Book Review: Shadow of Freedom by David Weber

Shadow of Freedom (Honorverse: Saganami Island, #3)Shadow of Freedom by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel has received a lot of mixed reviews. But I personally really enjoyed it!

Okay, here’s the thing: if you came here looking for Honor Harrington, you’ve come barking up the wrong tree. She’s not here, man. People quote her from time to time and refer to the things she’s done and has been doing.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for space opera… man oh man, you are not going to be disappointed!

Michelle Henke, who just handed the Solarian League the most humiliating defeat in their history, is confused when one of the leaders of a planetary resistance movement in the Verge tells her they need that promised Manticoran Navy support right now. Nobody in Manticore has heard anything about this.

But the Mesan Alignment, the conspiracy of genetic supermen Nazis who have been sucker-punching Manticore and Haven both for the past several books, has been hatching a Byzantine plan to pretend to be Manticoran agents provocateur, encouraging resistance movements against the Solarian League’s Frontier Security on planets that are being “assisted” by them (thank you for the scathing critique of American Imperialism, Mr. Weber.) And then they will fail to provide Navy assistance at a critical moment (because of course, the Manticoran Navy has promised no such thing) and no one will trust Manticore ever again.

In the meantime, the Solarian League is blustering and puffing and threatening Manticore with more and more violence, dancing around the declaration of war. They seem chronically stupid – and certainly, the Manticoran characters don’t help, as they lament how stupid the Sollies seem to be – but in fact, the Sollies are faced with the same dilemma of the British at the outbreak of the First World War. They have been the supreme masters of the waves for so long, they haven’t yet realized that technology has taken a completely different turn and they have been left behind. And with information having to travel over such a huge distance, sometimes they don’t get the memo until its too late.

Granted, there are a plethora of Sollie assholes throwing themselves at Manticore. It would boggle belief, except that it is to be remembered that the Mesan Alignment are seeking these people out to throw at Manticore deliberately.

Mike (Michelle) Henke has been tasked with defending the Talbott Quadrant, a recently-annexed confederation within the new Star Empire of Manticore. But if she doesn’t do something about these rebellions who are expecting Manticoran aid, all outside support for Manticore will collapse.

So she does. And the solution is brilliant.

The two biggest complaints I’ve heard about this book are 1) that Weber has repeated whole passages from other books, and 2) that we follow “a bunch of minor characters who don’t matter and sub-stories that have nothing to do with the main plot.”

Let me address those criticisms, because they seem legit, when you take the book on its own (hence, the four, and not five-star rating,) but as a writer, I don’t think they’re fair. I don’t think people understand what it is that Weber is trying to do.

In the first case, the repeated passages: yes, that’s a thing. But I contend, as I have for some time, that the problem here is that the novel is insufficient to the task Weber has before him, and unfortunately, we don’t have a better medium yet (or at least, not one anyone would read: serials would have covered this just fine, but nobody wants to read serials).

This is a huge, overarching epic story. It’s too big for one book, or even one series (this one is told over three different series: Honor Harrington, Saganami Island, and Wages of Sin.) So in some cases, certain scenes are part of two, or even all three, of the series. If you’re reading the series separately, you need that information, so he has no choice but to repeat them! If you’ve read it before, just skip or skim over it and stop whining about it, is my suggestion.

In the second, the “minor characters with stories that don’t matter to the overall plot”: first, you’re wrong. Those characters are all going to be around for the next few books. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but they are. Second, their stories only don’t matter if you don’t care about the tragedies going on in the rest of the universe as a result of the troubles the Mesan Alignment are creating.

It boggles my brain how everyone can praise George R.R. Martin for A Song of Ice and Fire as being “a grand epic!” and being all excited about how wonderful and broad the world he’s created is, and how cool it is that he tells the stories of the common folks as well as the lords of the land, and here Weber is, doing exactly the same thing, and people are whining about it.

This is a deliberate subversion of the “heroic space opera” where a superman solves everyone’s problems just by existing, because they’re so much better than everyone else. This is an uncomfortably fascist element of heroic science fiction, and Weber rejects it. The future of his universe is shaped not just by the great and powerful, but also missile techs, bodyguards, common soldiers, spies, politicians, and even desperate poor people.

Just adapt to the fact that Honor Harrington is one character in a broad universe of characters who all have their own stories and own realities. Sorry that you were expecting “the tales of superhero Honor Harrington,” but that’s not what this is. Get used to it.

Anyway, this book had me on the edge of my seat. I loved it. After the past couple of books, I felt like I did when Daenarys sailed north to fight the White Walkers with John Snow in Game of Thrones. HELL YEAH!

So I guess I’d have to say that this book is not to be read without the context of the rest of the series. But if you like vast vistas of space opera, this is a real winner.

I’ve started my True Chronological Reading of the Last 10 Honorverse Books, as I said I would in the last couple of Honorverse reviews I did. You can check it out at the link above!

View all my reviews

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