The Honor of the Queen
I must admit to a minor sin; this is the second book in the Honor Harrington series, which starts with On Basilisk Station. I have not read the first book, and do not plan to. Technically, this means that I should probably not be reviewing this book, but no one else is doing it, so I have no choice but to review it myself.
This is the second novel written about Honor Harrington, an up-and-coming young officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy, a massive space navy that patrols a number of star systems. She has made a name for herself in some daring adventures chronicled in the previous novel, and so has been given an important, although not exactly desirable, mission. She is to be sent to a pair of small, backwater systems that no-one has ever heard of... but that now find themselves in a strategic position between the Manticorans and their political rivals, The People's Republic of Haven.
Aside from an immense amount of political and military maneuvering as the two sides attempt to set up treaties with the sister systems of Masada and Haven, there is another spanner in the works. Masada and Haven were set up centuries ago by a colony of fanatical religious fundamentalists, and their belief systems still control both planets. This causes all sorts of problems, but the most important factor for this story is that their cultures do not allow a woman to hold any position of power whatsoever -- not only do they have a problem with female troops in uniform, the fact that Manticor is ruled by a queen and that the Manticoran fleet is commanded by a woman (Honor) is a nearly unbridgeable divide.
This series is one of the better examples of a traditional space opera. A brave commander engages in a number of grand diplomatic missions and the resulting battles, with many shots fired and many good soldiers dead. It is light on the aliens -- both the good guys and the bad guys are human, and we meet only one alien in this book, a empathic cat-monkey. It is essentially a work of military fiction set in the far future, where the battles are fought with space ships instead of tanks and planes. And it's pretty good. While the faster-than-light travel and artificial gravity are a bit magical (of necessity), Weber does a good job of making this feel like hard science fiction, with the mechanics of the space battles painstakingly planned out, and if he had to bend some rules of physics, he is careful to stick to his rules, even where they are inconvenient.
Obviously, social themes are very strong in this book, particularly institutionalized sexism, religious isolationism, and the question of duty to ideals versus duty to one's government. The themes of 'war is bloody hell' and 'progressive social change' are woven together surprisingly well -- which is one of the reasons why Weber is such a popular writer, and has remained so for decades.
I suspect that any fan of space operas or military science fiction will likely enjoy this book (although, you should probably plan on enjoying the first book in the series first). There is a good chance that if you enjoy science fiction at all, you will enjoy Weber's works. Weber's voice reminds me a bit of Spider Robinson or Orson Scott Card, well measured and tending towards empathetic humanism. At the same time there are strong themes of success at all costs, survival against overwhelming odds, and plenty of scheming and intrigue. It is a fulsome mix.
I must admit that while I enjoyed this book, I do not plan on reading any more of this series. My largest disenchantment is the pace of the book, which is rather slower than I like. This does help emphasize the complex diplomatic undertones to a massively building conflict, and so is well justified. But it not for me.
Novels of the Honorverse
On Basilisk Station :: The Honor of the Queen :: The Short Victorious War