Tankersley, an adulterer as well). And behind the scenes, some of these conservatives are planning to get rid of her once and for all.
Honor Harrington’s plans for improving her steading include creating domed cities and farms to keep out the planet’s hostile environment. When an act of sabotage leads to tragic loss of life, Honor is put through yet another emotional wringer—followed by yet another, a little later. How much guilt can one woman take? Coming on the heels of Paul Tankersley’s murder, this doesn’t give Honor (or the readers) a lot of time to catch their breath. There are also more deaths of sympathetic characters—not at all unusual for Weber, of course.
But again we get catharsis, in one of the more memorable scenes of the series, when Honor confronts the guilty party and treats him to Grayson’s own harsh brand of justice. And before we can turn around, Honor is out in space defending the system against a Haven sneak attack.
In some ways, this book is a little hard to read. We just witnessed Honor having a near-total breakdown after her lover died in Field of Dishonor. Now she gets to have another one when she thinks her improvements are responsible for killing innocent people. It seems as though the shocks are piling up a little quickly.
And the central villains are more of those scenery-chewing caricatures of vileness—perhaps all the worse because their internal dialogue shows how firmly convinced they are that God is on their side and they are Fighting The Forces Of Evil. But as I’ve mentioned before, the fact that the rest of Grayson’s inhabitants are depicted as more temperate fundamentalists helps to salvage the book from seeming like unrestrained fundie-bashing.
And there is a lot to like about Flag in Exile, too. In this book we spend the most time on Grayson that we do in any book before or since, and as a result learn a lot more about the culture. We see Honor applying her own unique brand of integrity to the conflict between her own religion and Grayson’s—even if she doesn’t subscribe to the Grayson religion, she clearly respects it enough to have learned all about it. And there’s an interesting bit where Honor discusses just how many religions can be represented on a single ship in the Manticoran navy:
“I was saying Manticoran ships don’t have official chaplains. Of course, we’ve got so many religions and denominations that providing a chaplain for each of them would be the next best thing to impossible even if we tried.” She smiled suddenly. “On the first SD I ever served in, the captain was a Roman Catholic—Second Reformation, I think; not the Old Earth denomination—the exec was an Orthodox Jew, the astrogator was a Buddhist, and the com officer was a Scientologist Agnostic. If I remember correctly, the tac officer—my direct superior—was a Mithran, and Chief O’Brien, my tracking yeoman, was a Shinto priest. All of that, mind you, just on the command deck! We had another six thousand odd people in the ship’s company, and God only knows how many different religions they represented.”
That certainly makes for a great contrast to the religious situation I mentioned in my review of the Lost Fleet novels.
We meet a number of interesting characters, including Honor’s maid Miranda LaFollett. On the Haven side of things, we get to catch up with Tom Theisman again, and meet a few new characters who will become increasingly important as time goes by: Esther McQueen, Warner Caslet, the adorkable Shannon Foraker, Dennis LePic. We learn about the rather charming Grayson traditional sword fighting style, based on a long-lost samurai movie. And Honor’s reaction to seeing her first baseball team is absolutely hilarious.
After being largely missing from the last book, the Havenite war returns with a vengeance. Indeed, it seems that the war with Haven will eventually follow Honor wherever she goes, as a significant portion of the book is devoted to setting up a military confrontation that, naturally, puts Honor at center stage.
We also get a chapter from Rob S. Pierre’s perspective, in which it turns out he has found being the ruler of Haven is not all it was cracked up to be: in fact, it’s more like riding a tiger, It seems that, no matter the revolutionaries’ good intentions, there’s just too much inertia in the system for it to be reformed easily, and they’ve ended up in essentially the same position as the administration they displaced.
And the revolution perpetuates its own evils, in the form of political officers who have been assigned to every Havenite navy ship to make sure the naval officers toe the line. Some Naval officers work better with their political officer leash holders than others, as we will see over the course of the next few books.
As I rediscovered when I read Field of Dishonor during my first re-read, and again just now, for all the angst that comes Honor’s way, the book really isn’t that hard to reread. Though it’s more than a little melodramatic in places, the good overall outweighs the annoying.