As I mentioned in my review of Honor Among Enemies, with In Enemy Hands the Honorverse series changes from a pure space navy series to something more politically-based. While there are still plenty of naval battles in the offing, at times the space combat takes a distinct back seat to all the political maneuvering. I suspect that this is why a number of readers seem to feel it “jumped the shark” at this point—they started reading it because they liked space battles, and suddenly it turned into something very different.
This book begins a phase of the series expressly focused on the politics of Haven, with a turn to focus expressly on the politics of Manticore a few books away. Still later in the series, it will swing around again to focus on the politics of an entity that doesn’t even have any (obvious) pieces on the board yet. And at the same time, Honor’s love life starts to resemble a soap opera even more than it already did. Small wonder it loses a bit of audience here!
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
Flag in Exile
Honor Among Enemies
Of treecats and grapeshot
Continuing my review of Honor Harrington stories and novels in chronological order:
In Enemy Hands by David Weber
Honor has returned from her (costly) success fighting pirates with fragile Q-ships in Silesia with a new treecat member of her family—Samantha, whose human bond-mate was killed in action during the last great battle of Honor Among Enemies. She gets a much-overdue promotion to Commodore, and returns to Grayson on the way to her new duty as a squadron commander, and happens to encounter Hamish Alexander, Lord White Haven,
Harrington and Alexander have met a couple of times in previous books, for short periods, but they’ve never really gotten to know each other. And it just so happens that at the start of this book, they do get to know each other—rather better than either of them had anticipated or expected. In fact, during a flaming row over the advisability of new types of naval weapons, they quite unexpectedly fall in a sort of psionic-assisted love at first sight.
This is problematic for both of them, because Alexander is married to one of the Star Kingdom of Manticore’s most-beloved and tragic figures, Emily Alexander, who has been confined to a hoverchair since a terrible aircar accident many years ago. Because of that, Alexander, who fell in love first, was determined not to let his new feelings show in any way—but of course Honor, whose link to her treecat Nimitz lets her sense the emotions of other, could tell the moment it happened. And to her horror, she discovered she reciprocated those feelings herself.
So, desperate to put some distance between her and Alexander, Honor returns to duty several weeks early, and her squadron is assigned guard duty over a supply convoy. And not to spoil the book too much, but it should be obvious from the title where Honor eventually ends up.
Meanwhile, on Haven, Rob S. Pierre and Oscar St. Just are dealing with the aftermath of the coup attempt chronicled in “A Whiff of Grapeshot”. They’ve decided to bring Admiral Esther McQueen into the Committee of Public Safety as the new Secretary of War. Even though she’s known to be ambitious, clever, and sneaky, they think that they can manage her—and she has a pretty clear stake in seeing to it that Haven wins, too. They hope that she can undo some of the damage done by the Committee’s policy of shooting military officers and their families in reprisal for failures.
Cordelia Ransom, another of the Committee’s original members, does not like McQueen’s appointment at all (given that she has a pathological dislike of the navy), but allows herself to be persuaded. Then she hops aboard a State Security cruiser, the Tepes, to go out and shoot some footage of Admiral Thomas Theisman, who has been assigned to defend a star base that is the obvious low-hanging fruit for Manticore’s next attack. (Perhaps this is at least in part so she doesn’t have to deal with McQueen herself.)
Like an irresistible force heading for a fateful encounter with an immovable object, Harrington and Ransom are destined to meet—in an encounter that will try the souls of Honor and her crew, and also those of sympathetic Havenite navy officers Thomas Theisman, Lester Tourville, Shannon Foraker, and Warner Caslet, who happen to be on hand for the encounter.
But after you get into enemy hands, there’s only one way to go from there—and without giving too much away, the scheming of Honor’s crew to enable their escape is a section I like to read over and over. The sneakiness of one particularly-intelligent non-commissioned officer plays a major role.
As the first book to go really in-depth in its focus on Havenite politics, the political situation is interesting. Rob S. Pierre’s situation really does illustrate that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. As I’ve mentioned before, he instigated a coup because he honestly thought he could do a better job running the nation than those who came before him—and to an extent, he has been right. But he has also carried on many of the same excesses as his predecessors, because he felt he had no choice—and because of the sort of people he had to get in bed with to pull the coup off.
In particular, Cordelia Ransom. We haven’t gotten a good look at her prior to this book, but the more we see of her the more it becomes apparent what a “prize” she really is. Her extreme antipathy for anything to do with the military, including military concepts of honor even among enemies, have already damaged the relationship of Haven’s government with its military. In this book, they are set to do more than that.
I wonder if anyone on the Manticore side, in the later books in the series, is ever truly aware just how much of the change that is to come in the next few books traces directly to what happens to Honor while she is, well, “in enemy hands”. The confrontation between her and Ransom crystallizes the attitudes of a number of sympathetic Havenite officers (and People’s Commissioners) and sets the stage for important events in future books.
Something else that could have major implications is the way Harrington is accompanied to Grayson by a gaggle of treecats who’ve decided they want to start a colony on another planet, to the consternation of Sphinx’s human authorities. Among other things, this starts to demonstrate the native intelligence of the little critters. And something that happens to Nimitz in this book is another seed that will grow into something more important over the next few volumes.
And finally we come to the strange empathic romance, the “love at first psi” if you will, between Honor and Alexander. Fortunately it barely shows up in the first part of the book, and then is absent save for occasional angst on White Haven’s part over the next couple of books, but it hints at a bit more annoying angst to come.
It’s not really fair to complain about it being needlessly soap operatic—it’s not as if this is the first time a romantic relationship has been milked to give characters something to agonize over. But it is a touch…abrupt. The potential for this attraction wasn’t even hinted at in any of their previous encounters, and then bam, there it is. I suppose I’ll have more to say about it when it pops up again in future volumes.
I look forward to reviewing the next book, Echoes of Honor, which is one of my favorites—or at least half of it is.